Major media outlets – including Associated Press, The New York Times and the Guardian – agree broadly on events which took place in France on July 13th last year, in which a violent mob of over 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators tried to storm the Don Isaac Abravanel Synagogue in the Rue de la Roquette in eastern Paris, trapping hundreds of Jews inside. French Police and the members of the Jewish Defense League protected the synagogue, and eventually chased the mob away.
There are multiple videos and photos of the incident – one of many alarming antisemitic incidents in France that summer.
Yet, a bizarre article published in The Telegraph raises doubts about what the authors term the “alleged” antisemitic attack.
The writers, Peter Allen (a Paris based journalist) and James Rothwell (a trainee reporter for The Telegraph), focus their piece on a long article (over 6700 words) in the August edition of Vanity Fair (The troubling question in the French Jewish community: Is it time to leave?). However, in fisking a few specific claims about the attack on the synagogue, Telegraph authors raise additional questions which seem to cast doubt on the other noncontroversial elements of the story. Additionally, Allen and Rothwell ‘refute a couple of details which Vanity Fair (VF) never in fact claimed.
The first misleading element of their story appears in the opening paragraph:
…Vanity Fair is facing criticism after a special dispatch on anti-Semitism claiming that commandos were forced to rescue a Chief Rabbi from a Nazi mob in Paris was dismissed as false by French authorities.
However, the Vanity Fair piece didn’t claim it was a “Nazi mob” which stormed the Paris synagogue on July 13th. Nearly everyone who covered the story, including VF, was clear that they were pro-Palestinian – presumably Muslim – demonstrators. (As you’ll see, The Telegraph report revisits this non-existent allegation elsewhere in their piece.)
In subsequent passages, The Telegraph focuses on other details, such as the specific type of weapons used by the rioters.
According to [the Vanity Fair] investigation…Chief Rabbi Michel Gugenheim, 65, was said to have heard the ‘axe’ and ‘iron bar’ wielding mob chanting: ‘Hitler was right’ and ‘Jews get out of France’.
Indeed, Newsweek and others have reported that some attackers came armed with iron bars, and that antisemitic chants (such as “death to the Jews”) were heard from some in the mob.
The Telegraph continues:
He was then rescued by anti-terrorist commandos who left other terrified Jews trapped inside a synagogue, according to the investigation by American journalist Marie Brenner.
But, despite the detail offered by Ms Brenner, Jewish groups and Paris police and prosecutors have united in branding her claims as false.
It’s not clear what claims the Telegraph writers are suggesting are false. First, nobody has denied that hundreds of Jewish worshippers were trapped inside the synagogue by the violent pro-Palestinian mob. Second, other reports have maintained that the Paris Chief Rabbi was indeed among those inside. Additionally, we contacted Michel Gurfinkiel, a French journalist and author, who confirmed that the Chief Rabbi was in the synagogue and rescued by police. However, even if some of the details regarding the chief rabbi’s rescue aren’t completly accurate, the passage in The Telegraph is worded in such a fashion that suggests that this and other details of the VF story are “false”.
The Telegraph piece continues:
The 66-year-old said the Nazi sympathisers were then given free rein to threaten some 200 worshippers inside the synagogue for at least three hours.
Again, the VF story didn’t use the term “Nazi sympathizers” to describe the violent mob. This appears to an invention of the Telegraph contributors. Additional, the VF piece, contrary to the passage above, didn’t quote the “66-year-old” [sic] rabbi as claiming that “the Nazi sympathizers were given free rein to threaten the 200 worshippers inside the synagogue”. It’s unclear where precisely the Telegraph got this from.
The Telegraph article continues:
According to Ms Brenner, all then had to be rescued by members of the Jewish Defence League (JDL), a religious-political group banned in Israel and the USA, where it is classed by the FBI as a ‘terrorist group’.
The JDL’s defense of the trapped Jews isn’t merely a claim by Ms. Brenner”, but is a fact established by nearly every report on the antisemitic incident. A report in the Guardian quoted a witness as the incident saying, “if they [the JDL] hadn’t been there, the synagogue would have been destroyed, with all the people trapped inside.”
In the next passage, The Telegraph brings up passages in the VF article concerning the deadly attack on the Hyper Cacher Kosher market in January.
In her report, Ms Brenner’s also claims ‘dozens of pictures’ were taken of youths making ‘Nazi-style’ salutes outside a Kosher supermarket where four Jews were murdered by an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) linked gunman in January.
Ms Brenner alleges that there are pictures of Isil flags being openly flown in central Paris, and she said videos have been shot of crowds regularly chanting “Death to Jews”.
But there are no images or sound recordings to back up Ms Brenner’s published claims, police say, and Jewish groups in Paris have joined them in describing them as untrue.
Again, it’s unclear what specific detail The Telegraph is claiming to be untrue. While we were unable to find any images of “Nazi style” salutes outside the kosher market, were able to find a photo of an ISIL flag reportedly at an anti-Israel protest in Paris on the very day protesters tried to attack the Don Isaac Abravanel Synagogue.
Additionally, regarding chants of “death to Jews”, it has indeed been widely reported that such chants were heard in Paris at anti-Israel demonstrations during the summer war, including by the very rioters who tried to storm the synagogue on July 13th.
The Telegraph story continues with another claim:
Serge Benhaim, the president of the Roquette synagogue, denied Ms Brenner’s version of events, saying that no troublemakers “got within 150 metres of the synagogue”.
However, this is almost certainly a fabrication. The only ones making this claim appear to be extremist sites such as the pro-Hamas group MEMO. And, the MEMO claim is woven into the context of a larger disproven narrative claiming that no substantive attack actually took place that day. This charge appears based on a purported interview with the synagogue’s president, Serge Benhaim, “who allegedly told an interviewer that no substantive assault had taken place”. However, a further investigation – in the Guardian of all places! – revealed that the interview was dramatically misrepresented–and in fact stated the opposite of what was claimed.
More evidence disproving the suggestion that no “troublemakers” got “within 150 meters of the synagogue is the following photo of the demo published by France24. You can clearly see that the rioters were just outside the synagogue gate.
Again, the mob is right outside the synagogue.
The Telegraph continues with the following deception:
The press secretary for the Chief Rabbi of France said the allegations about Michel Gugenheim were “absolutely not true”.
The spokesman said: “There was no counter-terrorism unit present [and] there was no Nazi mob outside the synagogue. The Chief Rabbi of Paris has not made any statement in relation to this claim.
Though it’s likely narrowly true that (contrary to the language used in the VF article) there wasn’t a “counter-terrorism” unit responding to the riot, there were indeed riot police who responded. And, it’s unclear what substantive difference there is regarding the nature of the police unit which was deployed by the French government to protect the Jews trapped inside their synagogue. Further, the denial by a spokesperson for the Chief Rabbi, cited by The Telegraph, about a “Nazi mob” is completely irrelevant, as VF – as we noted previously – never used the term “Nazi mob” to describe the demonstrators.
The Telegraph continues to obfuscate the antisemitic violence in the following passage:
Paris police and prosecutors denied that anti-terrorist police were anywhere near the synagogue, or that anyone committed “anti-Semitic crimes” nearby. The police spokesman said there were five arrests around the Roquette synagogue on July 13 last year, all for public order offences, but none at all for anti-Semitism.
Of course, merely the fact that nobody arrested at the anti-Israel demo in Paris on July 13 was charged with a hate crime (under the country’s hate crime legislation) doesn’t mean that the violence wasn’t motivated by antisemitism. It merely means that police likely didn’t have enough evidence to charge anyone with that specific crime. Again, nobody, other than extremists, has raised doubt that the incident was antisemitic.
Finally, we decided to take a look at the twitter feed of the co-author of the Telegraph article, Peter Allen, and lo and behold the first tweet is a retweet of extremist David Sheen’s truly odious characterization of the antisemitic violence as a “Jewish Supremacist” riot.
The bottom line: The Telegraph hasn’t refuted any substantive element of the Vanity Fair story on the antisemitic attack in Paris on July 13th. Indeed, it’s their report which “has nothing to do with reality”.
Moreover, in light of the tsunami of antisemitism that has plagued France of late – “half of all racist attacks in France take Jews as their target, even though they number less than 1% of the population” – it’s quite disturbing that The Telegraph effectively decided to run interference for the antisemites.