France demonstrates against antisemitism after vandal destroys dozens of Jewish gravesites
In the late night hours of Monday and early morning hours of Tuesday an unknown perpetrator desecrated almost 100 graves at a Jewish cemetery in the eastern French community of Quatzenheim near Strasbourg. Somebody used blue and yellow paint to graffiti the graves in German and to paint Nazi swastikas on them.
French President Emmanuel Macron, when visiting the cemetery after the incident, promised "laws and punishments" in response, and yesterday evening in the center of Paris thousands of people assembled, according to Agence-France Presse (AFP), to protest against the increase in antisemitism. The graffiti on the gravestones was, according to the AFP, noticed at about 6:30 AM Tuesday by a local resident walking his dog.
In addition to being painted on the gravestones, a Nazi swastika also appeared on the front door of a home near the cemetery, even though its owner is not Jewish. Incidents of this type significantly increased in France last year.
The authorities recorded 541 such incidents there in 2018 compared to 311 in 2017. Conservative philosopher Alain Finkielkraut also became the target of antisemitic insults Saturday during a demonstration by the so-called "yellow vests" movement.
In response to the growth in such anti-Jewish displays, several political parties convened a demonstration on the Place de la Republique in the capital yesterday. The thousands of people attending included, for example, the First Secretary of the Socialist Party, Olivier Faure, the chair of the Génération movement, Benoit Hamon, Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, and former President François Hollande.
"Antisemitism is not a Jewish matter, but one that affects all French people," Hollande told the AFP, adding that the anti-Jewish displays are "an attack on the Republic". The Bas-Rhin department prefecture called the desecration of the graves near Strasbourg an "abominable antisemitic crime".
The AFP reported that one graffiti read "Elsassisches Schwarzen Wolfe" (Alsatian Black Wolves), possibly a reference to an Alsatian separatist group last active in the 1970s. Alsace has historically been inhabited by a large German-speaking community.
"We are taking steps, we are adopting laws, and we will punish the perpetrators," President Macron told residents of Quatzenheim and representatives of the Jewish community after visiting the desecrated graves. He was accompanied by the Chief Rabbi of France, Haim Korsia.
"It is important to me to be here with you today," the President told them. In the early evening Macron visited the Holocaust memorial in Paris and today will be dining with the chair of the CRIF society, an umbrella organization representing French Jews.
Unlike other political leaders, however, Macron did not attend the demonstration against antisemitism in Paris last night. The Jewish community in France, according to Reuters, has approximately 550 000 members and is one of the biggest in Europe.
Since the Second World War the French Jewish community has grown by roughly half, and assaults against its members remain frequent. In the year 2015 the French authorities recorded as many as 800 antisemitic crimes.
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