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January 12, 2016

U.S. Fails to Recognize Targeting of Jews on Anniversary of Paris Attacks

On January 7 the State Department released a press statement marking the one-year anniversary of the horrific attacks in Paris. Yet there was a troubling omission: the statement focused on Charlie Hebdo and referred only obliquely to another attack. It doesn’t specifically cite the attack on a kosher supermarket, where four innocent people were held hostage and brutally murdered.

You wouldn’t know from the statement that Jews were specifically targeted. This erasure of the specific bias-motivated nature of the attack does a disservice to the memory of the victims and to the civilians and security forces who took heroic measures to prevent further suffering.

When asked about the omission at Monday’s press briefing, State Department spokesperson John Kirby said, “That the [kosher] deli itself wasn’t mentioned specifically or by name doesn’t take away from the fact that the statement itself was referring to both the attacks on the 7th and the 9th of January.”

Not specifically citing the attack is the very definition of “take away.”

The attack drew long-overdue attention to the resurgence of antisemitism in France, as Human Rights First has examined in our new report, Breaking the Cycle of Violence: Countering Antisemitism and Extremism in France. Antisemitism is a grave threat to human rights, and its resurgence in France should be of great concern to the French government and its allies, including the United States.

France has both the largest Jewish and one of the largest Muslim communities in Europe. With the ascent of the xenophobic far-right National Front party, the country is a tinderbox—and antisemitic hate crimes are on the rise. Our research shows a dramatic 100 percent increase in 2014 from the year before. Violence targeting Jews and Jewish sites has led to a heightened sense of insecurity, and an increasing number of Jews are relocating in or outside of France for security reasons.

Attacks against French Jews continue to occur regularly. After the November 13th attacks in Paris, three individuals assaulted a Jewish man in Marseille. And just yesterday, a teenager, armed with a machete and a knife, attacked a Jewish teacher and reportedly claimed to be acting in the name of the Islamic State. The French government has condemned the attack at the highest levels.

One of the findings in our report is that treating antisemitism as a stand-alone issue may have counterproductive outcomes, in that it can create a perception of a “hierarchy of victimization” among vulnerable minorities. It is therefore important for France and the U.S. government to speak inclusively about protection for all vulnerable groups and to honestly address hate crimes and high-profile attacks.

This time, the U.S. response fell short.

If the U.S. government is to be a close partner and credible ally to France in its fight against intolerance and extremism, its message has to be accurate and inclusive.