The general public is unaware of its existence – unlike the heads of synagogues, Jewish cultural centers and community schools, who know its telephone number by heart. Reachable at all hours of the day and night, the switchboard of France’s Jewish Community Protection Service (SPCJ) has exploded since October 7.
At the end of the line, one person reports an assault, another asks about good security practices, while another is asking about how to join the service… The killing of 1,200 people by Hamas in Israel, and Israel’s subsequent response in Gaza, have felt shockwaves through French society and the 500,000 Jews living within it.
According to the interior ministry, more than 1,500 anti-Semitic incidents have been recorded in France since the beginning of the war on October 7. In contrast, 436 such incidents were counted by the authorities in 2022. The police are being mobilized to secure places frequented by the Jewish community – 10,000 police officers, gendarmes and soldiers have been deployed for this purpose, according to Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. But they’re not acting alone: their work is being carried out in close collaboration with the SPCJ. Committed to discretion, its members silently accompanied the march against anti-Semitism held in Paris on November 12.
Anonymity and discretion
Its supporters say it is neither a militia nor a police force. “It’s a protection service designed to make up for any shortcomings by the authorities,” explained historian Marc Knobel, a specialist in anti-Semitism. Its website consists of only a few pages. No names of anyone involved are listed, apart from that of its non-operational president, Alexandre de Rothschild, head of the investment bank of the same name. There is no sign of the organization being registered with the Paris Police Prefecture. When contacted by telephone, the director of the SPCJ was surprised that we were able to reach him – this was not without difficulty. He did not wish to comment, and revealing his identity would put him at risk.
The only people authorized to speak about the organization are the heads of the institutions that have overseen the SPCJ since its creation in 1980: the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF), the Unified Jewish Social Fund (FSJU), the Consistory of Paris and the Central Consistory. The need to organize community security became clear to them in the wake of the bombing of a synagogue on Rue Copernic, Paris, on October 3, 1980. The first fatal attack on Jews in France since the Second World War, it caused the death of four people.
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