The disturbing attack on a young Jewish couple in a Paris suburb on Dec. 1 contained an element not seen in previous attacks thought to be motivated by anti-Semitism: the rape of a woman. This is an appalling crime against the 19-year-old victim and makes the attack qualitatively different from the disturbing attacks on Jews that we have recently seen in France. It is a stark reminder that, particularly in ethnic conflicts, rape is often used as a weapon to humiliate the enemy.
Police have detained three men suspected of breaking into the couple’s apartment with pistols, tying the couple down and raping the woman before stealing bank cards, jewelry and mobile phones. According to the couple’s lawyer, the assailants said, “You Jews, you have money.”
The trial of the perpetrators will reveal the facts of the case, which is being viewed as a racially motivated attack. But observers cannot help but see this ugly crime as part of the rising hostility against Jews throughout Europe – a trend that France’s interior minister acknowledges has resulted this year in more than a doubling of anti-Semitic attacks in his country.
Last Sunday, hundreds of Jews rallied in Creteil, the scene of the attack. The interior minister promised that “the Republic will defend you with all its force.” While those are comforting words, they will only be meaningful if the government and French society – in which so many apparently think it’s OK to attack Jews – back them up. We will see.
Whatever the immediate reaction, there might not be much of a Jewish community left in France to protect. For a republic whose motivating principles are freedom, equality and brotherhood, modern-day France seems to be anything but that to its Jewish residents. Indeed, that Jewish community, reacting to a steady stream of anti-Semitic vitriol and violence going back several years but increasing this summer during Israel’s offensive against Hamas, is fleeing France for Israel and Canada at a rapid pace. Should the emigration continue – an exodus, we should add, that is entirely justified by the climate French Jews find themselves in at the moment – France stands to lose a community and culture whose roots in that country date back more than a thousand years.
At the Creteil rally, Roger Cukierman, president of the Jewish umbrella organization CRIF, delivered his own warning to the government: “It cannot go on like this,” he said. We agree.