French rabbi told to remove kippa at Toulouse polling station
A rabbi in the city of Toulouse has filed a complaint for discrimination after a polling clerk told him he would have to remove his kippa, or Jewish skullcap, before voting in local elections.
The incident, indicative of the sometimes complex interpretation of France’s strict secular rules, took place on Sunday during the first round of nationwide polls to elect new local councils.
A polling clerk representing the left-wing Front de Gauche coalition told Toulouse rabbi Avraham Weill to remove his kippa inside the polling station, claiming this was required by French rules on secularism.
French law says it is illegal to wear “ostentatious” religious symbols, including Jewish kippas and Muslim headscarves, inside state schools.
But the rule does not apply to school premises when they are being used as polling stations, as was the case in Toulouse.
In remarks carried by AFP news agency, Weill described the clerk’s actions as “the overzealous behaviour of someone who does not know election rules”.
“There was no insult, but an intention to intimidate me,” he said, adding that he had dithered at length about filing a complaint as he did not wish to “give ammunition to those who think Jews like to portray themselves as victims”.
The local Communist Party, a member of the Front de Gauche coalition, said in a statement it “regretted” the incident and would contact the rabbi to “dispel the misunderstanding”.
The statement reiterated the party’s “unwavering support for the fight against anti-Semitism and xenophobic ideas”.
Weill said Sunday’s incident had left him with a "bitter taste", coming three days after Toulouse hosted commemorations for the victims of Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah, who killed three French soldiers and four members of a Jewish family during a 10-day shooting spree in March 2012.
The event saw Catholic, Jewish and Muslim representatives sign a “charter of fraternity” between faiths.
But in a sign of growing tensions, a pregnant Muslim woman was taken to a Toulouse hospital on Tuesday after she was attacked and beaten by an unknown man who insulted her for wearing a veil.
Anti-racism watchdogs have warned of a steady rise in both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks in recent months, with attacks against Muslims in particular escalating in the wake of January’s terrorist attacks by jihadist gunmen in Paris.
Last month, the Observatory against Islamophobia said more anti-Muslim acts were reported in January than in the whole of 2014.
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