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French Jewish Confidence Shaken After Rabbi is Stabbed, Car Set Ablaze

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French Jewish leaders’ growing confidence that the threat of anti-Semitic attacks had receded has received a severe jolt after two attacks in recent days on a Paris rabbi.

Rabbi Gabriel Farhi, who runs the Jewish Liberal Movement of France synagogue in Paris, was stabbed twice in the stomach late last Friday afternoon. He was only lightly wounded.

On Monday, his car was set on fire outside his apartment, according to news reports.

“We had the feeling that incidents targeting the Jewish community were decreasing, that it was improving,” Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella organization of French Jews, said after last Friday’s stabbing.

Hours before the attack, the synagogue had received an anonymous letter threatening both Farhi and the building.

“We will skin Rabbi Farhi alive and avenge the blood of our Palestinian brothers,” the letter read. “After setting fire to the synagogue, we will take vengeance directly against him.”

A wave of anti-Semitic attacks last year was committed predominantly by adolescents and young men of Maghrebin, or North African, descent.

However, Farhi said the man who attacked him last Friday spoke with a French accent. The man wore a mask and motorcycle helmet and shouted “God is great” in Arabic before fleeing the scene, leaving the knife stuck in Farhi.

Farhi, 34, was rushed to a nearby hospital but was allowed to return home later the same evening.

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe denounced the attack as “an odious aggression,” and French police officials opened an investigation into the affair.

Together with his Jewish Liberal Movement, which is affiliated with the World Union of Progressive Judaism, Farhi was known for his attempts to foster understanding between French Jews and other religious groups.

He also had called for a peaceful solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

“A rabbi, a religious leader, has been attacked in our country of liberty,” France’s Chief Rabbi, Joseph Sitruk, said in a statement. He added that “people, regardless of their religion, have a right to security.”

This was not the first attack on the synagogue, which is located in Paris’s cosmopolitan 11th District. The building was severely damaged in a fire-bombing last year.

French Jewish student leader Patrick Klugman said he was shocked by the attack on Farhi.

So, too, did many official Muslim spokesmen. The rector of Paris’ Central Mosque called Farhi an old friend.

France’s 500,000-strong Jewish community was hit by a wave of anti-Semitic attacks last year. The attacks peaked last April, when Israel mounted a massive anti-terror offensive in the West Bank, but had declined steadily in recent months.

Stung by criticism that authorities were not doing enough to protect the Jewish community, France’s new government enacted certain measures, most notably by maintaining a visible police presence at Jewish institutions.

When the number of attacks fell, however, the police presence was removed except at the most sensitive locations.

After last Friday’s attack, French officials did not announce any new major security measures.

However, the Simon Wiesenthal Center upgraded its travel advisory on France to “extreme caution” following the attack.

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