TOULOUSE, France (AP) — Israel's prime minister issued a warning to his country's enemies, and France's president vowed to fight anti-Semitism on online social networks and beyond, as the two paid homage to four people killed at a Jewish school in this country's worst terrorist attack in years.
Tears flowed and both pain and hope were palpable at the ceremony in Toulouse, where a radical Islamist Frenchman targeted the school in March, shooting an 8-year-old girl in the head and spreading blood on the schoolyard before getting on his motorbike and driving away. Among the dead were a rabbi and his two young sons and, in an earlier shooting, three French paratroopers, two of North African descent and one from the Antilles.
"Anti-Semitism turns into a fire that quickly engulfs all in its path. It was no coincidence that the murderer of Toulouse killed not only Jews but also French soldiers, Christian and Muslim, with no distinction," Netanyahu said. "This murderer would have killed each Jewish child who crossed his path, exactly like the Nazis. But there are immense differences between the murder of Jews in the past century and those of today."
Today, the Israeli leader said, European governments — and especially France's — are fighting back.
French President Francois Hollande's administration has acted forcefully against those it accuses of radical Islamism in recent weeks, including expelling a Muslim preacher for his anti-Semitic speeches, calls for holy war and defense of violence against women.
Hollande pledged "no weakness" against terrorism and said fighting anti-Semitism is "a national cause."
Anti-Semitism "will be chased out everywhere ... in particular on social networks where anonymity is granted to hatred," he said. He also pledged to protect Jewish children and all those targeted for their religion.
Netanyahu's speech ended with children from the school joining him on stage, the crowd clapping and singing "Israel will live!"
Hollande acknowledged flaws in security officials' handling of Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah, who had been under surveillance in the past and traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan for apparent weapons training. Merah also killed three French paratroopers and later died in a shootout with police.
France has struggled with anti-Semitic attacks in the months since the attacks.
The March 19 attack on the Toulouse school, then called Ozar Hatorah but since renamed Ohr Tora, stunned France with its calculated brutality against unsuspecting schoolchildren heading to class on a Monday morning.
Merah entered the school and fired directly at children. He chased down 8-year-old Miriam Monsonego, grabbed her, and shot her in the head.
A father and two of his children were also killed: Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, and his sons, 3-year-old Gabriel and 6-year-old Arieh.
The victims had joint French and Israeli citizenship, and were buried in Israel.
Thursday's tribute came the day after a radical Muslim preacher was expelled from France because of his anti-Semitic speeches, calls for violent holy war and defense of violence toward women. The Interior Ministry said Mohamed Hammami of the Omar Mosque in Paris was expelled to his native Tunisia for his "deliberate, repeated and unacceptable provocations," which constitute a threat to France's society and security.
Earlier this month, the government said it dismantled a network of French-born Islamists bent on targeting Jews, after a firebomb attack on a Jewish grocery.
In addition to Europe's largest Jewish community, France has a large Muslim population, and Mideast politics often prompt public debate here. Groups of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered in Paris and Toulouse on Wednesday night, criticizing Netanyahu's policies toward Palestinians.
Netanyahu stressed his country's determination against anti-Semitism and said it has "the means to defend itself against all those who want to wipe us from the map," in a reference to Iran.
Israel has been an outspoken critic of Iran's disputed nuclear program. Israel believes a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a threat to its very existence, citing Iranian leaders' frequent calls for destruction of the Jewish state and Iranian support for Arab militant groups. Tehran says it's only trying to develop nuclear energy.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.