An anti-Israel demonstration at the French capital’s Bastille Square turned violent after protesters attacked a synagogue, trapping scores of people inside as police fought to protect them.
In response, 150 Jewish men were seen marching through Paris armed with iron bars seeking to confront pro-Palestinian groups. Then, a mob of Muslim youths reportedly shouting ‘Death to Jews’ and ‘Slit Jews’ throats’ ransacked and burned down a chemist owned by a Jewish family, as well as a kosher supermarket.
Today, it is estimated that there are 600,000 Jews living in France, making it the third-largest Jewish community in the world after the U.S. and Israel.
But despite making up less than one per cent of the total population, during 2013 they were the victims of one-third of all racist crimes reported in the country.
Events have taken a turn for the worse after violent clashes between pro-Palestinian Arabs and Jews in Paris. Tensions have been inflamed by the military action in the Middle East, where the Israeli shelling of Gaza — in response to the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers — is being answered with rockets fired by the Arab group Hamas.
Among the assaults, one involved the attempted stabbing of a Jewish schoolboy in Paris. In another attack in the capital, two young Jewish brothers were set upon by men armed with knuckle-dusters as they left a synagogue.
More recently, a Jewish teacher was beaten up by three men who then pinned him to the ground and drew a swastika on his chest with a marker pen. And six teenagers of African origin attacked a Jewish teenager with a taser gun at the Place de la République square.
Anti-Semitic graffiti is increasingly common. In March, the words ‘Hitler burned six million Jews and forgot half’ were removed from a building in Toulouse. According to Professor Wistrich, the rise in anti-Jewish incidents can be traced to the beginning of this century, with a sharp increase in the past two years.
Coming from the Left, he says, is the ‘relentless demonisation’ of Israel that spills over in attitudes towards Jews — ‘you can’t separate the two’.
A Jewish teacher who was ambushed by youths, beaten and daubed with a swastika with permanent marker on his chest in Paris in March this year
Already across France, synagogues and Jewish schools are guarded around the clock by police.‘My parents told me there is no future for Jewish people in France,’ said the veterinary student, who declined to give her surname to protect her family. ‘There’s a huge rise in anti-Semitism, as well as the worrying political changes with the rise of the National Front.’ While in Paris, Sacha began to hear daily reports of Jewish people being attacked, as well as experiencing growing levels of verbal abuse herself.
‘On the street, we heard jokes about the Holocaust spoken behind our backs,’ she said. ‘Things like: “What’s the difference between a Jew and a pizza? Time in the oven.” Or “What does a bird say when it flies above Auschwitz? Cui cui” (in French “cuit” means “cooked”).’
Asked why she thought people felt emboldened to say these things, Sacha replied: ‘I think they just repeat what they hear their parents saying at home. Some people are stupid and think the Jews control everything. They are jealous.
‘But if they can hurt Jewish people and the police simply do nothing, they will do it again. I think it will be worse in the future.’
Similar sentiments are expressed by 51-year-old Valerie who left Paris, her birthplace, 18 months ago, to move to St John’s Wood with her husband and two children.
"There is no future for Jewish people in France"
‘I was never attacked, but my nephew’s wife was reading a book in Hebrew on the Metro when an Arab man put his hand in her face and kicked her in the crotch. She was pregnant, but nobody moved to help. She was shocked.’
In England, she says she is happy for children to wear their kippah (small skullcaps) when they are out and about, but in France she was worried that they would be singled out and attacked.
She added: ‘The Arabs in England tend to come from different countries. In France, they are mainly from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia and they have hostile feelings towards Jews. People always say these things are nothing, it’s just a few bad people. But I prefer to live my life freely and did not want to stay. You feel secure in England and if there is trouble, you know you can go to the police.
‘In France, even the police cannot do anything about anti-Semitism. I don’t know why, but they never do anything there. And if they carry on doing nothing, that failure to act will have a big impact in the end.’
Next year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and the moment the world learned the full truth about the Holocaust.
It seems hard to believe the terrible lessons learned then could so quickly have been forgotten.