(JTA) — A French watchdog on anti-Semitism said President Barack Obama mislabeled the slaying of four Jews near Paris as “random.”
Sammy Ghozlan, founder of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, and a former police commissioner, spoke out against Obama’s assertion Wednesday in an interview with JTA.
In an interview Obama gave earlier this week to Vox.com, he said, “It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.”
Obama was referring to the slaying of four on Jan. 9 at a kosher supermarket near Paris by Amedy Coulibaly, a jihadist who told a journalist that he was there to kill Jews and a day earlier killed a police officer near a Jewish school before fleeing the scene. The four casualties were Jewish.
Coulibaly “did not commit his crimes randomly. They were premeditated,” Ghozlan said, adding that “by not naming the assailants as Islamists, Obama is cynically ignoring reality.”
Asked whether Obama thought the attacks were indeed random, White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Tuesday told reporters, “It is clear from the terrorists and the writings that they put out afterward what their motivation was. The adverb that the president chose was used to indicate that the individuals who were killed in that terrible, tragic incident were killed not because of who they were but because of where they randomly happened to be.”
Earnest added, “These individuals were not targeted by name.”
Asked “Not by name, but by religion, were they not?” Earnest replied, “There were people other than just Jews who were in that deli.” He declined to answer any further questions on the issue.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki later wrote on Twitter, “We have always been clear that the attack on the kosher grocery store was an anti-Semitic attack that took the lives of innocent people.”
But Ghozlan said Obama’s words nonetheless suggested to him that the president “does not want to face reality, possibly out of fear of rebuke from Muslim countries or reprisals.”