Today I am in Nice, France and it is Bastille Day. Nice is one of my favorite cities in the world and it is in pain. It has been suffering for the past year following the horrific terror attack exactly one day a year ago, in which 86 innocents were murdered on the Promenade des Anglais by an Islamic Fundamentalist terrorist who used a massive truck as his weapon. Of those killed, forty percent were local inhabitants and twenty-five percent were Arabs. Ten were children.
Commemorating the event, there will be a massive memorial service in the center of the city to be attended by French President Macron, and past presidents Hollande, and Sarcozy in a show of solidarity and respect. The ceremony will be followed by an open air concert, poetry readings and an inter-faith prayer service. Last year’s annual fireworks display which brought thousands of holiday celebrants to the seafront, have been cancelled. They have been replaced by events deemed far more respectful.
Everyone in the South of France is suffering from this attack. Everyone we speak to knew someone injured, killed or connected to a victim. Tourists were frightened away, just as they have been in Israel after Intifadas, wars or mass knife attacks. The streets of Nice (and I understand it is the same in Cannes, Menton, Ville Franche, Monaco and other nearby lovely vacation spots), normally have less people in the hotels, in the cafes and in the shops. Small businesses which were previously holding their own, have closed down. The normally bustling streets are a bit less crowded, but today is an exception. It is being reported by authorities that tourism on major holiday weekends is better than ever, but I do not believe it. I have been coming for seven years and see the difference every day.
Terror has not only done its worst here, but continues to effect the Jewish community. It is no longer possible for a visitor to drop into one of the many synagogues for prayer services. First one must register with the local police authority, be thoroughly vetted, and receive permission to attend.
Last Friday night we were invited to a Chabad Rabbi’s home for Friday night dinner. We were told that the police check in with him every day to be sure he and his wife are okay. When we went to the apartment house which holds their home, there were six apartments. On the gated building was the usual list of names of the occupants. There were five names. The one which had been torn away was obviously the Rabbi’s as protection against unwanted persons who might be intent on ill deeds. It was a disconcerting sight.
I have been told that there are threats against all organizations Jewish on a daily basis. It is easy to sit back and ask why all French Jews do not instantly fly to Israel and make Aliyah. The answers are always much more complex than the questions. A Nicoise friend of ours, whose daughter is in University in Israel, did fly to Tel Aviv to buy an apartment. He found that the Euro was so weak against the shekel and the dollar (which is the base of Israeli real estate pricing), that he could not afford to buy an apartment in Israel after all. He was a businessman with two successful restaurants. He has since sold the restaurants and gone into Real Estate, looking for a greater financial reward, probably in order to one day make Aliyah. It is not possible for him now.
Although I found an excellent Kosher butcher and more than one outstanding Kosher grocery store in Nice, the two butchers I had used for seven years, have gone out of business. Nothing stands still, but terrorism has its impact on day to day life for French Jews beyond that of the local population. France is a Catholic country and has no intention of allowing Muslim Fundamentalism to replace its own values.
At a recent conference which I attended at the Foreign Ministry in Israel, entitled “Echo Chambers in the Age of Digital Terrorism”, the message was clear: Europe does not intend to allow the proliferation of terrorism through social media, and the three “M”s as they were referred to…. Macron, Merkel, and May… are prepared to change their nation’s laws to save their countries’ futures. Slow in that regard is the United States which uses its “Freedom of Speech” constitutional amendment as an excuse to allow hatred,terrorism, and lies to be spread throughout. Fortunately for us all, there are ways around the First Amendment…and I will write more about what was gleaned from that conference at a future date.
The police are out in France today in the many thousands. The country still is under a declared “state of emergency.” This gives the police special powers they were previously denied. The difference is apparent on the streets and even on the tramway when they sometimes enter, fully armed. It is said that half the tram car empties out upon their arrival. Their police seem bigger, taller and tougher than the norm. One does not want to confront them. They are doing what they were intended to do.
Nice today, with its commemorations and mixed emotions, is a different place than it was a year ago when tourists and residents alike sat on the beach watching the most exquisite of fireworks displays, having no idea what was waiting for them in the minutes to come.
What the terrorists do not realize, is that while they perpetrate their deeds, and they do kill innocents, they at the same time are uniting the world against them. For those who say “Europe is lost”… I say, “perhaps not.” .It is better to have leaders who wake up late…than those who do not wake up at all.