By Andrew Rosemarine, International law expert
I watch, in the Place de la République, as two million Frenchmen and more than 50 world leaders gather for France’s largest public demonstration since its liberation from the Nazis.
It’s Sunday afternoon, and President François Hollande tells us that Paris, today, is the centre of the world. This march, in solidarity with murdered Jews, journalists and police, is being hailed as one of the major moments of modern French history, and there is great excitement and high spirits in the crowd as we await the world leaders.
Flags flutter – among them the Algerian and Israeli flags flying next to each other. We sing the Marseillaise. We carry placards that read: “We are Charlie,” “We are police,” “We are Jews.”
Fraternité prevails. But for how long?
Following three days of hammer blows against the French people, that killed 17, at least five of them Jews, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has sought to allay fears of further bloodshed among us, urging us: “Don’t be afraid of being Jewish”.
The murderers, delinquents who first met in prison, synchronised their crimes to instil maximum fear through the media. All too successfully.
French Jewry is more terrorised now than at any time since the Allies kicked the Nazis out. Many stayed away from the synagogue on Shabbat. It was sad to see my own synagogue only half full. Roger Cukierman, head of CRIF, France’s Board of Deputies, has just pleaded with Hollande at the Elysée Palace, for Jews to be able to lead a normal life in France.
Is that possible now? Under Hollande’s personal direction, French security services shot dead all three killers with impressive effectiveness, managing to spare further bloodshed. Valls, a passionate friend of French Jewry, told us not to be afraid “because fear is what the terrorists want us to feel”.
He has ordered guards to be present outside all Jewish schools and synagogues. That will not suffice to allay fears. Some Jews are describing themselves as “traumatised” and many are contemplating leaving France.
This would be disastrous for a community that has given this country two of its greatest Prime Ministers (Leon Blum and Pierre Mendes France), one of its most influential lawyers (René Cassin, drafter of the European Convention on Human Rights and president of its Court), more than 10 percent of its Noble Prizes, and many of its leading public figures, artists and writers.
I watch, in the august and grandiose Synagogue de la Victoire, as Presidents Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, Premier Valls and his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, join us for prayers commemorating the 17.
It’s now Sunday evening. The crowd warmly applauds all four politicians, each one of them loved by large sections of the congregation. In our hour of need, we are not abandoned. The first rows are also filled with French dignitaries, including the Bishop of Paris in his scarlet yarmulke, and Hassen Chalghoumi, an imam popular for his tolerance, in his habitual large white kippah.
Natan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency, forecasting a massive exodus of French Jewry, and Israeli party leaders Avigdor Lieberman, Naftali Bennett and Eli Yishai, are also there.
Memorial candles are lit for all 17, and their names are read out in full, including the Muslim policeman and cartoonist murdered by the Charlie Hebdo assassin. Shortly after the murders, Netanyahu told French Jewry “Your home is in Israel.”
He said something similar after Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and three schoolchildren were slaughtered in Toulouse three years ago.
On both occasions, French leaders were aghast at the prospect of yet more Jews leaving the country. France is thought to have leaned on Netanyahu to retract his words. To allay fears, Valls repeatedly states: “Without her Jews France is not France.” So in his speech in the synagogue, the Likud leader tells us: “Jews are free to live wherever they want, particularly in France.”
But the French Presidents and Prime Minister left before Netanyahu spoke, indicating something of their views of him. The fight is on for the future of French Jewry. France needs her.
Will she stay or will she go?