Rabbi Benjamin Hattab and Latifa Ibn Ziaten / France 2 screenshot
Since the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris, we’ve been hearing a lot about rising Muslim anti-Semitism and the precarious situation of Jews in France. But amidst all the fear, there was a moment of true connection when a Jewish man and a Muslim woman mourned side-by-side for their murdered loved ones, and hoped for a better future — together.
Tunis Chief Rabbi Benjamin Hattab appeared in a France 2 television interview alongside Latifa Ibn Ziaten, whose son was murdered by Mohamed Merah in Toulouse in 2011. Hattab was there to talk about his own son, Yoav, one of the four Jews who lost their lives as they shopped for their Shabbat meals on January 9. His voice weighed down by fresh grief, the rabbi spoke touchingly about Jewish life in Tunisia.
“I live in Tunisia, and I see that there, Jews are respected by the state and by the people. We had no problems either before or after the revolution. The Arabs are kind. We grew up together.”
But the most touching interaction came when Ibn Ziaten gave her condolences to the grieving father and commended him on his bravery.
“It was the same with my son,” she said. “He died standing up, because he was a soldier of the [French] republic. Today, I am standing up too, reaching out to those who caused my suffering, making the rounds in every French town, in schools, in juvenile detention centers. Even if we pay the highest price, we have to stay standing. France is a strong country. I am very proud to be French.”
Addressing Hattab directly, Ibn Ziaten added: “I wish you a lot of courage, because it’s been three years [since my son died] and I will never stop mourning.”
He thanked her, murmuring, “May God rest his soul.”
The point Ibn Ziaten drove home is that in the face of such violence, every French citizen must do his or her part — and that starts with talking to the disenfranchised, especially the youth, because that’s the best hope of cutting down extremism at its root.
“We have to protect our country, because we love it,” she said. “And there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world.”