Anti-Semitism on the Rise in France

Jewish tombstones are seen desecrated with swastikas in the Herrlisheim Jewish cemetery, north of Strasbourg, in eastern France, on Dec. 13, 2018. Dozens of tombs were defaced. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

Anti-Semitic acts in France increased by 74 percent last year, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced last month, calling the spread of anti-Semitism a “poison” that “rots minds.”

These acts included an attack on an 8-year-old schoolboy wearing a kippah and the murder of Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll, who was stabbed and burned in her apartment.

Her killing prompted demonstrations against anti-Semitism throughout the country.

The hike in anti-Semitic activities came after two years of lower numbers of incidents.

After a record high of anti-Semitic acts recorded in 2015 (more than 800), France reported a 58 percent decrease in such incidents in 2016 and a decline again, of 7 percent, in 2017.

The frequency in anti-Semitic incidents in France seems to be increasing again in 2019.

In the past two months, swastikas have been scrawled on posters of Holocaust survivor and French national hero Simone Veil, who is interred in the Pantheon. A grove of trees planted to honor the memory of Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old French Jew who was kidnapped, tortured and killed, was vandalized. Yellow-vest protesters verbally abused French Jewish intellectual Alain Finkielkraut on a Paris street, while more and more anti-Semitic graffiti has been appearing on the walls of Paris and elsewhere.

Roses are placed next to vandalized mailboxes with swastikas covering the face of the late Holocaust survivor and renowned French politician Simone Veil, before the vandalism was removed in Paris, on Feb. 12, 2019. According to French authorities, the total of registered anti-Semitic acts rose to 541 in 2018 from 311 in 2017, a rise of 74 percent. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

In late February, vandals desecrated a Jewish cemetery near Strasbourg, spray-painting an estimated 100 gravestones with swastikas.

Francis Kalifat, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF), said the newest wave of anti-Semitism was a “signal of the democratic weakening” of France and called on the French population to “break up the wall of indifference that surrounds anti-Semitism,” according to the organization.

Sacha Ghozlan, president of the Union of French Jewish Students,  said the rise of anti-Semitism started online and now has moved “to the streets.”

“I think that the fact for many years we got used to hate speech on social media, we did not ban this speech,” Ghozlan said. “It has a direct kind of consequence.”

Ghozlan said more training is needed on how to prevent anti-Semitism.

“Of course, we can do better on training for the students and for the teachers, for the judges and policemen, to make it more clear what anti-Semitism is, to train them,” Ghozlan said.

French anti-Semitism stems from two sectors of the population, said Philippe Marlière, a French national and University College London professor of French and European politics.

The older, more embedded form of French anti-Semitism lives on the far right, where people harbor the idea that “the Jew is alien to the nation” and does not feel loyalty to France, he said. The newer type of anti-Semitism hails from the far left, with its disdain for capitalism and Zionism.

Günther Jikeli, an Indiana University scholar of anti-Semitism, would add a third source of anti-Semitism in France: Islamist or Salafist Muslims.

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Source: Religion News Service