International

French Jews slam 'cancer' of anti-Semitism as attacks rise

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe voiced alarm Friday over a sharp increase in anti-Semitic acts in France, where community leaders urged the government to combat the "cancer" of anti-Jewish sentiment.

France has the biggest Jewish community in Europe
France has the biggest Jewish community in Europe (AFP)

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe voiced alarm Friday over a sharp increase in anti-Semitic acts in France, where community leaders urged the government to combat the "cancer" of anti-Jewish sentiment.

After two years of declining anti-Jewish violence in 2016 and 2017, the number of reported anti-Semitic attacks and threats rose 69 percent to 385 between January and September this year, the government said.

France has the largest Jewish community in Europe but has a long history of anti-Semitism, with collaborationist French authorities deporting thousands of Jews, including children, to Nazi death camps during World War II.

In a Facebook post to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) pogrom in Nazi Germany on November 9, 1938, Philippe echoed the alarm of Jewish groups.

"Any attack on a citizen because or she is Jewish sounds like more breaking glass," he said.

"We are very far from being done with anti-Semitism."

The head of the Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), Francis Kalifat, said the latest figures were "not a surprise."

"Anti-Semitism is profoundly rooted in our country," he told AFP, deploring the fact that successive government plans had not managed "to staunch this cancer which corrodes our society".

The figures mirror a trend seen in the United States, where 11 people were shot dead at a synagogue in Pittsburgh last month -- the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in recent US history.

France's 500,000-strong Jewish community has been warning about the emergence of a new strain of anti-Semitism -- propagated by Islamists rather than the far-right -- ever since a jihadist shot dead three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in the city of Toulouse in 2012.

Three years later, Jews were again targeted in a jihadist hostage-taking at a kosher supermarket in Paris, in which four people were killed.

Attack on Holocaust survivor

France's then Socialist government reacted by introducing tougher penalties for hate crimes and stepping up teaching about the Holocaust, among other measures.

But the attacks have continued, albeit with fewer deaths.

In recent weeks, graffiti reading "Jewish scum live here" was found scrawled on a Paris apartment building.

And in March, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, Mireille Knoll, was killed in a savage attack in her home believed to be motivated at least partly by anti-Semitism.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the latest increase could perhaps be partly explained by more people coming forward to report anti-Semitic incidents to the police.

The government has announced plans to tighten laws against anti-Semitic content and other forms of hate speech online, and to boost resources available to teachers confronted with expressions of anti-Semitism in the classroom.