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July 23, 2004     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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PAGE 12 HERITAGE FLORIDA iEWISH photo by Pierre Levy, CRIF Alsace Tombstones spray-painted with swastikas and anh'-SemiHc slogans in an attack on the HerrUsheim cemetery in Alsace, France, in May. By Philip Camel PARIS (JTA)--It took pre- cisely 24 hours for demon- strations in solidarity with France's Jewish commu- nity to turn into opprobrium against it. The sudden change came last Tuesday when a 23 -year- old non-Jewish woman who claimed she had been the victim of a violent anti- Semitic act admitted to police that she had staged the incident. French Jews are now hoping the incident won't do too much damage to the fight against anti-Semitism in France, which remains a real problem. Given the massive surge in anti-Semitic incidents in France over the past six months, reports that the woman and her baby had been violently attacked on a Paris suburban train had sent shock I 834-8787 waves through the political es- tablishment and the country's Jewish community. The woman told police that six men armed with knives had attacked her July 9 after dis- covering information on her identity card that led them to believe, erroneously, that she was Jewish. According to the woman's police complaint, the attack- ers cut her hair, ripped her clothing and scrawled three swastikas on her stomach with a black marker pen. They then overturned a carriage containing her 13- month- old baby. Reports of the inci- dent-and particularly the woman's claim that it had occurred in full view of at least 20 witnesses who did nothing--drew swift con- demnation, with President Jacques Chirac expressing his "horror." "I demand that everything should be done to find the perpetrators of this shameful act in order that they should be tried and sentenced with the severity required," Chirac said in a statement. But it soon became appar- ent that there were serious holes in the woman's story. With no witnesses coming forward, the woman--who has a history of making false police complaints--was placed in police custody pending charges for provid- ing false information. She later admitted she had drawn the swastikas herself with the aid of her companion. Jewish leaders initially had focused their commerRs 9n rising anti-Semitism among Muslim youth in working- class suburbs around France's large cities, particularly as the woman had told police her at- tackers were "four Arabs and two Africans." Such remarks have led Muslim leaders and anti-racist groups to object to what they see as overkill in dealingwith anti- Semitism in France. They also charge that the. government has largely ignored racism targeted at Arabs and Muslims, While Muslim leaders had expressed solidarity with the Jewish community after ini- tial reports of the attack, the woman's detention provoked a sharp change in tone. In a statement issued last Tuesday, the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between Peo- ples-an organization that traditionally has had sour relations with the organized Jewish community--said that "stigmatized popula- tions in the suburbs had been thrown out to pasture." The group also blasted "irre- sponsible statements used by people who profited from this fabrication to once more in- strumentalize anti- Semitism against a specific population and to increase intercommu- hal tensions." Those remarks appeared aimed at Jewish leaders and organizations, some of whom--like Inte- rior Minister Dominique de Villepin--issued statements without checking with the police. One such example was the National Bureau for Vigilance Against anti- Semitism, which provides statistics for the Si- mon Wiesenthal Center and the Israeli government on anti-Semitic incidents in France. "It's always been Arab- Muslims who commit anti- Jewish attacks for the last four years," the organization said in a statement. Even large communal or- ganizations, who usually are more reticent about making statements, were pulled into the melee. In the wake of the sup- posed attack, Roger Cukier- man, president of the CRIF umbrella organization of French Jews, told a radio station that "imams in housing estates where these attackers live have to start using the right language to point out that anti-Semitic actsare unacceptable." De- spite the polemic, however, there is clear evidence that the vast majority of racially inspired attacks in France target Jews--as Cukierman himself later pointed out. "If this was believed, it's be - cause the climate permits it," he told JTA. "The fact is that we live at a time where there are hundreds of anti-Semitic attacks." Moreover, only hours before the woman told police she had been attacked, the government published fig- ures showing that out of 230 racist attacks against persons or property in the first half of 2004, 135 were a for a number of l accentuated by the Jews make up minorities. After the of this incident, community must possibility that ministers will be1 reticent in the immediately Semitic acts. Ariel Goldman for the Jewish Protection Service, if mistakes were community. "The first right from the top, ister. We j man said in an Cukierman, too,: gretted that "Everybody, the much as the made itself by immediately anti-Semitism waiting to have mation," said the Lyon France's Muslim ver~ with it, it's targ attention to remain unsolved. Among those " attack on a near Paris last that led to the new to tackle well as a highly knife attack on January 2003 dents, remain aware Semitism is a in today's FranCe. the fake attack, spokesman Cope said it "see erable emotion by this act, That Semitic Pro- fence demonstration photo by Brian Protesters hold Israeli flags and photos of victims of attacks bg rorists, during a demonstration supporting the construction barrier next'to a section of it near the West Ba~ village of A-Zaim on the ~ of Jerusalem, Friday, July 9.