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France's Chief Rabbi Sounds Alarm Against Anti-Semitism

  • Lisa Bryant

FILE - Grand Rabbi of France Haim Korsia speaks during an ecumenical ceremony at the synagogue of Sarcelles, north of Paris, July 21, 2014.

FILE - Grand Rabbi of France Haim Korsia speaks during an ecumenical ceremony at the synagogue of Sarcelles, north of Paris, July 21, 2014.

As Jews leave France in record numbers, the country's chief rabbi is calling for tougher measures to fight extremism on the Internet, and for a public awakening to the rising anti-Semitism that has shaken Western Europe's largest Jewish community.

Grand Rabbi Haim Korsia acknowledged these are difficult times for French Jews, whose numbers are estimated at about half-a-million. Roughly 5,000 Jews have left the country this year for a mix of reasons, including rising anti-Semitism.

Smoke rises from the rubble of the Al-Zafer apartment tower following Israeli airstrikes Saturday that collapsed the 13-story building, in Gaza City, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014.

Smoke rises from the rubble of the Al-Zafer apartment tower following Israeli airstrikes Saturday that collapsed the 13-story building, in Gaza City, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014.

As the Gaza conflict heated up this summer, more radical protesters hurled insults at Jews and attacked Jewish institutions and synagogues. But what also worries Rabbi Korsia is the silence.

More than two decades ago, Korsia said, the desecration of Jewish tombs in the southern French town of Carpentras brought more than a million people to the streets in protest. Today, there are no such marches against anti-Semitism. While the government is responding appropriately, he said, there is a sense of public indifference.

Korsia spoke Tuesday, a day after a major conference on thwarting terrorism in Iraq. That issue resonates strongly in countries like France, where nearly 1,000 people have left to join jihadist movements in the Middle East.

Two years ago, a radical Islamist gunned down four Jews in Toulouse. Another returning French jihadist is suspected in the May shootings of four people at a Brussels Jewish museum.

Rabbi Korsia expressed faith in the government's ability to thwart radical attacks, which present a danger to all French. But he said a fringe of the community is profoundly anti-Semitic, and those people now have a space to express themselves.

Korsia called for a more vigorous response to the anti-Semitism and extremism on the airwaves and the Internet, which influences young people, and a concerted effort to re-engage disenfranchised French youth.

Elected in June to a seven-year term, Rabbi Korsia has sounded a message of inclusiveness and openness, which he repeated Tuesday. Jews leaving France are not abandoning their homeland, he says, but building new bridges. He has vowed to shore up and reinvigorate the remaining community, and to champion a bigger leadership role for women.

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