Jewish Man Arrested For
'Anti-Semitic' Arson In Paris
By Amiram Barkat and Daniel Ben Simon
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 it.
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."
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