- A 50-year-old Jewish man appears to have been behind
the torching of the Jewish community center in Paris some 10 days ago,
French police have confirmed. The man, whose first name, Raphael, was released
for publication, was arrested yesterday.
- According to French police sources, Raphael was a regular
visitor to the community center's soup kitchen, and is believed to have
set fire to the building in the wake of a dispute with the people who run
- The man has not confessed to the arson, but the police
investigation has turned up considerable evidence tying him to the incident.
- Jewish community leaders in France reacted with anger
and embarrassment following the latest revelations about the fire.
- If the police suspicions prove true, the affair will
mark the second time in two months that an incident labeled as anti-Semitic
and covered widely in the media has turned out to be motivated by other
factors entirely. The first incident involved a non-Jewish Parisian woman
who claimed to have been assaulted by six North African immigrants on a
train, but later confessed to have fabricated the story.
- French government sources and Jewish organizations have
yet to comment officially on the affair, and are waiting for a public announcement
from the police.
- Since the story broke, however, France's Jews have been
beside themselves with shame, with some calling Jewish radio stations yesterday
to express their frustration. Others have spoken of profound embarrassment
in light of the latest development in the fight against anti-Semitism.
- One radio listener said that in the past he had been
afraid of Muslims, but had now decided to be wary of Jews. Another shouted
that he was ashamed to show his face in the building in which he lived,
noting that after the fire at the community center, his neighbors had visited
him to express their disgust at the incident.
- Little by little, the sense of being the victims that
had enveloped the Jews of France is being replaced by the sense that the
series of deceptions is threatening to blur the severity of the problem.
In particular, the French Jews are concerned that from now, any incident
against the Jews will be immediately accompanied by suspicion.
- Till now, radical Muslim elements have been automatically
suspected of any allegedly anti-Semitic incident. Now, the suspicions will
be directed against those who have been deemed the principal victims of
anti-Semitism, and the public and official outcry against any attack on
Jews is expected to weaken.
- Every time a report of an anti-Semitic incident broke,
French leaders made a concerted effort to bolster the Jewish community
and express their support for its members. Time and again, French President
Jacques Chirac found himself harnessing the republic's institutions and
public opinion so as to convey a sense of security to the Jewish community,
and almost every location at which anti-Semitic incidents occured was visited
by French leaders as a sign of solidarity with the country's Jewish community.
- And as if the sense of guilt that the French felt in
the wake of attacks on Jews wasn't enough, Israel added fuel to the fire.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his cabinet colleagues never failed to
miss an opportunity to paint France as the most dangerous place on earth
for Jews. Sharon even went so far as to urge French Jews to immigrate to
Israel before falling victim to France's large Muslim sector.
- Now that it appears that a mentally unstable Jewish man
was behind the arson attack, the Jewish community is likely to see the
sympathy of the French public dwindle.
- "Don't forget that we are dealing with a community
that lives under tension, concern and fear all the time," Henri Cohen
Solal, a Jewish psychoanalyst from Paris, told Haaretz yesterday. "To
this you must add the fact that in most instances, the Jews encounter quiet
anti-Semitism - invisible and not transparent... This marginal situation
is very problematic, and it sometimes causes members of the community to
take extreme action so as to cry wolf. But it must be clear that the wolf
exists, even if it isn't always seen."
- © Copyright 2004 Haaretz. All rights reserved