Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Sammy Ghozlan: The cop from Constantine

Rioters in July 2014 attacked synagogues in Paris (photo: Thibault Camus/AP)

He has  now moved to Israel, but cannot disengage from fighting antisemitism in France, which is worse than reported. Marie Brenner in Vanity Fair has this long feature about Algerian-born Sammy Ghozlan, whose career in the French police has put him in the vanguard of protecting Paris's Jews. (with thanks: Michelle) 

When news flashed of the Montrouge shooting, Ghozlan was following the situation from Netanya. He had an instinct and contacted a close friend in another Jewish organization who lived nearby. “This morning attack in Montrouge,” he wrote. “Can you check to see if this was near the [Jewish] school?” The answer came: “You are right. The school is close. There are rumors, but you are wrong. We are there and the school is not the target.” Later reports indicated that a Jewish school in Montrouge may actually have been Coulibaly’s original target. In Netanya, Ghozlan had yet to unpack his furniture, but he was already making plans to get back to Paris.

Moving back permanently was out of the question, but it hasn’t been easy for Ghozlan to disconnect. “I am deeply French,” he told me. “I did my military service in the air force. I love France’s values, its culture, its history, its cuisine, philosophers, and artists. I never imagined that I would someday leave. I led the fight for 15 years and all our warnings made no difference.” In 2014, about 7,000 Jews left France for Israel, and this year the anticipated exodus is between 10,000 and 15,000. The Jewish Agency for Israel recently reported that, in 2014, 50,000 French Jews made inquiries about moving to Israel, an astonishing number. In many of France’s public lycées, Jewish students are insulted, classrooms are vandalized, books are defaced, and fights break out in the classroom with any attempt to teach the Holocaust. After the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher attacks, there were reports that classes were disrupted when some Muslim students refused to participate in any memorial for the victims. According to Shimon Samuels, about 40 percent of France’s Jewish students are now in Jewish schools and 35 percent in Catholic schools. “This is an unprecedented situation,” Ghozlan tells me. “We are in new territory here.”

Ghozlan’s phone rings. When he hangs up, he tells me of two unidentified Muslim men who have swept into a Jewish school in Paris’s well-heeled 16th Arrondissement. (Earlier that week, there had been an incident at another Jewish school, in the 11th Arrondissement, an area of professionals, politicians, and writers.) “How did these thugs get into the school?” Ghozlan asks. “They walked around as if they were staking it out.” The school in the 16th was evacuated and the bomb squad deployed. None of this will appear in the press, Ghozlan says. There is a fear in the schools that they will lose more students.

Ghozlan’s voice is the first thing that commands attention—his inflection is almost musical. A part of Ghozlan’s celebrity in the banlieues is his reputation as a former bandleader who played three instruments and oversaw orchestras that worked the Jewish-wedding and Bar Mitzvah circuit in Paris, advertising “Groove, Funck, Hassidiques, Israélien … Oriental.” He learned his limited English by lip-synching to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”

Like 70 percent of France’s Jewish population, Ghozlan is Sephardic, part of the group from North Africa called pieds-noirs (“black feet”). He lived in the Algerian city of Constantine until 1962, when, at age 20, he fled the country with his family in the wake of the Algerian war, taking with him just “a sandwich and a suitcase,” a commonly used pied-noir expression. With his wife, Monique, a petite kindergarten teacher he met when they were both in a Jewish youth group in Algeria, he lived in the house in Le Blanc-Mesnil. There were bedrooms for his three daughters and one son, and his mother, who never missed an episode of NYPD Blue. When I first met Ghozlan, he struck me as a Sephardic Columbo. Early in his police career, he managed to negotiate order in a part of the banlieues that was so violent it was nicknamed Chicago. His method was to offer judo classes to the immigrant populations—many of which spoke Arabic, as Ghozlan does. He was assigned to take care of juvenile offenders, who seemed to respond to his direct style and lack of hyperbole, which he had learned, he told me, from his father, a former chief of detectives in Constantine.

Ghozlan made his counterterrorism reputation when the synagogue on the Rue Copernic was bombed in 1980, an attack that killed 4 people and injured more than 40. Ghozlan learned that the perpetrators were Palestinian sympathizers, not the neo-Nazis the police first suspected. He was made special commissioner to investigate the next major anti-Semitic attack, on Chez Jo Goldenberg, a landmark Jewish restaurant in the Marais, where 6 people, including two Americans, were killed, and another 22 wounded, in 1982. Ghozlan’s police career—always running alongside his Bar Mitzvah shows—eventually brought him to head the department in Aulnay-sous-Bois, in Seine-Saint-Denis. He retired in 1998 and in 2000 started the B.N.V.C.A., finding himself almost alone in his fight to protect the Jews of the banlieues.

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1 comment:

Empress Trudy said...

I do hope that if they leave and make Aliyah the Israeli government induces them to move to Yesha. THAT would be a sharp stick in Europe's eye.