Continuing threats from French-born Jihadists returning from Syria was the main issue raised by an international delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center which included Jewish leaders, Baron Eric de Rothschild from Paris and Irwin Cotler, Canadian Minister of Parliament and former Justice Minister, during a meeting with French President François Hollande at the Élysée Palace in Paris.
Photo: Rabbi Meyer May, SWC Executive Director; Rabbi Marvin Hier, SWC Dean and Founder; Baron Eric de Rothschild and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, SWC Associate Dean
President Hollande confirmed that some 1,000 French citizens were, or are, in Syria and that 31 were reported to have died there. Some of those who returned from Syria were scared by what they had experienced but others have spread out among the French population, many of them armed.
The French President then outlined steps taken to protect the Jewish community, especially Jewish schools and that French authorities are also in contact with police and intelligence services to better fight anti-Semitism. “We would like to set an example to the world in fighting anti-Semitism," Hollande said, but admitted the current situation reflected a “new, heavy context”. As for the murderous attack by a French-born terrorist in Belgium, President Hollande said it was too early to conclude the terrorist had acted as a “lone wolf”, in what the President labeled a “barbaric act” that targeted the Brussels Jewish Museum.
In his remarks, Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean and Founder of the Wiesenthal Center said in part:
"We meet at a pivotal time in history, when the Jewish community and France’s democratic values are under unprecedented attack by the forces of extremism both from the far-right and from extreme Islamist purveyors of religious intolerance, violence and murder. We appreciated that in the immediate aftermath of the murders of a Rabbi and young children on the grounds of a Yeshiva in Toulouse, you and then-President Sarkozy suspended your campaigns to come to Toulouse and denounce the savagery. But unfortunately, today, Mohammed Merah along with the French-born murderer of innocents at the Brussels Jewish Museum are revered by many young Muslims, here in France and around the world.
Photo: (L-R) Rabbi Hier, Rabbi May, Rabbi Cooper, Canadian MP Irwin Cotler and Friends of SWC CEO, Avi Benlolo
"Why is this so? Certainly, the Internet plays a role, but we believe the main reason is that religious leadership of the Muslim communities remains part of the problem, not part of the solution… . Mr. President, in our time these French-born terrorists, like other terrorists were not born with hate in their hearts… . In the presence of French, American, Canadian and British Jewish leaders gathered here today, I declare with certainty that if G-d forbid, a terrorist attack was carried out by a Jew against innocent civilians, there would be wall-to-wall public condemnation by every Jewish leader in the world. No less should be expected from the leaders of the largest Muslim population in Europe."
The 20-member delegation was in Paris to inaugurate the Wiesenthal Center’s new historic exhibition, People Book, Land - The 3,500 Relationship Between the Jewish People and the Holy Land, which opened at UNESCO headquarters.
Read Rabbi Hier’s full remarks here….