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Protests, political action in France after alleged antisemitic rape of 12-year-old Jewish girl

Two 13-year-old boys have been charged with raping and threatening to kill the girl, whom they allegedly called “dirty Jew”

(JTA) — A shocking incident in which two teenage boys have been charged with the rape of a 12-year-old Jewish girl in a suburb of Paris has sparked a reckoning across France, with Jewish groups taking to the streets to protest rising antisemitism and President Emmanuel Macron pushing to address antisemitism in schools.

Macron reportedly condemned the “scourge of antisemitism” and tasked his education minister, Nicole Belloubet, with enacting education about antisemitism in French schools during a government meeting on Wednesday, a source told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

“The horror has no limits. Rape, antisemitism: Everything is abominable in this crime committed in Courbevoie against a 12-year-old girl,” Belloubet tweeted on Wednesday. She added, “Justice, School, Republic: a single response against barbarism.”

Two 13-year-old boys were indicted on Tuesday on multiple charges including rape as well as because of the victim’s religious affiliation in connection to the incident, which took place on Saturday night. A third boy, aged 12, was charged with offenses related to witnessing the alleged crime.

The French newspaper Le Monde called the police report, which included testimony from the girl and from investigating officers, “unbearable” in its details.

Two of the teenagers accused of participating admitted to being motivated by the victim’s identity, according to the report, with one saying he had been angry that she had hidden her religion from him and another saying he had resented her comments about Palestine. (The reports did not specify details about the comments.) One of the boys called her a “dirty Jew,” according to multiple reports about the incident.

The incident has drawn recriminations from people across France and beyond who say it reflects deep problems in French society. “We have the impression that French society has resigned itself to antisemitism,” Yonathan Arfi, president of CRIF, an umbrella organization of French Jewish institutions, said on TV Thursday.

In recent years, French Jews have been victim to several high-profile acts of antisemitism, and communal leaders have lamented feeling increasingly unsafe in the country, which has one of Europe’s largest Jewish populations. CRIF, like its counterparts in other countries, reported a spike in reported antisemitic incidents following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and amid the subsequent Israel-Hamas war.

Haim Korsia, France’s chief rabbi, tweeted that he was “horrified” by the alleged rape. “Justice must firmly sanction the perpetrators of this despicable act,” Korsia wrote.

The incident comes as French politics are in turmoil after Macron, a centrist, called for elections following a strong showing by far-right parties in European Union elections earlier this month. The dynamic has resulted in an unprecedented embrace by the traditional conservative party of a far-right party, National Rally, that was founded by a convicted Holocaust denier, leading some French Jews to express fears.

This week, National Rally withdrew its support for a local candidate who said in a now-deleted 2018 tweet that “gas did justice for the victims of the Holocaust.”

And Marine Le Pen, the leader of National Rally, joined politicians from across the political spectrum in denouncing the rape — and pointing fingers about the cause.

“The antisemitic attack and the rape of a 12-year-old child in Hauts-de-Seine revolt us,” Le Pen tweeted. “The explosion of antisemitic acts, up 300% compared to the first three months of 2023, must alert all French people: the stigmatization of Jews for months by the far left through the instrumentalization of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a real threat to civil peace. Everyone should be fully aware of this on June 30 and July 7,” when elections are scheduled.

Jean-Luc Melechon, who heads the far-left party France Unbowed, also denounced the alleged attack, saying he hoped it would not become a “media spectacle” during the election season. His party has been accused of stoking antisemitism in its aggressive opposition to the Israel-Hamas war.

“Horrified by this rape in Courbevoie and everything it highlights regarding the conditioning of criminal male behavior from a young age, and antisemitic racism,” Melenchon tweeted.

Leading members of Macron’s party also took aim at Melenchon in their public comments.

“Faced with such a tragedy … of course I imagine that all the major politicians condemn it, including Jean-Luc Mélenchon,” Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who has Jewish ancestry, said at a press conference on Thursday, according to Politico. “But what I also want to say is that since Oct. 7, we’ve seen a form of unbridled antisemitism develop and break free. And I think that political leaders and political parties have a responsibility to put up barriers, to prevent a certain amount of rhetoric from becoming commonplace.”

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