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Victims of Paris kosher market attack laid to rest in Jerusalem

Killing of four Jews in Paris supermarket exposes need for action against anti-Semitism, say mourners, but opinions split on how
Hundreds gathered on Tuesday for the state funeral in Jerusalem (MEE/Oren Ziv)

JERUSALEM - In a state funeral attended by hundreds of mourners, the four victims of Paris’ kosher supermarket massacre were buried here on Tuesday.

Yoav Hattab, Yohan Cohen, Francois-Michel Saada and Phillipe Braham were killed by Amedy Coulibaly on Friday, during a five-hour siege at a kosher market in Porte des Vincennes, East Paris.

The killings closely followed the massacre of 12 people by Islamic extremists linked to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine.

French President Francois Hollande dubbed the attack an “appalling act of anti-Semitism”, an assessment echoed by representatives of Jewish communities around the globe. At Tuesday’s ceremony President Reuven Rivlin called on leaders to take action to protect Jews living in France and elsewhere in Europe, in the face of growing anti-semitism across the continent.

“While the last weeks and months have proven that terror does not discriminate between blood, we cannot escape the fact that this terrorism explicitly targets the Jewish people," Rivlin told the assembled mourners at Har HaMenuhot Cemetery, before a backdrop of Jerusalem hills. "It would be dangerous to deny that we are talking about anti-Semitism, whether old or new.”

At Tuesday’s ceremony, mourners highlighted the racial element of the attack with signs of the four dead men that read, “Je suis Charlie, Je suis Juif”, and “Je suis mort parce que [je suis] juif” (”I was killed because I am Jewish”).

Need for solidarity

Many of those who travelled to the funeral on Tuesday said they did so from a pressing sense of the need for solidarity among the global Jewish community. Mourners travelled from France and around Israel to pay their respects, arriving in packed buses that had been provided free of charge for those wishing to attend. On the Jerusalem roads leading to the cemetery, Israeli and French flags were hung together, while Israeli colours hung over the politicians and officials that addressed the crowd under a clear sky.

“Those that were killed in France are Jewish, we are Jews, and Jews all over the world are one people,” Noah, 18, said. “When one person is killed, all the Jews all over the world feel hurt from this. We’ve come here to honour them.”

For three of the victims of Friday’s attack, to be buried in Israel was a dearly-held wish: Yoav Khattab, a 21-year-old Tunisian Jew, had recently completed a Birthright trip, while Francois-Michel Saada had bought an apartment in Israel. “All his life he wanted to gather people and he did,” Saada’s son said at the ceremony. “He’s here now and I’m sure he’s really happy to be with you here.”

The response of Israeli leaders to the massacre has been to highlight the connection between diaspora Jews and Israel. Many have drawn attention both to broader issues of anti-Semitism and a perceived lack of security for Jews in Europe, and the possibility for Jewish emigration to Israel, known as making aliyah. This was a point Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed both at Tuesday’s funeral and on Sunday, when he addressed the French Jewish community after a solidarity march with other world leaders in Paris.

“You have the full right to live in safety and tranquillity as citizens with equal rights wherever you wish, including here in France. But Jews of our time have been blessed with another right, a right that did not exist for previous generations of Jews: the right to join their Jewish brothers and sisters in our historic homeland, the Land of Israel,” Netanyahu told crowds at Paris’ Grand Synagogue.

“Any Jew who wishes to immigrate to Israel will be welcomed with open arms and warm and accepting hearts. They will not arrive in a foreign land but rather the land of our forefathers. God willing, they will come and many of you will come to our home.”

Ambivalence to emigration calls

Although most welcomed his solidarity, the Jewish response to Netanyahu’s call for mass emigration has been ambivalent. When the prime minister arrived at the synagogue to make his speech on Sunday, he was greeted by loud cheers and applause. But when he closed his address, encouraging French Jews to emigrate to Israel, the crowd responded by singing the Marseillaise – the national anthem of France.

Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the director of the European Jewish Association, responded to Netanyahu’s statement by saying calls for aliyah “severely weaken and damage the Jewish communities that have the right to live securely wherever they are”. He argued that the large majority of European Jews had no desire to emigrate, and that the focus of leaders should be on strengthening the safety of Jewish life in Europe.

“A lot of French Jews think about Aliyah, but I don’t think Netanyahu’s speech or his being here yesterday and today will make a difference,” Robert Hejnes, the executive director of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF), told Middle East Eye on Monday.

“The Jewish community in France is in deep sorrow because of the attacks and feels threatened by the possibility of terrorism in the French territory. Because of that, there is a big concern for French Jews about whether they will be able to stay in France,” he said.

“But on the other hand, Jews have been in France for a thousand years, and there have been tough periods, including WW2. But French society has always acted positively, even during the war when there were some people who were against the Jews.”

Record aliyah numbers

Emigration from France to Israel is currently at record levels: 7,086 French Jews made aliyah last year, and it’s thought that 2015 figures might top that all-time high.

But while many French nationals attended the funeral on Tuesday, they were split about the importance of a long-term move to Israel.

“I went to a Christian school, a non-Jewish school, and I personally never feel that I have experienced problems with anti-Semitism,” 18-year-old Nathan Amrum, who travelled from Marseille to attend the funeral, told MEE. “I think for the moment we want to stay in France, because it’s our country and we’re not going to leave because a few people are making us afraid.”

Lawyer Avraham Levi, however, blamed both Muslim and Arab populations and the French leadership for growing anti-Semitism. “In France, there are more than 10 million Muslims now, and we are only 600,000 Jews,” he said. “And a lot of them hate Jewish people. Every time there’s something in Israel they do something against [Jews]. Thirty years ago, the anti-Semitism was from the Nazis, against Jewish and Arab. Now it’s different.”

Such comments may well reflect an increasing anti-Muslim sentiment in France – a phenomenon compounded by social marginalisation and characterised this week by violent reprisals. But Levi denied this was a problem, dismissing cases of rising anti-Muslim violence as a “bluff” and arguing that the current government had failed to protect Jews.

“There are extreme-right parties in France and as Jews we have a memory that the extreme right is dangerous. But I think the only party that can do anything about the Arabs is the extreme right,” he said. Levi emigrated to Israel six months ago, and now supports other French migrants' efforts to settle in the country.

For both Israelis and European Jews, this week’s attack has signalled a need for solidarity and action against anti-Semitism, but unity over the precise nature of that problem, and how it should be tackled, may be more elusive.

“France is my country, but Israel is my home,” Amrum said. “I can live in Israel as a free Jew, and on that I agree with Netanyahu. But to make aliyah, it’s a hard thing to do. I can understand the people who want to leave, if they feel afraid. But we have to be strong.”