France — Jérémy Bismuth is Jewish, though he doesn't wear a yarmulke
or Star of David pendant or adhere to a Kosher diet or leave school
early on Fridays to be home before sunset. Nothing identifies the
15-year-old French boy as Jewish except his birth.
he is a Jew, he was attacked by a group of other children, mostly
Muslim, at the private Catholic school he then attended. They dragged
him into the school's locker room showers shouting that they were
going to gas him as the Nazis had gassed Jews. He was beaten and
flogged with a pair of trousers whose zipper scratched one of his
and his parents, the incident a year ago was the harrowing confirmation
of a trend that many say is gathering momentum: a resurgent European
anti-Semitism, coming not from its traditional source among Europe's
right-wing nationalists, but from the Continent's growing Islamic
community, egged on by the political left.
climate is too pro-Arab, and in the past year it has become intolerable,"
said Michèle Bismuth, Jérémy's mother at the family's home last
week. She said her traumatized son would not leave the house for
10 days after the attack.
To some, such
incidents, which have becine increasingly common since the latest
round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting began more than two years
ago, represent the Middle East conflict brought to Europe, where
sympathy for the Palestinian cause runs far higher than in the United
intifada began in 2000, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been
imported here," said the mother of another high school student who
had a hood thrown over his head and was beaten to unconsciousness
by a gang of Muslim youths calling him a "dirty Jew" outside a Paris
high school two months ago.
talking nervously at a kosher restaurant not far from the school,
said she fears the atmosphere will darken with the war in Iraq.
"When they say `America' they think `Israel' and when they think
`Israel' they think `Jewish,' " she said. "Who is going to assure
slogans and physical assaults against Jews in Europe have reached
a frequency not seen since the 1930's when Fascism was on the rise.
But in the vast majority of the cases today, the assailants are
young Muslims of North African heritage whose parents emigrated
to Europe in the 1960's and 1970's.
number and most violent attacks have come in France, which, with
an estimated six million Muslims and 650,000 Jews in the country,
has Europe's largest Jewish and largest Muslim populations.
Some Jews have
left France for Israel, driven as much by the deteriorating climate
in Europe as they are drawn by solidarity with the Jewish state.
According to Israeli government figures, 2,556 French Jews emigrated
to Israel last year, double the number a year earlier and the most
since the 1967 Six Day War.
is willing to call the current wave of violence anti-Semitism. Henri
Wajnblum, head of the Union of Progressive Jews of Belgium, said
it is important to distinguish between anti-Semitic and anti-Israel
actions. He and other members of his Brussels-based group have been
visiting classrooms in Muslim neighborhoods to help explain the
difference between Zionists and Jews in general.
But for Jews
who have become targets, the distinction is a false one that masks
the root problem — a latent anti-Semitism that they say has created
an environment in which a new strain of racism can thrive.
"In the popular
imagination, Jews aren't sympathetic because they are identified
with Israel and Sharon," said Sammy Ghozlan, a retired police officer
who operates a clearinghouse for information on anti-Semitism in
France, referring to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel.
He said many
Jews are distraught after willfully believing that the hatred of
Jews was erased in Europe by the traumatic accounting of anti-Semitism's
toll at the end of World War II.
"There is a
feeling that the honeymoon period is over and that it's now impossible
to say what will come," Mr. Ghozlan said. He said he has verified
reports of 100 serious anti-Semitic incidents in Paris and its suburbs
in the first three months of this year alone.
Jews say that
much serious harassment goes unreported because the police register
many incidents as simple vandalism or assault-and-battery even though
they are clearly anti-Semitic. Worse, anti-Semitism risks entrenching
itself in a generation of children for whom the language of bigotry
has become the slang of the schoolyard.
The word "feuj"
— from the inversion of the French word "Juif," which means "Jew"
— is now a playground standard, both as an insult against Jewish
students and as a contemptuous adjective. Children say a pen that
does not work is "completely feuj," for example, and the Hebrew
salutation "mazel tov" is used in the same way.
the war in Iraq could intensify the problem, France's education
ministry last month launched a campaign to stamp out anti-Semitism
and other types of racism in schools. Education Minister Luc Ferry
acknowledged that verbal insults are becoming common.
"There is a
real danger — all the greater because today anti-Semitism is of
a new type, coming from parts of society that are more acceptable
than the extreme right: from Arabs and Muslims," Mr. Ferry said
on state radio last month.
10 measures to combat the problem, including the creation of a monitoring
committee in Paris, the appointment of a team of mediators for the
worst cases and the publication of a booklet to be distributed around
But some schools
have advised Jewish parents that they cannot protect their children
from harassment and advised that they change schools instead.
At a macadam
soccer field in a quiet, well-groomed park in northeastern Paris,
Muslim youths come regularly to harass students of a nearby Jewish
school. Shlomo, a 15-year-old Jewish boy wearing a black velveteen
yarmulke, described the taunts and shoves and, in the most serious
Jérémy Bismuth's mother, Michèle, shows photographs she took of
anti-Semitic slogans and graffiti that were painted along the parade
route of a pro-Palestinian rally in the town last year. One photo
shows a street sign scrawled with the words "Death to Jews," and
another, taken long after the rally, shows large stars of David
and Nazi swastikas with equal signs between them.
broke free from his tormentors in the shower, he ran for help to
the teacher's lounge but none of the faculty rose from their chairs
to help the disheveled and distraught boy. Jérémy said it wasn't
the first anti-Semitic incident he had experienced at the school,
nor the last.
of the school, Robert Patrois, dismissed the incident as a schoolyard
brawl between a Muslim boy and a Jewish boy "that brought out their
14-year-old vocabulary." In a telephone interview he grew irritated
when asked if the teachers had come to Jérémy's aide.
me to remember what they did," he said. "I didn't want to treat
it as an anti-Arab or anti-Jewish incident. I treated it as fighting."
After the incident,
Jérémy and his parents filed a complaint with the police, but the
boy was taunted repeatedly in the subsequent weeks by other Muslim
mother sent a lengthy complaint in the notebook that every student
carries to pass messages between parents and faculty, but the notebook
was never returned and a new, blank one was sent home with her son
withdrew Jérémy from the school at the end of last year and enrolled
him in a new school, although with some difficulty: his previous
school records had disappeared.
"No one helped
him," his mother said, sitting at a glass dining room table in a
white stucco house that, until recently, housed Mrs. Bismuth's optical
shop and her husband's dental practice. They have closed both businesses
and plan to leave France for good.
considered going to Israel, but have set their hopes on the United
States instead. If all goes well, they will move to Florida when
the school year ends in June.