The murder of Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Jewish woman, has rekindled debates on the state of anti-Semitism in France. The Holocaust survivor was found burnt in her Paris apartment, after she was stabbed 11 times and set on fire to cover up the murder. Local police have arrested two suspects, a 29-year-old neighbor with a criminal record for rape and other sexual violence, and a 21-year-old man with previous convictions for robbery.
Both suspects have made statements about each other: the younger man is accusing the older one of shouting Allahu akbar as he stabbed, while the older man has accused the younger of doing the stabbing. According to France’s interior minister Gérard Collomb, one alleged killer told the other: “She’s a Jew. She must have money.”
The woman, who was rounded up in 1942 by the French collaborationist police, was living on a limited income and in a social housing complex. French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the attack, adding that the perpetrators “murdered an innocent and vulnerable woman because she was Jewish, and in doing so profaned our sacred values and our history.” The crime is currently only under preliminary charge for being motivated by anti-Semitism, with reasonable suspicion of that conclusion.
This Is an Increasing and Worrisome Trend
Regardless, anti-Semitism is growing in France. Back in April 2017, a 65-year-old Orthodox Jew was thrown out of her apartment window to her death. The incident happened in the same district. The judicial confirmation that this crime was motivated by anti-Semitism came only last month.
In 2012 an Islamic fundamentalist in Toulouse shot dead three children and a teacher at a Jewish school. In January 2015, four people were killed at a Jewish supermarket by an associate of the two brothers who had killed staff at Charlie Hebdo. Reports of anti-Semitic violence in France rose by 26 percent last year, which has led record numbers of Jews to emigrate to Israel.
This has sparked debate over anti-Semitism in France, and the security of the 500,000 Jews residing there. Indeed, Macron has vowed to fight anti-Semitism, yet his declarations remain vague as he merely tackles “education” and harassment online. The notable problem remains unaddressed: there is a problem with Muslim anti-Semitism in France.
This is neither a statement about faith nor a policy prescription. It has just become an inconvenient truth that is too hot to touch while immigration policy is so controversial. Since the beginning of this century, France has faced increasing anti-Semitic attacks, with the beginning the Second Intifada. The quest of radical Muslims to combat Jewish citizens has been a problem ever since.
‘We Were Brought Up with Hating Jews’
Take the 2012 murder of three children in a Jewish school in Toulouse. At the trial of his brother, Abdelkader Merah, Abdelghani Merah said: “In the Merah household, we were brought up with hating Jews, the hatred of everything that was not Muslim.” He then continued to express his regret that “he had not killed more Jewish children.”
While the anti-Semitic preachings of radical mosques and social media groups’ conspiracy theories continue, France seems largely preoccupied with less serious threats to its Jewish citizens. “Audiences were outraged,” the French TV channel BFTMTV in January reported, after a Belgian comedian told a joke in poor taste about Jewish people. Jewish citizens feel obligated to leave French cities because they feel unsafe. Yet this startling fact seems only to cause impotent outrage when a helpless woman is brutally murdered.
The French Left worry that a discussion of Muslims’ anti-Semitism would lead to increased sympathies for the far-right political party National Front (now renamed “National Rally”) of Marine Le Pen. While Le Pen does benefit from anti-Muslim sentiments, her party has certainly had a bumpy relationship with Jews as well. Her party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has been quoted calling the gas chambers of the Holocaust a “detail of history” and calling the Nazi occupation of France “not particularly inhumane.”
Far-Left and Far-Right Register Anti-Semitism, Too
In 2017, National Front candidates were quoted saying, “They continue to fill our ears about the Shoah. […] I know loads of people who don’t particularly like Jews. Especially amongst Catholics. You know why? It’s because it’s the Jews who killed Jesus!” An identitarian candidate running for office was quoted as saying “So what? What are 2,000 years anyway? There may be problems of the Catholic vis-à-vis the Jew.” Another candidate, Catherine Blein, was kicked out of the party for saying that “Whether on Islam, Jews, or homosexuality, it’s a sign of total degeneration.”
Far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon was booed and met with chants calling him a “piece of sh-t” at the commemorative march for Knoll last Wednesday. The Jewish Council asked leaders of both the far-right and the far-left to stay home from the march because of their history with anti-Semitism. In fact, the ideological ancestors of the current far-left movement in France used to spread posters like these in the streets of Paris:
Translated: “The Jews own two thirds of the world’s wealth! Out of 100 Jews: 80 capitalists. Out of 100,000 French people: 1 capitalist.”
The progressive French Think Tank Fondapol released a study in 2014 that claimed: “The French society includes three very strong centres of anti-Semitism. The first, the relatives of the National Front and the voters of Marine Le Pen in 2012, occupy an important position in this matter. The second group is among the French Muslims, where there is also an anti-Semitic sentiment that is shared more easily. And then the third group are the relatives of the Left Front and the supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon in 2012…”
One thing has been exposed more than ever through Knoll’s murder. The failure of addressing anti-Semitism in France is political, whether lack of political courage or of extreme political correctness. If leaders in Paris are unable to address the deep-rooted anti-Semitic beliefs in France, then acts like murder of this Holocaust survivor are bound to repeat.