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Israel-Palestine war: Antisemitism 'exploded' in France after 7 October attack, says minister

Hundreds have been arrested in France since the latest Israel-Gaza conflict, following a rise in antisemitism in the country
A woman walks past a building tagged with Stars of David in Paris, France, 31 October 2023 (Reuters)
A woman walks past a building tagged with Stars of David in Paris, 31 October 2023 (Reuters)

France has recorded more than 1,040 antisemitic acts since hostilities began on 7 October between Palestinians and Israelis, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Sunday.

"The number of antisemitic acts has exploded," he told France 2 television, according to AFP, adding that 486 people have been arrested for such offences, including 102 foreigners.

France's Jewish population, estimated at over 500,000, is the largest in Europe and the third biggest globally, after Israel and the United States.

Rachel Khan, a French writer with Jewish ancestry, warned on social media that, “France has a meeting with its history, an urgent meeting with its motto, an imperative meeting with fraternity.”

“It is, in fact, a moment of truth for the Republic,” she added.

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Meanwhile, Yonathan Arfi, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France, speaking on antisemitism in France concluded that “we are facing a phenomenon of unprecedented intensity in France”.

Paris police chief Laurent Nunez said on Sunday that there had been 257 antisemitic acts in the Paris region alone, and 90 arrests.

There was no typical profile for those arrested, he added. They ranged from "young kids who say very serious things" to people involved in the pro-Palestinian cause who had gone too far.

Antisemitism deeply anchored in France

The most recent study of antisemitism in France by the Fondapol think tank, which was conducted in 2022, found that “antisemitic prejudices persist at the heart of French society”.

When the French are asked if they have antipathy towards Jews, only five percent say yes, while 21 percent admit to having antipathy for Muslims.

Anti-Muslim racism is four times more widespread than racism against Jews, the study found. The same study, however, shows that in reality, there is latent, well-anchored antisemitism in France.

The idea that “Jews are richer than the average French person” is met with agreement among 30 percent of French respondents. When French respondents were asked if Jews have too much power in finance or in the media, more than 30 percent answered yes.

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The assumption that “the Jews have too much power in the areas of the economy and finance” is widely shared by groups across France's political spectrum.

The same study by Fondapol found that amongst Muslims the idea of Jewish control over the media stood at around 50 percent, or in the economy and in finance at just over 50 percent.

According to the study, many French Muslims believed that French Jews also benefited from “preferential treatment” which resulted in antisemitism being taken more seriously than Islamophobia.

The French assembly recently proposed a bill that would ban any criticism of Israel. The bill “sanctioning anti-Zionism” if passed would have some deeply draconian penalties.

Anyone questioning the existence of Israel would be fined $48,000 and could face one year in prison.

Insulting Israel could result in being fined $80,000 and two years in prison, and provoking hatred or violence against the state of Israel is punishable by five years in prison and $106,000.

The bill does not define what an insult against Israel might be.

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