Wiesenthal Centre and the 1980 Copernic Synagogue in Paris Bombing

I had come to Paris in 1980 with the grandiose objective to contain antisemitism. Little did I foresee its nature.

On 3 October, the eve of Sukkot (Tabernacles), I was visiting an Israeli journalist, Tamar Cohen. Her houseguest, Aliza Shagrir – wife of the late cineaste Micha Shagrir – had just arrived from Israel. Asking her hostess if she needed anything for dinner, Tamar suggested some dates from the fruit shop three hundred meters away, facing the synagogue on the rue Copernic. We went down to the street together. She turned into Copernic, I continued walking straight ahead. I felt the bomb, where Aliza met her death.

The following day, Prime Minister Raymond Barre stated “This odious bombing meant to strike Jews who were going to the synagogue, but hit innocent French people who crossed rue Copernic.” In fact, one was a Portuguese concierge, another a Jewish worshipper, Aliza and one “innocent Frenchman.” In 2007, Barre attributed the subsequent protests to a campaign of “the Jewish lobby.”

The Copernic terrorist attack launched 73 shootings and bombings of Jewish targets in Western Europe, 29 in France. The wave ended with the 1982 Jo Goldenberg Restaurant massacre in the Jewish quarter. Indeed, a recent French extradition request to Norway, for one of the perpetrators, has been approved.

The wave of violence stopped due to Israel’s incursion into Southern Lebanon, to destroy Palestinian terrorist training camps. European terrorists fled home, where they stopped targeting Jews. Needing money, they attacked banks and embassies. The authorities cracked down, proving Simon Wiesenthal’s dictum “What starts with the Jews never ends with them.”

The French government tried to pin Copernic on the extreme right. We knew better,the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine or its derivatives’fingerprints were the most likely

In November 2010, I was in Ottawa, attending the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combatting Antisemitism (ICCA). I saw in a newspaper that a suspect in the bombing, Hassan Diab – a Sociology Professor at Carlton University – was in court proceedings but six blocs away, regarding a request for extradition to a Paris trial. The court was full, predominently wearing hijabs and Palestinian keffiya headdress…The atmosphere was more a trial against Israel

We followed the lengthy procedure -normally a few weeks between democracies – until Diab was brought to France in 2014…In 2018, he was released as the French court dismissed all charges ,despite a pending appeal.
Reportedly,his passport had been confiscated and he was under a no-fly order. Yet his disappearance ended with photos together with his family in Ottawa. French politicians — allegedly in the know — when approached by our Centre, refused to comment.

Diab proceeded to sue the Canadian government for 90,000,000 dollars
A new French tribunal has called for another trial ,either after a second extradition or for a proceeding in absentia.

The ball is now back with the Canadian government which, apparently,will only act if the French Supreme Court calls for Diab’s return

The bottom line: After 40 years,the victim families and wounded of Copernic still have no closure ..”Justice so long delayed is indeed justice denied”

About the Author
Shimon Samuels is Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He has served as Deputy Director of the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, European Director of ADL, and Israel Director of AJC. He was born in UK and studied in UK, Israel, U.S. and Japan.
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