French Interior Minister Manuel Valls spoke of his concerns at a “new breed of anti-Semitism in our neighourhoods, in our suburbs”, the day after the two suspects in the case of an attack on a Jewish youth in Lyon were detained.
The two accused, both aged 18 and of North African origin, were placed under arrest after being questioned at the start of an enquiry into the violent attack on a 17 year-old boy of identifiably Jewish appearance on a train from Toulouse to Villeurbanne.
The Public Prosecutor’s Department of Lyon confirmed that the attack had been of “an anti-Semitic nature” following the interview on Saturday, as had initially been signalled by the Interior Ministry. In a statement, the public prosecutor stated that “the indications are that the attack was of an anti-Semitic nature. For the moment we only have the victim’s statement. The nature of the attack (therefore) remains uncertain and will be the subject of an enquiry to determine (whether it was in fact motivated by religious reasons)”.
The enquiry is designed to encourage witnesses to come forward, particularly fellow train passengers. A judiciary source told the AFP Saturday that until now “none of the witness statements highlighted any anti-Semitic comments”.
The French Interior Minister was, however, keen to identify Wednesday night’s attack as a hate crime, speaking of a worrying “new anti-Semitism” in an interview with (French Jewish station) Radio J on Sunday. “There is anti-Semitism that exists in our neighbourhoods, in our suburbs,” declared Manuel Valls.
“There are in our neighbourhoods, youths, or younger persons, who in the name of a collective identity they feel is under attack, decide on the most ignorant course, the most dangerous to our values, to perpetuate attacks on Jews. They consider Jews to be the enemy,” he added.
Further expanding on the idea, he said that “for many years, we have seen a new anti-Semitism perpetuated by youths”, adding that this form of bigotry could no longer be equated to “events that occur elsewhere in the world, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.
When asked directly whether this anti-Semitism was perpetuated by youths claiming to be Muslim, he replied “I’m afraid (it might be) so”, calling on people “to be moderate in expressing it”, adding it was not his intention to stigmatise other French citizens, or to throw “suspicion (on) our citizens, notably those of Islamist persuasion”.
Additional facts of Wednesday night’s attack emerged as it was confirmed that the victim, identified only as Lior, was returning home to his parents in a suburb of Lyon having sat his French public exams. In lodging a complaint about the incident, he related to the authorities that he was insulted by the accused as he phoned his brother, who has a known Jewish name. On the train platform he was then hit by another youth who was then joined by his previous assailant. He alleged only one of the attackers made reference to his religion during the course of the violence.
“Today, (people) don’t think twice about insulting or hitting a fellow citizen because he is identifiably Jewish in his appearance”, Valls added, in his interview with Jewish radio. Recommending prudence to avoid adding to the “Merah effect”, referring to a spate of anti-Semitic attacks in France that sprung up following the massacre of three Jewish children and one of their fathers outside the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse in March by al-Qaeda sympathiser Mohamed Merah, which he described as “an outbreak of unacceptable anti-Semitic acts”.
“But unfortunately, there is no doubt that for impressionable youths who profess such hatred, this act (the Toulouse school shootings) served to liberate their emotions”, Valls concluded.
The Interior Minister’s analysis of an evolving anti-Semitism was supported by (the umbrella representative organisation of French Jewry) the CRIF, as spokesman Nicole Yardeni spoke of bring “faced with a young generation who are of an anti-Semitic culture”.
CRIF president Richard Prasquier expressed the fears of the Jewish community of the recent resurgence of anti-Semitism in a meeting with French president Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace on Thursday, following this latest incident.
The French president called the meeting, at which Manuel Valls was also present, following the news of the attack on the 17 year-old student on Wednesday.
The President of the League against Racism and anti-Semitism, Alain Jakubowicz further elaborated that “this persistent anti-Semitism is implanted by the education of some”.
This latest incident has evoked further outcry from the Jewish community, as the victim was a student of the Ozar Hatorah school where Merah carried out his attacks in March. Lior was identified as having been in the front line of those attacks, as his lawyer Simon Cohen explained: “he was trying to protect two of the victims, Gabriel and Arieh Sandler and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on another of them”.
“This violence constitutes an attack on French citizenship, on the fundamental rights of citizens”, declared Cohen, who also represented the victims of the Ozar Hatorah massacre. He continued to say it is “necessary in the face of an outbreak of such aggression to research and understand the roots of such evil”, adding that “necessary educational tools” must be used to prevent such hatred from further spreading.