Violent hate crimes in France quadrupled in 2002 over the year before, rising to their highest level in a decade, according to a new report by the National Consulting Committee on Human Rights. More than half the assaults were aimed at Jews.
A string of incidents have taken place in recent days, most notably the burning of a synagogue outside Paris and an assault on two young members of the left-wing Zionist youth group Hashomer Hatzair, who were attacked by Muslims during an antiwar protest in the capital last week.
The incidents appear to confirm predictions by Jewish communal leaders that the war in Iraq would unleash a new wave of antisemitic attacks.
Contrary to communal leaders’ predictions, however, there is little indication of a drop in antisemitic incidents following the inauguration of a right-wing government in April 2002. The new report suggests opposite was the case.
Several observers said the unexpected rise could be explained by a more rigorous tallying of incidents by the authorities. Jewish organizations had accused the previous left-wing government of downplaying the number of incidents. It appeared that the new government, by casting a wider net, might be signaling its willingness to tackle the problem, the observers said.
French officials voiced concerns that the surge and the recent incidents indicated the Middle East violence was now spilling over directly into France, which has the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Western Europe.
According to the report, assailants carried out 313 acts of racially and religiously motivated violence last year, compared with 71 in 2001.
The human rights committee said 193 of the 313 attacks were against Jews, representing a “real explosion” of antisemitic violence. During the previous year, the group reported 32 acts of anti-Jewish violence.
The report said France’s large North African Arab community has also been targeted.
Of 47 attacks against Arabs, 25 were attributed to the extreme right. One person of North African origin was killed, the only death cited in the report.
The antiwar demonstration during which the two young Jewish leftists were assaulted was attended by several leaders of mainstream French political parties, including former Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius, a Green Party presidential candidate, Noel Mamere, and Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande.
Although the Hashomer Hatzair attack was filmed by a camera crew, the event got little coverage in the mainstream press and it took more than two full days for organizers of the demonstration to condemn it, following a visit by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe to the Hashomer Hatzair office.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy recently told Roger Cukierman, president of CRIF, the umbrella organization of secular French Jewry, that the police would take extra measures to protect Jewish institutions.
After the incidents, Sarkozy said France “could not accept this kind of behavior.” Speaking on behalf of the government, he expressed anger at “an inadmissible and scandalous attack” and said the protesters were targeted “simply because they were Jewish.”