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12 Feb, 2019 16:49

‘Anti-Semitism spreading like poison’: France stained by weekend of vandalism & year of hate crimes

‘Anti-Semitism spreading like poison’: France stained by weekend of vandalism & year of hate crimes

France’s interior minister has vowed to take a tougher stance on hatred, after multiple incidents of anti-semitic vandalism, and a spike in anti-Jewish hate crimes last year.

Parisians were greeted with crudely daubed anti-Semitic slogans on shop fronts last weekend, including swastikas sprayed over images of late politician and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil, and the German word for Jews (“Juden”) sprayed on a bagel shop in the city center.  

A memorial tree planted in honor of a young Jewish man, tortured to death in a 2006 attack, was also chopped down. Visiting the suburb where the tree once stood, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner declared that “anti-Semitism is spreading like a poison, like a venom.”

“It’s rotting minds, it’s killing,” Castaner continued, before vowing to crack down on anti-Jewish hatred.

Castaner did not blame any particular group for the spread of anti-Semitism, but some within the French government and media were quick to blame extremists among anti-Government ‘Yellow Vest’ demonstrators. Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux linked the graffiti to an arson attack on the home of Parliamentary Speaker Richard Ferrand one week earlier, believed to be the work of the Yellow Vests. The Union of French Jewish Students also pinned blame for the racist daubings on the Yellow Vests.

The bagel bakery’s owner disputes the link, and said that the graffiti appeared on his shop hours before protests broke out nearby.

Moreover, France has been struggling with anti-Semitism long before protests began last November. The number of reported anti-Semitic attacks in France rose 74 percent last year to 541, up from 311 in 2017. The most vicious of these attacks was carried out by Islamic extremists, who have revived an ancient religious conflict on the streets of modern France.

After surviving the Vichy government’s roundup of Jews in 1942, 85-year-old Mireille Knoll was was stabbed to death and set on fire in her apartment last March by her Muslim neighbor. Prosecutors said the attack was motivated by the neighbor’s anti-Semitic beliefs.

One year earlier, another elderly Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi, was killed by a Malian man who shouted: “Allahu Akbar,” before throwing her out of a window. In 2015, a gunman pledging allegiance to the Islamic State terror group killed four people in a Kosher supermarket in Paris, while 2012 saw three children and a teacher from a Jewish school in Toulouse killed by an Islamist fanatic.

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Ilan Halimi, whose memorial tree was vandalized over the weekend, was abducted and ransomed by a group of attackers who believed that all Jews were rich, and could afford to pay up. His family could not afford the ransom, and Halimi died after being tortured for three weeks. In court, the ringleader of the attackers appeared unrepentant, declaring“all Jews are my enemies” and pointing upwards while saying: “Allahu Akbar.”

After every attack, the French government pledged to do more to combat anti-Semitism. However, some of France’s Jewish population – the largest in the world behind the United States and Israel – have had enough. An EU-wide survey last year found that French Jews were among the most likely to consider emigrating to Israel, where citizenship is a birthright for Jews worldwide. More than 20,000 of France’s roughly half a million Jews made the one-way trip since 2014.

“In two months we’ll be emigrating to Israel because of the anti-Semitism in Europe,” one French woman told the survey. “Nothing is being done about it. So we are leaving voluntarily.”

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