Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

France's Jewish Community Deeply Shaken Over Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting


The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting has put a spotlight on surging anti-Semitism here in the U.S. It's also been a shock to European Jews, who've faced growing anti-Semitism in their countries over the last decade. They had viewed the U.S. as a kind of haven. In France, the Pittsburgh tragedy has been top of the news. France has the largest Jewish community after the U.S. and Israel. From Paris, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Right after the attack in Pittsburgh, the Union of French Jewish Students called for a gathering of solidarity in front of the U.S. Embassy in Paris.


SACHA GHOZLAN: Joyce Fienberg, 75 ans; Richard Gottfried, 65 ans.

BEARDSLEY: President of the union Sacha Ghozlan read out the names of the victims. Ghozlan says the Pittsburgh killings were a shock for French Jews.

GHOZLAN: For many Jews coming from Europe, the U.S. seems to be a kind of paradise.

BEARDSLEY: Ghozlan says that view began to change when people saw the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville last year.

GHOZLAN: Knowing that there is a rise of anti-Semitism in the U.S., that people Charlottesville say they wanted to kill Jews, that they wanted to expel the Jew from America - so we are very, very shocked.

BEARDSLEY: France had high profile anti-Semitic killings in 2006 and 2012. In 2015, Islamist terrorists who attacked the offices of satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo also targeted a kosher supermarket, killing four people there. Since then, two elderly Jewish women have been killed in their Paris apartments in what are also considered anti-Semitic murders.

I sit down in a Paris cafe with Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, the director of the American Jewish Committee offices in Europe. She says, in her view, there are three kinds of anti-Semitism - from the far-right, from the far-left and from radical Islamists. They're similar, she says, because their hatred is based on the same stereotypes about Jews. But she says knowing their differences matters.

SIMONE RODAN-BENZAQUEN: If you want to solve a problem, you obviously have to understand where it's coming from.

BEARDSLEY: France beefed up security around French synagogues after the Pittsburgh attack. Since the 2015 terrorist attacks, it is common to see soldiers outside of Jewish schools and houses of worship.



BEARDSLEY: Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told Parliament this week that authorities must let nothing slip by, including verbal anonymous threats on social media. His comments highlight one of the big differences between Europe and the U.S., says Jewish student union's Ghozlan.

GHOZLAN: We have a history in Europe of disaster, of genocide. And we know that when people on the Internet spread hate speech, it's necessary to have consequences for people in real life.

BEARDSLEY: In Europe, free speech stops at what is known as hate speech, where making threats against a specific group or minority is illegal. Ghozlan's organization took Twitter to court and won, forcing it to remove the hashtag #AGoodJew after it attracted virulently anti-Semitic comments. More recently, he says, they got Apple and Google to remove an app, created by a far-right French-Swiss extremist, that was being used to spread conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic propaganda. Rodan-Benzaquen says she believes the U.S. has to now ask itself whether the freedom of speech it is trying to protect is turning against it.

RODAN-BENZAQUEN: When you have people calling for the murder of Jews or blacks or migrants publicly on social media, to what extent does it not actually, at some point, translate into actual physical violence?

BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.


Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.