Terror in Toulouse


The latest anti-Jewish attack in Toulouse isn’t the first.

IMAGE: Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and his two sons, Arieh, left, and Gabriel, were killed in the shooting at the Ozar Hatorah School in Toulouse, France. The rabbi’s wife is holding their daughter. (Flash90/JTA) (Flash90)

Mar. 22 marked the close of a two-day standoff between French police and the self-proclaimed attacker of a Jewish school in Toulouse, who jumped to his death during a police raid.

The attack on Ozar HaTorah, in which 30-year-old French-Israeli rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his two young sons and a third girl were murdered, left the French Jewish community n shock.

A few news reports alluded to anti-Semitic violence in France in 2002, but few noted that Toulouse itself was targeted ten years ago:

In Toulouse, a man opened fire at a closed kosher butcher shop on Saturday evening, causing damage to the building’s facade. Hours later, vandals set fire to the doors of a synagogue in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, home to one of France’s largest and oldest communities of Ashkenazi Jews.

Firemen were able to extinguish the fires in Lyon and Strasbourg before they spread, but the arson in Marseilles completely leveled the 4,800-square-foot Or Aviv synagogue.

Reactions in the Jewish community ranged from hurt to outrage, but nobody seemed very surprised.

Commenting on the Toulouse attack, Rabbi David Layani claimed: "This new act comes after hundreds of others that have struck the French Jewish community in the last 18 months, following events in the Middle East which make the situation here extremely tense."

Later that week, a Jewish athletic club in Toulouse was the target of an arson fire, one of several across the country.

During the April 2002 attacks — which news reports widely framed in the context of the second intifada in Israel — JTA highlighted tensions between Jewish groups who had rallied in response. One JDL-Beitar demonstration was marred by the stabbing of a French policeman by a youth protestor from one of the Jewish groups.

Ten years later, it’s difficult to draw a comparison, as the recent fatal attack in Toulouse — which followed a string of murders targeting French soldiers of North African descent — appeared to have been an isolated act vis-a-vis Jewish institutions.

Nevertheless, the solidarity of the Jewish community in response to the attack on Ozar HaTorah was evident during a recent rally, which focused on the victims:

On Monday night, thousands of Jews and non-Jews, including politicians, gathered in Paris for a silent demonstration organized by the French Union of Jewish Students. One banner among the many French flags held aloft by the marchers read, “In France, Blacks, Jews and Arabs are killed.”

“It could have been anyone’s child,” said Jacques Benichou, the executive director of the FSJU, in a phone interview as he was boarding a plane for Paris on Monday night after spending a large part of the day with Jewish leaders in Toulouse. “Even if the killer was targeting other minorities, there’s no escaping that he targeted Jewish children as well. We all feel deeply sad and very alarmed.”

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