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‘A Lot of Pain’: Europe’s Jews Fear Rising Antisemitism After Hamas Attack

Protection of Jewish sites increased in towns and cities across continent after outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas

In the usually bustling “Little Jerusalem” area of Sarcelles, north of Paris, the popular falafel and grill restaurant was eerily quiet. “People are not going out,” said Jérémy, the 33-year-old restaurant owner. Lunchtime and evening crowds are common in one of the largest Jewish communities on the Paris outskirts. But many thought it wiser to stay at home, fearing a growing number of antisemitic incidents in France and across Europe since the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October and the ensuing bombardment of Gaza.

In France, home to Europe’s largest Jewish community, police recorded more than 320 physical acts of antisemitism, and made more than 180 arrests, in the first 10 days of the war.

Antisemitic acts under investigation include people gathering in front of synagogues shouting threats, incidents of verbal abuse, threatening letters, graffiti such as the words “killing Jews is a duty” sprayed outside a stadium in Carcassonne in the south-west, the education minister’s reports of a Nazi swastika chalked on a blackboard in a school, and a Jewish high-school student whose clothes were ripped and antisemitic comments made to him as he came out of the school toilets.

“Some of my friends in Israel are actually more worried about us here in France,” said Jérémy. “In France there is a problem with Jews. But what have Jewish people in France done? Nothing. The atmosphere is weighing on everyone. There is a lot of pain. Anyone with the tiniest bit of humanity is in pain right now.”

Protection of Jewish sites has been increased in towns and cities across Europe, from synagogues to schools and community centres. But Jewish communities in France, Germany and Italy said they still felt cautious. In Sarcelles, even orders for home deliveries of food were down as people said they were hesitant to have someone they didn’t know come to the door.

“The idea is to carry on,” said a spokesperson for Germany’s central council of Jews. “It’s the ‘keep calm’ part of carrying on that’s a bit difficult at the moment.”

In Sarcelles, home to a 12,000-strong Jewish community, Jérémy’s takings were down 80%, but he said profits didn’t matter; he was more concerned about the general sense of fear. He had also lost custom in 2015 after four people were killed in a terrorist attack and hostage-taking at a Paris kosher supermarket following the attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo. Customers also stayed away after the 2012 attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse, in which three Jewish children and a rabbi where shot dead at point-blank range by Mohamed Merah, a gunman who had claimed allegiance to al-Qaida.

But Jérémy felt that the mood of fear now was worse than before as France remained on the highest level of security alert.

“I’ve got four children under nine and my stomach is in knots taking them to Jewish school in the morning. I’m actually afraid when I drop them off. I grew up in this very mixed area outside Paris with people of all backgrounds, and for the first time in my life I don’t feel my kids are safe at school. The other day we arrived at 8am, gendarmes opened the boot of my car and looked inside. What can I say to my kids?”

Aaron, 70, who preferred not to give his real name, said he had lived in Sarcelles for 30 years since moving from Morocco and worked checking kosher regulations at events. “You can feel the malaise,” he said. “Everywhere is empty, people don’t go out at night. It’s as if there’s a curfew. This type of fear is new. We just want peace.”

Sisi, a shop worker in her 50s, who also did not want her real name published, said: “My children are 19 and 23. I don’t let them out at night at the moment, and especially not to Paris.”

Lydie, 65, who has lived in Sarcelles since the age of six, said: “In my tower block, everyone is always there for each other, no matter what faith or background. Everyone has been very affected, all we can do is pray. I hope the trouble over there won’t come here, to France.”

In Germany, police said they were investigating “an attempted serious arson” after two assailants with their faces covered launched two molotov cocktails at a synagogue in the centre of Berlin in the early hours of Wednesday. The weapons burst on a sidewalk next to the building. Nobody was injured.

The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, vowed to increase protection for Jewish institutions even further, adding: “We will never accept when attacks are carried out against Jewish institutions.”

Germany’s Central Council of Jews said that the attack on the building, which also served as a kindergarten and community centre, had left the families from the nearby neighbourhoods “shocked and unsettled”.

It came after the Star of David was found daubed on the facades of several buildings across the city.

The Central Council of Jews described those markings as a “particularly problematic attack”, given that they appeared to be aimed at intimidating people. “In Berlin several houses where Jews live had a Star of David smeared on the outside,” the spokesperson said.

“That is, of course, a particularly painful thing to do in Germany, as it echoes back very directly to the ostracising of Jews that took place in the 1930s,” he added. “That is a particularly strong indication that there is a very clear agenda of not having a problem with Israel, but having a problem with Jews.”

In the wake of the Hamas attacks, Scholz pledged a “zero tolerance” approach to antisemitism. Anyone found to be lauding Hamas or burning the Israeli flag would be prosecuted, he said in a speech that highlighted Germany’s responsibility towards Israel given its previous role as the perpetrator of the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were murdered.

For Jacob Horowitz, a university student in Düsseldorf, fears of being targeted had led him to subtly shift his behaviour. On a recent visit to Berlin, he delayed his posts to social media in a bid to protect his whereabouts and constantly checked behind him as he walked the city. “I’m very, very paranoid and a lot of my friends are,” he said.

“It’s a reality for Jewish people in this country to grow up with security and police being near our institutions,” he added. “But I think this is the first time in a very long time that Jewish people have felt unsafe to even go to a synagogue, to go to a prayer.”

Horowitz, who is a board member of the Jewish Student Union of Germany, said he had heard similar concerns from others. “We’re facing a lot of Jewish students who are telling me: ‘Hey, I’m not sure I want to go on campus right now. I’m scared to go on campus.’”

In Italy, in Rome’s ghetto area, considered to be one of the oldest Jewish neighbourhoods in the world outside the Middle East, the events in Israel coincided with the 80th anniversary of Roman Jews being rounded up and deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Security was tightened in the neighbourhood, home to one of the largest synagogues in Europe, amid fears of attacks against Italy’s Jewish community.

The atmosphere was tense and there had been a drop in visitor numbers, locals said.

“We have had maybe 100-200 cancellations in the past few days because people are scared to come to the ghetto,” said Michele Pavoncello, whose family owns Nonna Betta, one of the most popular Jewish-Roman restaurants in the neighbourhood. “Not everyone specified the reason why but some said: ‘Given the situation, we don’t feel safe.’”

Seeing the hostilities against Jewish people elsewhere in Europe, Pavoncello said: “It feels as if we’re going back in time. People say it’s not antisemitism but anti-Zionism. But at the end of the day, this is the outcome.”

Source: The Guardian