Antisemitism in 21st-century France

Further information: Gayssot Act

Antisemitism in France has become heightened From the late 20th century into the 21st century. In the early 21st century, most Jews in France, like most French Muslims, are of North African origin. France has the largest population of Jews in the diaspora after United States - an estimated 500,000-600,000 persons. Paris has the highest population, followed by Marseilles, which has 70,000 Jews, most of North African origin.

Expressions of anti-semitism were seen to rise during the Six-Day War of 1967 and the French anti-Zionist campaign of the 1970s and 1980s.[1][2] Following the electoral successes achieved by the extreme right-wing National Front and an increasing denial of the Holocaust among some persons in the 1990s, surveys showed an increase in stereotypical antisemitic beliefs among the general French population.[3][4][5]

At the beginning of the 21st century, antisemitism in France rose sharply during the unrest of the Second Intifada in Israel and the Palestinian territories, as it did in other European nations.[6] In addition, a significant proportion of the second-generation Muslim immigrant population in France began to identify with the Palestinian cause, with some also identifying with radical Islamism.[7][8][9] In the early 2000s, a critical debate on the nature of antisemitism in France accompanied denunciation of it in relation to the situation in the Middle East and to Islam. Divisions developed among anti-racist groups.[6][10][11]

Alarmed by violence and verbal attacks, some French Jews began to emigrate to Israel. By early 2014 the number of French Jews making aliyah (emigrating to Israel) surpassed the number of American Jews who were emigrating. At the same time 70 percent of French Jews reported in surveys that they were concerned about insults or harassment and 60% about physical aggression because of their ethnicity; both figures are much higher than shown in surveys of the European average.[12]


At the turn of the 21st century, France had an estimated 500,000 to 600,000 Jews, most of them Sephardic and of North African origin. This is the second-largest population outside of Israel, and after that in the United States. A quarter of the historic Ashkenazy Jewish population in France died in the Holocaust of World War II. After the war, the French government passed laws to suppress antisemitic discrimination and actions, and to protect Jews in the country.[7]

In the 1950s and 1960s, many Sephardic Jews emigrated to France from countries such as Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, which had gained independence from colonial rule through extended warfare against France.[7] The wars for independence left both sides with considerable bitterness, and Algeria was immersed in civil war for years after gaining independence. Jews left North Africa as relations in the area became more strained during the Six-Day War of 1967 between Israel, Egypt and other Arab forces. This increased tensions across the Arab world. The rise of the Second Intifada, beginning in 2000, contributed to rising tensions with Arab Muslims and Jews feeling less welcome in North African nations. Most have now left the region.[7]

Beginning in the late 20th century, more Arabs from North African nations began to emigrate to France in the for economic reasons and to escape civil wars in their home nations. Historically numerous North African Arabs had lived and worked in France since before World War II. The Muslim community built the Grand Mosque in Paris in 1929. Its Imam and numerous members helped protect Jews from deportation during the Holocaust.

In the mid-1990s historians renewed a critical study of National Socialism, collaboration, and the responsibility of the Vichy Regime for deportation of Jews during the Holocaust. They contested the book Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944 (1972) (published in French as La France de Vichy) by American historian Robert Paxton, who had said the Vichy Regime cooperated with the Nazi Germans.[6]

British historian Maud S. Mandel bases her inquiry Jews and Muslims in France: A History of a Conflict (2014) on historic relations among the peoples of North Africa. She attributes the roots of Muslim antisemitism among second-generation immigrants in France to earlier inter-communal relations among the peoples in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco; the course of decolonization in North Africa; and events in the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict. Sociologists such as Nonna Mayer, Laurent Mucchielli and others have said that anti-semitic opinions have been in decline in France since the end of the Second World War, and that other forms of racism have been more widespread than antisemitism.[13][14] Members of the French Jewish community criticized this conclusion.[15]

France has struggled to help Arab working-class youth find work, as their unemployment rate is high. In their isolated public housing communities outside Paris, anti-semitic sentiment is prevalent.[7] In 2016 Paris has the largest population of Jews in France, followed by Marseilles, which has 70,000.[16]

Many working-class Arabs and Sephardic Jews also settled in cities in southern France, which had long been linked by trade and culture to North Africa. In many of these communities, such as Nice and Marseilles, Arab and Jewish immigrants from North African nations have lived in mixed communities as they began to make new lives in France. Both Jews and Muslims are minorities in France. Many North African Jews worked with Arab immigrants to combat racism in France against the latter group, and support other progressive causes.

French concerns about antisemitism among second-generation Arab groups is also related to general concerns about Islamic terrorism in the country. In 2015 Paris suffered two major Islamic attacks, which were generally targeted at all French people. In addition, from the end of 2015 into early 2016, there were independent attacks against individual Jews in several cities, including three in Marseilles from October to January.

Extent of antisemitic acts

The National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (Commission nationale consultative des droits de l'homme, CNCDH) has issued annual reports on antisemitic activities as part of the French oversight of human rights. It recorded disturbing levels of antisemitic actions and threats in France between 2002-2004 (the height of the Second Intifada), and in 2009. According to CNCDH, it defined actions to be tracked as homicides, attacks and attempted attacks, arson, degradations, and violence and assault and battery. Antisemitic threats are defined as covering speech acts, threatening gestures and insults, graffiti (inscriptions), pamphlets and emails. Its data was relied on in the FRA (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights) report of anti-semitism incidents in France from 2001-2011, which was issued in June 2012. [17]

Antisemitic actions and

threats recorded in France

2001 219
2002 936
2003 601
2004 974
2005 508
2006 571
2007 402
2008 459
2009 815
2010 466
2011 389

Offences related to racism

The Criminal Affairs and Pardon Board at the Ministry of Justice (Direction des affaires criminelles et des graces, DACG) keeps records related to the number of indictments charged in the calendar year in relation to racist, antisemitic and discriminatory offences.[17]

Indictments relating to offences relating to racism Indictments relating principally to racist offences Indictments relating exclusively to racist offences
2001 211 152 115
2002 228 158 115
2003 208 145 105
2004 345 236 165
2005 573 380 253
2006 611 364 275
2007 577 423 306
2008 682 469 344
2009 579 397 288
2010 567 397 298

21st century

The 2002 Lyon car attack was part of a wave of increased attacks on Jews and Jewish targets in France in the early 21st century. Analysts related it to the Second Intifada in Israel and the Palestinian territories.[18][19]

From March 11 to 19, 2012, Mohammed Merah, a French man of Algerian descent born in Toulouse, committed the Toulouse and Montauban shootings, a series of three attacks against French soldiers and civilians in Toulouse and Montauban, in the Midi-Pyrénees region. The last day he attacked a Jewish day school in Toulouse, killing a teacher and three children, and wounding a teenager. He killed a total of three French Muslim soldiers in Toulouse and Montauban, and seriously wounded a fourth.[20] During the 30-hour police siege at his apartment on March 22, Merah wounded three police men before he was killed by a police sniper.

2015-2016 attacks

Increases in violent attacks on Jews in France since 2015 are thought to put "the very existence of Jewish communities" in France in doubt.[21][22]

During the January 2015 Île-de-France attacks, the Porte de Vincennes siege involved a gunman taking hostages at a Kosher supermarket. In the aftermath of the attacks, the French government increased the presence of soldiers outside prominent Jewish buildings.[23] In February 2015, soldiers were attacked who were guarding a Jewish community center in Nice.[24]

On 24 October 2015, 3 Jewish men outside a synagogue in Marseille were stabbed by a man shouting anti-Jewish slogans. One of the victims sustained serious abdominal wounds; he was expected to survive. The assailant was apprehended.[25]

On 18 November 2015 a teacher in Marseille walking on the street was stabbed by three men who shouted anti-Jewish slogans; one of the men wore an ISIS T-shirt. The three men, riding two scooters, had approached the teacher and stabbed him in the arm and in the leg. They fled when a car approached.[26][27][28]

On January 12, 2016 Benjamin Amsellem, a teacher, was attacked by a teenage boy wielding a machete outside a Jewish school in Marseille. The attacker claimed to be acting in the name of ISIS.[29] Amsellem resisted by parrying some of the machete blows with the large, leather-bound Bible he was carrying.[16] The attacker was a Kurdish Muslim whose family emigrated to France from Turkey. An excellent student from a stable, pious home, he is said by French authorities to have self-radicalized by spending long hours reading Islamist websites.[16]

On August 18, a "confirmed anti-semite"[30][31] shouted "allahou akbar"[32] ("Allah is great," in English), as he attacked a 62 year-old Jew wearing a kippa on avenue des Vosges in Strasbourg. The attacker had previously stabbed another Jew in 2010 in Kléber square. The French Minister of the Interior, Bernard Cazeneuve, called the rabbi of Strasbourg to express his "solidarity." The attacker was said to have mental problems.[33][34] The attacker was charged the following day with «attempted murder based on the victim's appearance belonging to a race or religion[35]».

Public opinion surveys

A number of surveys have been conducted of French people's attitudes toward Jews since the turn of the 21st century. Responses appeared to relate to events in the world, especially the rise in Arab-Israeli tensions in Israel and the Palestinian territories during the Second Intifada, which started in 2000. Anti-semitic views have also become associated with opposition to globalisation and, in some cases, to actions by the United States and Israel in the Mid-East.

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) opinion survey conducted in five European nations (including France) in June 2002, 42% of respondents believed Jews were more loyal to Israel than their own country, 42% said Jews have too much power in the business world, and 46% believed Jews talked too much about the Holocaust. Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, said, "These findings are especially disturbing because they show that the old, classical form of antisemitism, which we had hoped was long gone in Europe, continues to be resilient".[36]

In 2004, ADL conducted the same opinion survey in ten European nations, including France . The report said that 25% of the residents of the ten nations held antisemitic attitudes, down from 35% in five nations in 2002. 28% responded "probably true" to the statement, "Jews are more loyal to Israel than their own country", down from 42% in 2002. 15% responded "probably true" to the statement, "Jews don't care about anyone but their own kind", down from 20%.[37]

In May 2005, the ADL published an opinion survey conducted in 12 European countries regarding popular attitudes toward Jews. The 2005 survey indicated that since 2004 and the survey of 10 nations, there was some decline in the acceptance of certain traditional antisemitic stereotypes. 25% responded "probably true" to the statement, "Jews have too much power in the business world", down from 33% in 2004, while 24% responded "probably true" to the statement "Jews have too much power in international financial markets," down from 29% in 2004.[38]

Two years later, in May 2007, the ADL published another opinion survey conducted in five European nations. It found that 22% of respondents answered "probably true" to at least three of the four antisemitic stereotypes tested: Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country, Jews have too much power in the business world, Jews have too much power in international financial markets, Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust. According to the survey, respondents believed that violence directed against French Jews was based more on anti-Jewish feelings than anti-Israel sentiment.[39]

The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) organization published a report in 2011, Intolerance, Prejudice and Discrimination - A European Report. It concluded that anti-Semitic attitudes in France that same year, as a whole, were less widespread than the European average. According to a survey conducted by FES, 27.7% agreed with the statement "Jews have too much influence in France" and 25.8% agreed with the statement "Jews in general do not care about anything or anyone but their own kind" (implying disloyalty to the nation).[40]

In 2012, the ADL conducted another opinion survey of antisemitic attitudes in 10 European countries. It reported that the overall level of antisemitism in France had increased to 24% of the population, up from to 20% in 2009. In terms of specific statements, 45% responded "probably true" related to "Jews are more loyal to Israel" than their own country, up from 38% in 2009. 35% responded "probably true" to the statement, "Jews have too much power in the business world", up from 33% in 2009. 29% responded "probably true" to the statement "Jews have too much power in international financial markets", up from 27% in 2009.[41] Foxman, ADL National Director, has said regarding those findings:

In France, you have a volatile mix. France has seen an increase in the level of anti-Semitism. At the same time, more people today believe that violence directed against European Jews is fueled by anti-Jewish attitudes as opposed to anti-Israel sentiment. Those increases are all the more disturbing in light of the [2012] shooting attack at the Jewish school in Toulouse.[41]

Responses to antisemitism and racism

The French Jewish establishment has traditionally worked with the government and various community groups on legal routes and education to combat and reduce anti-semitism. CRIF, an umbrella body of French Jewish communities, has used outreach and education to lessen tensions among various ethnic groups and to combat anti-semitism.[42]

The authorities are prosecuting persons both for violent acts and for violating laws related to Holocaust denial and reducing anti-semitism. In several instances, the national or local governments have increased police protection around Jewish sites or Jewish neighborhoods in an effort to prevent attacks.

The level of violence in French society related to anti-semitism has been complicated by actions of the Ligue de Défense Juive (LDJ, French Jewish Defense League), which registered in 2001.[42] It has been described as an offshoot of the American Jewish Defense League.[43] The latter was founded in 1968 by ultra-nationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane and it was classified by the United States FBI as a "domestic terrorist group."[42] With about 300 members in 2013, the LDJ was condemned by the French Jewish establishment, which threatens court action against it. Its relations have been strained with CRIF, the umbrella body of French Jewish communities.[42]

From 2001, when the group registered, to June 2013, critics have attributed 115 violent incidents to the LDJ. Its members act as independent vigilantes and it "stages violent reprisals to anti-Semitic attacks."[42] In 2009 two LDJ members attacked Libraire Resistance, a bookstore in Paris owned by a pro-Palestinian activist. They trashed the store and injured two victims so severely they had to be hospitalized. One LDJ man was sentenced to six months in prison; the other to four months.[42]

In another example, in August 2012 members of the French LDJ attacked and beat a group of Arab men in Paris whom they suspected of an anti-semitic attack the previous day. The LDJ had increased its attacks on Arab suspects since an anti-semitic attack in Toulouse on a Jewish school that killed four.[42] In December 2013, French police arrested six members of the French Jewish Defense league for physical assaults against suspected anti-Semites in Lyon and Villeurbanne.[44]

A selection of other responses to anti-semitism follows:


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  3. , US Holocaust Museum
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  31. Jacques Fortier. "Strasbourg : un juif blessé par un antisémite récidiviste". Le Monde (in French). Retrieved 23 August 2016. l’agresseur semble ne rien avoir perdu de sa haine antisémite
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