Israeli minister tells French Jews to ‘come home’ after anti-Semitic vandalism
LONDON – Israeli Immigration Minister Yoav Gallant called on French Jews to “come home” to Israel following the anti-Semitic vandalism of a cemetery in eastern France.
“The desecration of the Jewish cemetery in France conjures images of dark times in the history of the Jewish people,” Gallant said in a statement.
“Last week I visited the Jewish community in Paris, which is under an anti-Semitic attack and in the process of assimilation.
“I firmly condemn the anti-Semitism in France and call on the Jews — come home, immigrate to Israel.”
Last year, 2,679 Jews from France immigrated to Israel, according to Gallant’s ministry.
The chairman of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, which deals with Jewish immigration to Israel, called the vandalism “another indication of the rampant anti-Semitism spreading throughout Europe, threatening Jews in the streets.”
“It’s time for governments to wake up!” Isaac Herzog wrote on Twitter.
Around 80 graves were discovered to have been daubed with swastikas at a Jewish cemetery in the village of Quatzenheim, close to the border with Germany in the Alsace region.
Photos show the Nazi symbols in blue spray-painted on the damaged graves, one of which bears the words “Elsassisches Schwarzen Wolfe” (“Black Alsatian Wolves”), a separatist group with links to neo-Nazis in the 1970s.
Rallies were planned in Paris and other French cities to denounce a flare-up of anti-Semitic vandalism in recent weeks, often coinciding with “yellow vest” anti-government demonstrations.
Politicians on both the right and left urged massive participation after a prominent French writer was the target of an anti-Semitic tirade by a protester in Paris on February 16.
French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to crack down on hate crimes and went immediately to the cemetery. “This looks like absurd stupidity,” the French leader said.
“We shall act, we shall pass laws, we shall punish,” Macron told Jewish leaders while inspecting the tombstones spray-painted with blue and yellow swastikas.
“Those who did this are not worthy of the Republic,” he said, later placing a white rose on a tombstone commemorating Jews deported to Germany during World War II.
It was the second case of extensive cemetery desecration in the region since December, when nearly 40 graves as well as a monument to Holocaust victims were vandalised in Herrlisheim, about a half-hour drive from Quatzenheim.
Macron was to also visit the Paris Holocaust memorial.
Many French Jews are on edge after the government announced a 74 percent jump in anti-Jewish offences in 2018 after two years of declines.
Several officials have accused the grass-roots yellow vest movement of unleashing a wave of extremist violence that has fostered anti-Semitic outbursts among some participants.
“It would be false and absurd to call the yellow vest movement anti-Semitic,” French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told L’Express magazine.
However he added that “anti-Semitism has very deep roots in French society”.
“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.”
Philippe, who has promised a tough new law targeting online hate speech by this summer, will join several of his ministers at a Paris rally. Former French Presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy are set to join the rally.
A recent Ifop poll of “yellow vest” backers found that nearly half those questioned believed in a worldwide “Zionist plot” and other conspiracy theories.
“The yellow vests aren’t an anti-Semitic movement,” said Jean-Yves Camus of the Political Radicalisation Observatory in Paris.
“But it’s a leaderless, horizontal movement… and extremist elements have been able to drown out the voices of its high-profile figures in the media,” he said.
Anti-Semitism has a long history in France where society was deeply split at the end of the 19th century by the Alfred Dreyfus affair, a Jewish army captain wrongly convicted of treason.
During World War II, the French Vichy government collaborated with Germany notably in the deportation of Jews to death camps.
More recently French anti-Semitism, traditionally associated with the far right, has also spread among the pro-Palestinian far-left.
But Macron has resisted calls by some lawmakers to explicitly penalise anti-Zionist statements calling into question Israel’s right to exist as a nation.
Tensions mounted last weekend after a prominent French writer was the target of a violent tirade by a yellow vest protester in Paris on February 16.
A video of the scene showed the protester calling the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut a “dirty Zionist” and telling him “France belongs to us”.
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 honouring a young Jewish man tortured to death in 2006 were vandalized, one cut down.
Two youths were arrested on February 15 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 that prosecutors believe the motive was anti-Semitism.
According to sociologist Danny Trom, author of the book “France Without Jews,” thousands of Jewish people leave France every year because the rise of anti-Semitism.
“It is without equivalent in the history of France,” Trom told French magazine Telerama.
“Jews have been present in France since the dawn of time. Now, the pressure is such that they are led to consider their country inhospitable.”
(AW and agencies)