Je suis juif tunisien

In the aftermath of the Paris atrocities last week, some are complaining that the media have not made enough of the fact that Jews were specifically targeted by the Islamist terrorists. The attack on the Hyper Cacher kosher supermaket was not a fluke, it was deliberate.

Jew-hatred is a central, but underplayed plank of Islamist ideology. If no Jews have died in Syria and Iraq in the region under Islamic State control, it is because there are no Jews left to murder in those areas. They have all already been ethnically cleansed.

One interesting aspect of last week’s dreadful atrocities in Paris – but again not highlighted by the media – is that Tunisian Jews figure disproportionately among the victims. Disproportionate because the French Jewish community, although composed mostly of Jews from North Africa, also hails from Algeria and Morocco.

Johan Cohen, 22, had a Tunisian mother. His grandmother was the celebrated Tunisian-Jewish singer Doukha, who died in December.

Francois-Michel Saada, 64, was born in Tunis.

So too was Yoav Hattab, 21, whose family still lives in Tunisia, where just over 1,000 Jews remain out of an original community of 100,000.

It is not clear which country Philippe Braham’s family was from: but this fourth hostage, in his 40s, was also from North Africa.

At the Charlie Hebdo offices, two Jews died, both of Tunisian extraction: Georges Wolinski, 80, was born in Tunis of a Polish-Jewish father and Sephardi mother. Georges Wolinski’s father sought a haven from Nazi Europe, only to be murdered by one of his employees in a Muslim land. Elsa Cayat’s father was from Sfax in Tunisia.

Elsa Cayat, a psychiatrist who wrote a twice-monthly column for Charlie Hebdo, was almost certainly singled out because she was Jewish. Why? Because another journalist, Sigolene Vinson, was spared ‘because she was a woman’.

Sigolene Vinson survived the brutal attack in which 12 people including six of her co-workers and two police officers, were shot dead.

One of the killers held a gun to her head, but decided against killing her too.

‘I’m not killing you because you are a woman and we don’t kill women but you have to convert to Islam, read the Qu’ran and wear a veil.’

But Elsa Cayat was not spared. It has now come to light that she received death threats before the attack.

All this is heavy with irony. These are Jews whose families left Tunisia largely because Jews were being pushed to the margins of society and because the authorities could not or would not protect them against spasmodic violence.

All these Tunisian Jews had sought refuge in France. Now France cannot ensure a secure future for them or their children. Seventy-five percent of France’s Jews are reportedly seeking to leave.

Yet Yoav Hattab had told his father Benjamin, the rabbi of the great synagogue in Tunis, that merely to walk around wearing a kippa in Paris was dangerous. His father never imagined, he said on France 2 TV, that his son would be less safe in Paris than he was in Tunisia.

About the Author
Lyn Julius is a journalist and co-founder of Harif, an association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa in the UK. She is the author of 'Uprooted: How 3,000 years of Jewish Civilisation in the Arab world vanished overnight.' (Vallentine Mitchell)
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