France mobilizes against anti-Semitism amid spate of vandalism

Published 20.02.2019 00:07

Ahead of nationwide marches Tuesday against a rise in anti-Semitic attacks, around 80 graves were reportedly daubed with swastikas at a Jewish cemetery in eastern France, revealing alarm in a country that is home to the biggest Jewish population in Europe.

The damage was discovered Tuesday morning at a cemetery in the village of Quatzenheim, close to the border with Germany in the Alsace region, a statement from the regional security office said. Photos show the Nazi symbols in blue paint spray-painted on the damaged graves, one of which bears the words "Elsassisches Schwarzen Wolfe" (Black Alsacian Wolves), a separatist group with links to neo-Nazis in the 1970s. There has been growing concern among the Jewish community in the country over the rise of far-right groups in fostering anti-Semitism and hatred of other minorities.

"Anti-Semitism is deeply rooted in French society. We would like to think otherwise, but it is a fact," Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told L'Express magazine this week. "We must be totally determined, I would say almost enraged, in our will to fight, with a clear awareness that this fight is an old one and will last a long time."

In other recent incidents, swastika graffiti was found on street portraits of Simone Veil, a survivor of Nazi death camps and a European Parliament president who died in 2017. The word "Juden" was painted on the window of a bagel restaurant in Paris, and two trees planted at a memorial honoring a young Jewish man tortured to death in 2006 were vandalized, one cut down. Last week, two youths were arrested after they allegedly fired shots at a synagogue with an air rifle in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, where a large Jewish community lives. Sarcelles Mayor Patrick Haddad told BFMTV yesterday that prosecutors think the motive was anti-Semitism.

The French interior minister earlier announced a 74 percent rise in anti-Semitic acts across the country over the past year amid a series of incidents in Paris in recent days. According to authorities, the total of registered anti-Semitic acts rose to 541 in 2018 from 311 in 2017. The upsurge in anti-Semitism in France reached a climax last weekend with a torrent of hate speech directed at prominent philosopher Alain Finkielkraut during a march of "yellow vest" anti-government protesters. Some members of France's yellow vest anti-government movement are known for extremist views, and several anti-Semitic incidents have occurred amid the broad-based movement that started in November. Frederic Potier, a French government official in charge of fighting anti-Semitism, racism and discrimination based on sexual orientation, earlier said some far-right groups have managed to infiltrate yellow-vest demonstrations.

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