Many members of France’s Jewish community are living in fear after pro-Palestinian protests in recent weeks were marred by violence and use of anti-Semitic language, the country’s foreign minister said on Thursday.
France has both the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe and flare-ups in the Middle East have often in the past added to tensions between the two communities.
“Jews in France should not be afraid but many of them are afraid,” Laurent Fabius told France Inter radio after one listener called in to share her experiences of hearing anti-Semitic comments in public.
“We will be extremely firm.”
Local media showed the burnt-down front of a kosher grocery shop in the heavily Jewish Parisian suburb of Sarcelles after a non-authorized protest on Sunday. The weekend before, marchers clashed with riot police outside two Paris synagogues.
France’s Jewish population has grown by nearly half since World War Two to total some 550,000 Jews according to the community’s umbrella group CRIF. The Muslim population, swollen by immigration from France’s North African former colonies, is much larger and put at up to five million.
Separately, Prime Minister Manuel Valls confirmed that “Death to the Jews” chants had been heard during a protest earlier this month and that some arrests had been made in the margins of an otherwise peaceful protest in Paris on Wednesday.
“It seems a few people have committed anti-Semitic acts or made anti-Semitic comments. This is unacceptable,” he said of the Paris march, which had been authorized after two previous protests had gone ahead without approval.
Valls and Fabius reiterated calls for an immediate ceasefire in the region and rejected criticism of France’s stance in the latest outbreak of violence there. Pro-Palestinian protesters and some leftist politicians accuse it of pro-Israeli bias.
“The images we see of women, children, being killed by Israeli bombings are horrendous. There is no other solution that an immediate ceasefire and negotiations,” Valls said.
Further rallies in France would be approved on a case-by-case basis, Valls said, adding that it depending on whether security could be guaranteed.
In the first three months of 2014 more Jews left France for Israel than at any other time since the Jewish state was created in 1948, citing economic hardships in the stagnating economy but also rising anti-Semitism as a factor.