Less than a month after the Paris attacks that left 17 dead, two incidents this week have deepened anxieties among French Jews about rising anti-Semitism in France.
First on Monday, a graphic-design studio in Paris posted an ad on a job-search website, calling for applicants who were “if possible not Jewish.” Then on Tuesday, a man wielding an 8-in. knife lunged at a group of soldiers guarding the Jewish Community Center in the southern French city of Nice, wounding at least two of them.
While the incidents were unconnected, they have heightened a sense of vulnerability among France’s 500,000 or so Jews. They come at a sensitive time, as the community tries to comprehend last month’s hostage siege at a kosher supermarket in Paris, in which a gunman claiming allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria shot dead four French Jews. “There are a few thousand people with prejudices against Jews,” says Roger Cukierman, president of the French Jewish representative council, or CRIF. “We are very worried.”
The job announcement from a company called NSL Studio appeared on a website for graphic designers, and listed an eight-point set of preferences for its applicants, including those familiar to most job seekers, like being highly motivated and well organized. The third point, however, said simply “si possible pas juif,” — if possible not Jewish — with no explanation. Stunned at the ad, one graphic designer took a screenshot of it on her mobile phone and posted it to her Facebook site, from where it quickly spread widely online. “I had to reread the ad two or three times to see that it was not a joke,” the graphic designer, named only as Anne-Sophie, told the French news site LesInrocks.com.
NSL Studio removed the ad shortly after and posted an apology on the company’s website on Tuesday, saying it had filed an official complaint with prosecutors, in an effort “to determine who was responsible for the [advertisement’s] publication.” The job-search website, meanwhile, posted a similar message on its homepage, condemning the ad and saying that its staff had deleted it as soon as they became aware of it.
Still, the attempts to smooth over the outrage appeared hollow to some. LeInrocks.com said that in a call to NSL Studio while the job ad was still online, a staff member told its reporters that the phrase “if possible not Jewish” had been included because of the company’s erratic work schedules. “So we wanted someone who does not have these cultural or religious concerns,” the news site quoted the company as saying.
Shortly after, NSL Studio tweeted that a hacker had changed the ad without its knowledge. To some, it sounded unconvincing. “I imagine that the person who let this ad through without checking did not know that this was illegal,” says Dominique Sopo, president of the antiracism organization SOS Racisme. The group filed a separate complaint with prosecutors on Tuesday, claiming racial discrimination, a crime under French law. “It is important to remind people that this is illegal,” says Sop.
In the eyes of French Jews, the attack in Nice appeared far more serious than the uproar over the job ad. The potential for violence has made the entire issue of French Jews’ security an urgent subject of debate. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told French Jews that Israel would welcome them “with open arms” as immigrants. And in an emotional address to Jewish leaders last week, French President François Hollande told them, “Your place is here.”
On Tuesday afternoon the man pulled out a knife outside Nice’s Jewish center, where a group of soldiers stood guard at the door. In the wake of last month’s attack on the kosher supermarket, French officials deployed about 20,000 soldiers to guard Jewish stores and schools across the country. The attacker struck one of the military guards on the chin, then struck another one on the forearm, and a third on the cheek, according to the Associated Press.
He then fled on foot and was caught by police. Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi said on television the man was carrying an identity card with the name Moussa Coulibaly. That is the same family name — common in Mali — as Amedy Coulibaly, who attacked the supermarket on Jan. 9.
While Tuesday’s attack was not fatal, it nonetheless heightened the sense of nervousness among France’s Jewish leaders, who have said in recent months that the country faces a growing threat from homegrown jihadists, like those who mounted the attacks on the Brussels Jewish Center last year, and on a Jewish nursery school in Toulouse in 2012. “All the actors are French-born citizens who went through the public schools,” says Cukierman. Combating the threat, he says, will require “many things. We need education, we need police, we need security, we need justice.”