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French envoy Gérard Araud leads D.C. silent march in wake of Paris attacks
Diplomatic Pouch / January 15, 2015

By Larry Luxner

The world’s eyes were on France last week as an estimated 3.7 million people took part in unity marches following three days of deadly terrorist attacks in Paris.

In Washington, the Islamic extremist rampage that left 17 innocent people dead and an entire nation traumatized sparked an outpouring of emotions as well. On Jan. 11, Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to the United States, led close to 3,000 people on a silent march from the Newseum to the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

The event also attracted Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund; Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and Italian Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero.

Many in the crowd held aloft signs reading “Je Suis Charlie,” in solidarity with the 12 cartoonists and editors gunned down at offices of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French magazine that had published caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. Some also carried “Je Suis Juif” placards in memory of the four Jews killed by terrorists at a kosher supermarket only two days after the Charlie Hebdo attack.

“We organized this because the French community in D.C. asked the embassy to do something,” Araud told Diplomatic Pouch following the event. “It was striking, when you live abroad and your country is under attack. The French people here wanted to express their sorrow and unity. A lot of French-speaking Americans were also moved by what happened.”

Upon reaching the memorial, participants paused for a moment of silence before singing La Marseillaise, the French national anthem. The route was highly symbolic; marchers began at the Newseum — an icon of press freedom — and ended at the memorial, where the crowd honored not only police officers and law enforcement officials who died in the three-day span of terror but also the thousands of men and women working to protect the French people from future attacks.

“This is one of the biggest shocks I have ever received — not only as a diplomat, but also as a French citizen,” Araud said of the bloody rampage in Paris, which killed journalists, two policemen and a policewoman, a maintenance worker and four Jewish shoppers. “For my country, this is a bit like our own 9/11. I am moved and disturbed like any French citizen. And the fact that Jews are targeted by terrorists is for me personally devastating.”

Araud, 61, has been on the job only four months; his previous assignment was Tel Aviv, where he served as French ambassador to Israel. Two days after the silent march, Araud spoke at Washington’s Adas Israel synagogue, at an event organized by the American Jewish Committee.

“As you know, I lived six years of my life in Israel, and I share the feelings expressed by our prime minister [Manuel Valls] that without the Jews, France wouldn’t be France. It would be totally normal and acceptable for the Jews to go to Israel if it’s their free choice, but if they’re obliged to do it because they’re afraid to live in France, that’s abominable.”

France has between 500,000 and 600,000 Jews — the largest Jewish population in Europe — but last year, about 7,000 of them, or more than 1 percent of the community, moved to Israel. Others left for the United States, Canada and Great Britain. Even more are expected to emigrate this year, in the wake of the most recent attacks and increasing anti-semitism.

Even so, Araud cautioned against allowing the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket attacks to be manipulated by extreme right-wing parties to persecute Muslims (who make up nearly 8 percent of France’s population) or push for France to close its borders.

“As you know, all over Europe there are anti-immigrant feelings, and most of the immigrants are Muslims,” he warned. “There have already been incidents against mosques, and anti-Muslim demonstrations in Germany. We have to integrate them better, because obviously there is a social problem. Things are going to change because we are obliged to wage a war against radical Islam.”

Araud added: “One of our priorities is to convince French public opinion that we can ensure their security, safety and prosperity in the framework of the European Union. But this means the borders of the EU also have to be more protected. We want to be able to say to our people, ‘Europe is also protecting you.’”

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