Is Paris Burning?

If French President Francois Hollande is serious about standing for a laic France, in which men and women of all races and religions feel as comfortable as if they were of one united people, then he must take all necessary steps to ensure we never see a repeat of last weekend's anti-Semitic riots.

Several of my people in Paris -- some 200 Jews -- were trapped inside a synagogue for hours as pro-Palestinian protestors chanted "death to Jews" while hurling rocks and bricks, and wielding bats and even chairs stolen from local cafes. According to one report, it took 30 minutes for police reinforcements to arrive, which seems to be a slow response time given that there were only a handful of overwhelmed private security officers to fend off an angry mob of approximately 160.

The French President's utopian vision notwithstanding, the Jews, confined to their place of worship, were decidedly uncomfortable.

Considering France's dramatic rise in anti-Semitic attacks -- a 58 percent increase in 2012 compared to the previous year -- it's not surprising that Jews are leaving the country in droves. Searing images of violence, such as those captured in photographs and video footage last week, are all-too-vivid reminders of the Nazi occupation of France during World War II, which resulted in some 70,000 French Jews being rounded up and shipped off to death camps.

As the president and CEO of Touro College, which has a branch campus Paris, I have a vested interest in how the authorities choose to stem this growing and terrifying trend of hate crimes, not only out of concern for my Jewish brethren, but for my students, as well. How can I blame them if they decide to continue their studies in America or Israel, where they will not be threatened based on their religious identity?

I am aghast at President Hollande's rather muted and vague response to the attack ("We cannot have intrusion or efforts at intrusions into places of worship, whether they are synagogues, as happened yesterday, but I would say the same thing for mosques, for churches or for temples"). Where are the condemnations, where are the arrests, where are the assurances of protection for France's endangered citizens? President Hollande, as well as his European colleagues, must denounce, in the strongest terms, recent acts of religious hatred taking place in France, Greece, Belgium and Spain.

Instead of straddling the fence and giving legitimacy to all sides, these leaders must speak out in vigorous defense of their Jewish citizens and in defense of one of the core principles of modern democracy -- freedom of religion, and safety from religious persecution.

Events of the last few days have shown the world to be a complicated place in which intentional attacks on civilians are accepted and even applauded. When we condone violence based on prejudice, we risk eroding the very fabric of our society.

It's well past time for President Hollande to issue a strong response to this incident and others like it. If he does not, it will send a clear message that tolerating or even spreading hatred is acceptable in France.


Dr. Alan Kadish is the President and CEO of the Touro College & University System.