A deadly incident rife with racial and political overtones has roiled France for the past week and heightened a sense of siege among the country’s 600,000-strong Jewish community.
On November 23, a fan of the Paris Saint-Germain soccer team was shot and killed and another fan was seriously wounded by a plainclothes police officer who was rescuing a French Jew after a game between Paris and an Israeli team, Hapoel Tel Aviv.
The prosecutor in charge of the case said that the policeman, who is black, probably acted in self-defense to protect himself and the Jewish fan, Yanniv Hazout, from a group of a dozen enraged Paris supporters near the stadium after the game, which the Israeli team won 4-2.
The officer, Caribbean native Antoine Granomort, was beaten before drawing his weapon and firing. In the ensuing confusion, Granomort and Hazout escaped to a nearby McDonald’s restaurant and locked the doors behind them. Paris fans then set upon the restaurant, smashing windows and chanting antisemitic and racist slogans before police backup eventually arrived.
Police said the 24-year-old Paris fan who was killed was linked to a fan club known as the Boulogne Boys, of which some members have connections to Paris Saint-Germain’s violent, far-right fan base. For years, those fans have routinely chanted racist songs and made Nazi salutes during games. The fan club denied any political ties and held peaceful rallies after the incident. The wounded fan, who is of North African origin, has dismissed any suspicion that the attack was racial in nature.
The bloody incident has ignited a furious debate over the alleged failure of government and soccer authorities to eradicate recurring violence and racist outbursts in and around soccer stadiums in France and elsewhere in Europe. Some critics have linked the incident to the far-right ideology of frequent presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. According to the prosecutor and several witnesses, some of the Paris team’s fans chanted “Le Pen, president” during the attack. The rightist leader blasted the prosecutor and warned that his party would sue anyone linking it to the shooting.
The multiracial nature of last week’s incident added fuel to ongoing debates over France’s identity. Reactions were particularly emotional in a Jewish community that is already concerned about the rise in the number of antisemitic acts, most of them committed by Muslims, since the beginning of the intifada six years ago.
Patrick Klugman, who is a vice president of the anti-discrimination group SOS Racisme and a board member of CRIF, the main Jewish umbrella organization, described what happened as a “pre-pogrom.”
Richard Prasquier, another CRIF official, noted that several spectators recounted being surrounded by hardcore fans who asked if they were Jewish. Some said they had witnessed Jews getting chased and beaten up by neo-Nazis and other fans.
A Jewish blogger who claims he was at the game wrote in a posting that it was the worst antisemitic atmosphere he ever had witnessed, with both far-right and Muslim supporters of the Paris team insulting the Israeli squad and its Jewish supporters during and after the game.
While the number of antisemitic incidents in France has decreased in recent years, largely because of the authorities’ increased efforts, the Jewish community was jolted earlier this year when a 22-year-old Jew was found dead after being tortured by a racially mixed band of young delinquents. The perpetrators were said to be interested primarily in obtaining a ransom, believing that Jews are wealthy.
Last week’s incident served as a stark reminder that the old far-right antisemitism is still alive, both politically — Le Pen is polling more than 15% in advance of a presidential election next April — and in the street.
“Those who pretend that certain Jews, disillusioned by the emergence and the trivialization of a violent antisemitism hiding behind the mask of anti-Zionism, would be tempted to turn to the extreme right to fight common enemies can see it: This attitude, which would negate a terrible past, would be as blind politically as it is shameful morally,” Prasquier, the CRIF official, wrote in an opinion essay in the daily Le Monde.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the leading conservative presidential contender and a favorite of the Jewish community, announced that a law making it possible to dissolve fan groups that do not dissociate themselves from racist movements would be implemented starting December 1. The opposition Socialists accused the minister, an avowed Paris fan, of years of failure to act more diligently.
The new Socialist leader, Segolene Royal, is running neck and neck with Sarkozy in the polls, and both are expected to face off in a decisive second round of the presidential election. The 78-year-old Le Pen, however, is planning his final presidential run. He is hoping for the same upset he scored in the 2002 election, when he gathered more voices than the Socialist candidate and faced Jacques Chirac in a runoff. Chirac then won handily in the second round.