8 Apr 2015

Lyon after Charlie Hebdo – synagogues ‘virtual fortresses’

‘Lyon in particular has never been a good place for Jews, but hasn’t been so bad for a long time’. Historian Andrew Hussey reports from France on the rise of anti-semitism and Islamophobia.

(Video: YouTube)

Lyon is a very good place to understand the tensions in France right now. Everyone is still reeling from the terrorist attacks at the offices of magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris in January. The country is in trauma and no-one knows what is going to happen next.

Liverpudlian Andrew Hussey studied in Lyon in the 1980s and remembers that it seemed to be normal in student circles to hate Jews, black people and Arabs, while there were teachers who propagated Holocaust denial.

Now France has Dieudonne, one of the most popular comedians in the country, notorious for his quasi-fascist quenelle gesture.

He is accused of playing a big role in making racial hatred and Holocaust denial acceptable in France, and is on trial for ridiculing the victims of January’s attacks.

In the video above, he can be seen with Robert Faurisson, a Franco-British academic who has been convicted of Holocaust denial and disputes the existence of gas chambers in Nazi death camps, along with the genocide of Jews.

Andrew Hussey says Lyon in particular has never been a good place for Jews, but it has not been so bad for a long time. Last summer, two teenage girls were arrested for allegedly planning, on social media, a suicide bomb attack at a synagogue.

Lyon’s Chief Rabbi Richard Wertenschlag says he regularly receives death threats, telling Channel 4 News in the video above: “We are forced to turn our synagogues into virtual fortresses.”

Rabbi Wertenschlag says Jews are being targeted by the far right, but this is “minor” compared with the threat from radical Islamists.

Lyon is a multi-racial city, with a big Algerian population. As well as anti-semitism, Islamophobia is also a cause for concern.