After a summer heated by protests over the Israeli offensive in Gaza and the growing clout of militant Islam, France’s chief rabbi is raising the alarm over rising anti-Semitism in the country – and the public silence that is greeting it.


“What has stuck us is the sense of indifference on the part of society,” Grand Rabbi Haim Korsia told AAPA members on Sept. 16 in wide-ranging remarks which also touched on Jewish education in France, controversy over religious divorce and women’s rights within the Jewish faith.


Two decades ago, more than a million people took to the streets to protest the desecration of Jewish tombs in the southern French town of Carpentras, Korsia said. In neighboring Germany, thousands protested earlier this month against attacks on Jews.

“In France, have you seen protests of support to say ‘it’s inadmissible to attack synagogues, to attack places of worship?” he asked.

Violence, he added, “has become the single argument for some people.”

Korsia met with the AAPA at the Central Consistory in Paris, three months after being elected to a seven-year term as France’s chief rabbi – replacing Gilles Bernheim, who stepped down last year amid a plagiarism scandal.

He takes over during a difficult time for France’s half-a-million strong Jewish community. A record 5,000 are expected to leave the country this year alone, for a mix of reasons including sometimes violent manifestations of anti-Semitism.

Two years ago, a French-Algerian gunman Mohammed Merah killed four Jews in Toulouse. Another French Algerian, Mehdi Nemmouche, a returning Jihadist from Syria, has been charged in May shootings deaths at a Brussels Jewish museum.

Korsia also pointed to pro-Palestinian protesters this summer, who reportedly chanted ‘death to Jews’ during demonstrations against Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

“I believe there is a fringe of people who are profoundly anti-Semitic,” he said, “and this expression finds a place to consider itself legitimate.”

Still, he dismissed suggestions France is an anti-Semitic country and praised the government’s tough response to anti-Jewish attacks.

As for militant Islam, “the Jewish community is particularly targeted, but it’s a risk for all of society,” he said, adding the Jewish community placed its faith in French institutions to combat it.

Since his election, Rabbi Korsia has sounded a message of inclusiveness and openness which he repeated in his remarks. Jews leaving France for Israel and elsewhere were not abandoning their homeland, he said, but ‘building a bridge’ between cultures.

“I tell them ‘your language will remain French, your culture will remain France, you’ll dream of France’,” he said of his conversations with those departing.

“Leaving is not abandoning,” he added. “Leaving is living who we are differently.”

-Lisa Bryant