French minister discusses arson attack against Jewish school with community leader

| September 10, 2009

PARIS (EJP)—French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux discussed with a Jewish community leader the security issue for Jewish sites in France ahead of upcoming Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  During the meeting, the minister also raised the arson attack against a Jewish school which happened on the same day in the southern France’s port city of Marseille. No one was injured in the attack which caused minor damage to the school’s dining hall.

The arson attack on the ORT Leon Bramson school on rue de Forge happened in the morning while the 400 students were in classrooms approximately 100 metres away.

A row of tinder dry Cypress trees was set ablaze, the heat damaging four parked cars and melting a metal roller blind on the outside of the cafeteria building. The fire service quickly contained the blaze.

Three aerosol cans believed to have been used as incendiary devices were reportedly found by police at the scene and taken away for forensic tests.

The school handed over tape from security cameras to investigators of the police department’s urban violence squad.

School Principal Maurice Cohen-Zagouri said that while the fire was definitely arson there was no evidence to suggest it was an anti-Semitic attack.

“In our street, only 400 metres away, is a public school a fifth of whose students are Arab. Every day, all year round, they pass by the entrance to our school and we have never had a problem,” he said.

However, Marseilles Prosecutor Jacques Dallest emphasised at a media conference that “fire is never trivial” and said the perpetrators of the “gratuitous” attack faced up to 10 years in jail.

He said such incident is rather rare in Marseille.

The Mayor of Marseille, Jean Claude Godin, denounced the incident as “an unconscionable act”.

Police chief Philippe Klayman said he had ordered patrols to be increased around schools and religious institutions and added that “particular attention” would be paid to Jewish institutions during the upcoming holidays.

Around 80,000 Jews live in the southern French city.

The city’s deputy mayor for security, Caroline Pozmentier, recalled that a synagogue was set ablaze in 2002 and a Jewish school in 2005.

During his meeting with the French minister, Richard Prasquier, head of CRIF, the umbrella group of French secular Jewish organizations, expressed his concern over the increase of anti-Semitic threats and verbal attacks in France.

“After the peak observed during the first two months of this year following the Israeli operation in Gaza, there is an important diminution of the gravest anti-Semitic acts but we have recorded a persisting high level of threats and verbal attacks,” Prasquier has told AFP.

“It shows that residual anti-Semitism under its modern forms still exists in our country,” he added.

During the five first months of this year, 573 anti-Semitic incidents have been recorded in France, the Interior ministry reported. Among them, 101 were physical aggressions and vandalism and 472 anti-Semitic threats, remarks and inscriptions.

Around 600,000 Jews live in France, the largest community in western Europe.

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Category: Synagogue/Jewish Security

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