Antisemitism in France: the statistics do not look good

By Naomi Firsht , May 1, 2014
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Jewish students demonstrate in Paris following the murders in Toulouse in 2012

Jewish students demonstrate in Paris following the murders in Toulouse in 2012

Last Sunday, the European Jewish Congress and Tel Aviv University reported that there were more violent antisemitic incidents in France in 2013 than any country in the world.

And in March, the French equivalent of the CST, the Jewish Community Security Service, reported that 40 per cent of all racist crimes in France in 2013 were directed at Jews, even though they make up less than 1 per cent of the population.

French Jews have long been quick to defend community life in the country and play down such numbers. But now it is just as common to find those speaking out against a widely-felt atmosphere of antisemitism.

David Tibi, the leader of Paris’s main Jewish umbrella group, said: “We no longer have a place in France.” Mr Tibi has lived in Paris all his life, but this July he, along with his wife, will move his family of five children to Israel permanently.

Mr Tibi, a dentist, said: “There is an atmosphere of antisemitism in the streets. My daughter was attacked in the tramway, so was my son. The aggressors made antisemitic comments and pushed them around.”

He has since told his son to stop wearing his kippah in the tram and no longer wears his own kippah in the street during the week.

Mr Tibi said that he and his wife love Israel and were always planning to eventually live there. “However, our Zionist project was accelerated and precipitated by the changing face of French society,” he said.

The school shooting in Toulouse, the election success of far-right party the National Front in April, and the popularity of public figures such as antisemitic comedian Dieudonné have all contributed to his unease

“To crown it all, shechita and circumcision are under debate in parliament and risk being outlawed in Europe. It will be very difficult for Jews to live here if that happens. I cannot imagine this happening 20 years ago,” said Mr Tibi.

Mr Tibi has overseen the installation of security cameras in numerous synagogues in the Paris area.

According to the SPCJ, antisemitic attacks have been on the rise over the past 14 years. The number is around seven times higher than in the 1990s.

Executive vice-president of the International League against Racism and Antisemitism (Licra), Philippe Schmidt, said: “It’s a worrying situation… Jews now have to be very careful.”

Mr Schmidt, who is also president of Licra’s International Commission, said he was not surprised by the SPCJ statistic of 40 per cent.

He said: “The situation has been deteriorating since the beginning of the 2000s. The intifada in Israel led to a rise in antisemitism in France.”

Mr Schmidt added that a large part of the problem stems from groups who use anti-Zionism as a mask for antisemitism. He pointed to the extreme left and green party, who display Jew-hatred through boycotts.

However, Mr Schmidt said that the current situation is part of a wider problem. “There is an obsession with Jews in France,” he said.

The 2012 French lawsuit against Google over its auto-complete function was a case in point.

“If you typed a French personality into Google, the auto-complete suggestions would bring up the word ‘Jewish.’ For example, if you typed ‘François Hollande’ it would suggest ‘Francois Hollande juif,’” he said.

Andrew Hussey, an author and expert on French affairs, told Haaretz earlier this year: “I think antisemitism is a fundamental part of French history and culture in a very damaging way.

“At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the petite bourgeoisie felt under threat from the Catholic Church and socialist movements. They turned to the Jews to blame them for every fault in French society, which culminated in the Dreyfus Affair.”

Last updated: 4:40pm, May 1 2014