Quatzenheim cemetery in eastern France. .
(photo credit: CONSISTOIRE OF THE LOWER RHINE)
Tens of thousands of people rallied in Paris and other French cities on Tuesday night to protest a surge in antisemitic attacks, the latest being the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in the village of Quatzenheim, 10 kilometers from Strasbourg in Eastern France.
According to police, almost 100 gravestones were defaced with swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans. Political leaders from all French parties, including former presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, joined Jews and non-Jews in Paris’s Place de la Republique to condemn antisemitic acts under the slogan: “Enough!”
“Some people are provoking the authority of the state,” Sarkozy said. “It needs to be dealt with now and extremely firmly. It’s a real question of authority. Violence is spreading and it needs to stop now.”
French President Emmanuel Macron visited one of the 96 desecrated graves in Quatzenheim. “Whoever did this is not worthy of the French Republic and will be punished,” he said, walking through a gate defaced with a swastika. “We’ll take action, we’ll apply the law and we’ll punish them!” Macron also visited the Holocaust memorial in Paris with the heads of the French Senate and National Assembly.
But all this is not enough. CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewry, says France is home to the largest Jewish community in Europe – about 550,000 people. Yet government statistics published last week indicate that there were more than 500 antisemitic attacks in the country last year – a 74% jump from 2017.
Among recent incidents, “yellow-vest” protesters on Saturday hurled abuse at Alain Finkielkraut, a prominent Jewish writer who is the son of a Holocaust survivor.
Artwork on two Paris post boxes with the image of the late Simone Veil, a famous Holocaust survivor and former minister, were daubed with swastikas, while a bagel shop was sprayed with the word “Juden” in yellow letters.
The spike in attacks has alarmed politicians, and prompted calls from Jewish and Israeli leaders for action against what may be a new form of antisemitism (and anti-Zionism) among the far Left, far Right and among Muslim preachers.
“I call on all French and European leaders to take a strong stand against antisemitism,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video message. “It is an epidemic that endangers everyone, not just us.”
Aliyah and Integration Minister Yoav Gallant went a step further, sending a tweet urging French Jews to leave France and “come home” to Israel, where some 200,000 French Jewish immigrants already live.
Gallant said the vandalism at the Jewish cemetery was “reminiscent of dark days in the history of the Jewish people.”
“Last week, I visited the French Jewish community, which faces antisemitic attacks and a process of assimilation,” he said. “The State of Israel is the safe, national home for the Jews of the world. I strongly condemn the antisemitism in France and call on Jews [to] come home; immigrate to Israel.”
Meyer Habib, a Jewish member of France’s National Assembly, said the recent spate of antisemitic attacks raised “serious questions over the future of Jews in France.”
While aliyah is clearly an option, a report from Paris by Bernard Edinger in The Jerusalem Report indicates that immigration to Israel from France is on the wane rather than the rise.
After reaching a record 24,000 immigrants from 2013 through 2016, according to the Jewish Agency, annual immigration from France dropped in 2018 for the third year running, to only 2,660 (down from 3,500 in 2017, and 5,000 in 2016).
Despite the rise in antisemitism, according to Daniel Benhaim, outgoing head of the Jewish Agency in France, “French Jews feel that the situation is less oppressive than it was in the past, and there is less of a feeling that they should accelerate their departure to Israel.”
While we commend French leaders for speaking out against antisemitism, we urge French authorities to take aggressive action to combat all signs of it, and bring the offenders swiftly to justice.
As for French Jews, they must be on the alert – but should be assured that Israel stands by them, and will always be here for them.
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