SWASTIKAS on gravestones and pictures of Holocaust survivors. A Jew shot with an air-rifle outside a Paris synagogue. A prominent Jewish public figure called “a dirty Jew.” A memorial tree for a Jewish man murdered in a brutal, antisemitic attack demonstrably chopped down before a remembrance service for him.
These are just some of the vicious, vitriolic, antisemitic attacks that have taken place in France in recent days, generating real concern over the rising anti-Jewish sentiment in the country of liberté, égalité, fraternité.
So what has prompted this rash of attacks?
Social turmoil in France and the febrile atmosphere generated by the so-called “yellow vest” movement has been identified as one of the phenomena that has stirred up antisemitic sentiment.
Although the movement started out as a protest against fuel tax hikes, it has morphed into a protest movement against the socio-economic condition of the working and middle class with a highly populist strain of anti-“elite” rhetoric and beliefs.
At the same time, the anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist sentiment, alive in significant portions of France’s large Muslim population, has been an engine for antisemitic attacks in the country for the last two decades.
It appears that the combination of these two phenomena, and a snowball effect in which one antisemite is emboldened by the antisemitic attack of another, is behind the recent attacks.
Yonathan Arfi, vice-president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, says that significant elements within the “yellow vests” movement have identified French Jews as part of the “elite establishment” that is doing them down and oppressing ordinary, working French citizens.
Even though French Jews are largely in the same economic circumstances as many in the middle and lower-middle class, they are associated with the establishment and blamed for the perceived wrongs done to other French citizens.
Anti-capitalist sentiment has become a notable feature of the “yellow vest” protests, which quickly morphs into anti-Jewish stereotypes and prejudices.
“Yellow vest” protesters have latched on to the fact that French president Emmanuel Macron used to work in the Rothschild & Cie Banque and used this to accuse him of being part of a global Jewish conspiracy.
Macron has been described as the “whore of the Jews”, a “puppet” of the Jews and “president of the rich” by “yellow vest” protesters, among other choice descriptions.
Ariel Kandel, director of the Qualita organisation for French immigrants in Israel, ascribes the antisemitism within the “yellow vest” movement as a case of classic antisemitic beliefs becoming manifest once again in modern society.
“Everything comes back to the Jews — ‘they have money, they have power, they are Zionists’ — and even though they have nothing to do with the issues in France, when there are problems, Jews get blamed,” he said.
“It’s sad to see the return of medieval attitudes in which Jews are reflexively blamed for a country’s problems.”
Kandel opined that the recent wave of attacks is part of a snowball effect in which one antisemitic attack leads others to cast off inhibitions about the illegitimacy of antisemitism, leading to ever more serious incidents and attacks.
Regardless of the precise breakdown of antisemitic attacks by social grouping, France is clearly in the throes of a worrying assault on its Jewish community and its place in the republic.
As Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog put it, the antisemitism virus has returned once again to the heart of Europe.
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