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Shimon Samuels

Wiesenthal Centre and the Lessons of Copernic

In the years following the terrorist bombing of the Paris Copernic Synagogue, the French Jewish community was galvanized to create Jewish radio stations and training courses for the protection of Jewish religious and cultural institutions.

On Succot, 30 October 1980, I accompanied Aliza Shagrir, just arrived from Israel, to the corner of rue Copernic. While I continued walking straight, she met her death outside the synagogue at the hands of a terrorist who has since been identified and is still at large.

In those days, attacks on Jews were imported from the Middle East conflict. As time passed, the perpetrators came from migrant families and were indoctrinated by antisemitic agitators; in certain mosques, some even clandestine.

Since 9/11, a number of young Muslims were coopted into Daesh, then ISIS, to wage war against the West… Some left for Syria or Iraq, others remained in Europe, to kill Jews in the name of Allah or “Palestine”.

In a conversation with French Interior Minister, Gerald Darmanin, he promised to close down Jihadi mosques and affiliated Islamist Mudaras schools. To date, the Minister is keeping his word.

Besides the radical left and Islamist ring surrounding Paris, there is a high level of antisemitic propaganda or violence, also in other major cities, such as Toulouse, Marseille, Avignon or Lyon.

This takes us back to Copernic:

– We assisted a former police officer and jazz player, to create a 24/7 SOS telephone line for victims of antisemitism. This later became the BNVCA, with which we have                continued  working;

– Jewish radio stations have become professional and are a reference for the community, often providing information that mainstream media ignores;

– Self-defence classes for Jews are growing, providing heightened self-reliance for young and adults alike;

– We have proposed our own vigilance and educational programmes.

In view of only last month’s assault on a 13 year-old boy who was wearing a kippa, we return to the Copernic idea of now devising new instruments – such as smart devices as hidden SOS – for potential victims to alert, in real time, both police and a dedicated Jewish station…

The growth of native-born Islamists in France requires, as in the Passover Haggadah: “The Lord took us out of Egypt with a clenched fist and an outstretched hand.”

This means also more outreach initiatives connecting young Jews and Muslims. Through multifaith dialogue, the latter will hopefully better understand the danger that Islamism represents for themselves.

To quote Simon Wiesenthal, “What begins with the Jews does not end with the Jews!”

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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