Jewish children killed in French school shooting

Three children and a rabbi were killed yesterday morning when a masked gunman opened fire at a Jewish School in Toulouse. Police suspect a racist serial killer may be on the rampage.

Pupils at the Ozah Hatorah Jewish school were arriving for morning lessons when the gunman opened fire. Pulling up calmly on a black motorbike, the attacker unleashed a stream of bullets that transformed a quiet Toulouse street into a scene of horror. By the time he made his getaway, three children and a rabbi were dead.

Worse yet, police now think they may be dealing with a serial killer. A motorcyclist matching the description has carried out two other shootings in the last seven days, killing three soldiers, all of North African descent. It is believed that the murderer is acting on a racial motive – and that he may well strike again.

The killings have drawn attention to a worrying long term trend in French society: racially motivated violence in the country appears to be on the rise. France’s many Muslims are often targeted by thugs, and antisemitic attacks on Jews have also become worse, and more violent.

Jews have been verbally abused. Synagogues have been set on fire. Swastika symbols have been painted on Jewish gravestones. In one particularly horrifying incident in 2006, a Jewish 23-year-old called Ilan Halimi was kidnapped and tortured to death because of his religion.

Then, in 2009, protests against Israeli air strikes in Gaza led to a series of attacks on Jewish businesses and schools. For those with long historical memories, the destruction of Jewish property was a chilling reminder of Kristallnacht, a frenzy of antisemitic violence that took place in Nazi Germany before the Second World War.

Going back even further, Western history is littered with crimes against the Jewish people, from the pogroms of Eastern Europe to persecution during the Spanish Inquisition and the terrible massacres of the First Crusade.

In fact Jews have suffered abuse and violence since before the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in the First Century AD.

This tragic history culminated in the horrors of the Holocaust, when six million Jews were exterminated in Nazi death camps.

Lessons unlearned?

After yesterday’s shooting, many now fear that the lessons of the Holocaust have not yet been learned. Antisemitic and racist attitudes still flourish, it appears, in certain sections of European society. Those same attitudes led to human barbarism on the most unimaginable scale.

Others, while horrified by the crime, still say there are reasons for optimism. Public figures from across France and Europe were united in their outrage at the heartless killing. And thousands of ordinary citizens marched in Paris to show their sympathy for the families of the dead. Antisemitism is still a problem, they argue, but the bad old days will never return.

You Decide

  1. Is antisemitism becoming less of a problem today?
  2. Is racism driven more by fear or by anger?

Activities

  1. In small groups, discuss any experience you or anyone you know may have had of racism and prejudice. What does experience tell you about the nature of the problem, and how best to fight it?
  2. Imagine you are the French President Sarkozy, and need to react to the shootings with a strong statement of unity and strength. Write a speech explaining how you will deal with the crime.

Some People Say...

“Racism will never truly be defeated.”

What do you think?

Q & A

High-profile attacks like this are very rare, no?
Perhaps. But antisemitism has an impact on the lives of ordinary people. Nearly 600 antisemitic incidents were reported in the UK last year, for example. It is not just Jewish communities, however, that find themselves targeted by racism: 1,200 anti-Muslim attacks were reported in the same year.
What are the reasons for this?
Many people have tried to explain, with varying degrees of success, why racism is so persistent in human society. Conflict between different human groups may have its roots deep in the history of human evolution.

Word Watch

Swastika
The swastika is an ancient Indian religious symbol which was appropriated by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party in the 1920s. Use of the symbol is now illegal in Germany.
Gaza
The Gaza Strip and the West Bank are areas with a majority Muslim population which are controlled by Israel. Conflict over the future status of these ‘Palestinian Territories’ has led to a rise in anti-Israeli sentiment across Europe. Sometimes, anti-Israeli protests are tainted by antisemitism.
Pogrom
The word pogrom, in Russian, simply means ‘destruction’. In English, it is used to describe any act of mob violence against Jews, after a series of such attacks in Russia, Poland and Ukraine during the 19th Century.
Spanish Inquisition
Dominican monks during the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th Century forced thousands of Jews to convert to Catholicism. Many who refused to convert or flee were burnt at the stake.
The First Crusade
The First Crusade, started in the 11th Century AD, was supposed to be a mission to ‘liberate’ the city of Jerusalem from Muslim rule. However, one of the first things the crusaders did was to embark on a massacre of Jews in Germany’s Rhineland region.

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