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.

Read article in full

One Comment

  • 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.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

About

This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.