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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Lili Bayer

Jews ‘questioning their future in France’ amid fears about rise in extremism

Protesters hold a placard which reads, in French, 'Raped because she is Jewish' and wave an Israeli flag
Protesters at Paris city hall square after the alleged rape of a 12-year-old girl in a suspected antisemitic attack, a case that has shocked France. Photograph: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images

Many Jewish people are “questioning [their] future in France”, a community leader has said, after a 12-year-old girl was allegedly raped in a suspected antisemitic attack and fears deepen about the rise of extremism before a parliamentary election this month.

“The climate is very, very difficult for Jews,” Yonathan Arfi, the president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (Crif), said on Thursday. “People are very, very worried about the future,” he said. “People are, I would say, questioning the future in France.”

On Tuesday evening, two 13-year-old boys were charged with the rape of a 12-year-old Jewish girl in a Paris suburb. They were also charged with issuing death threats as well as antisemitic insults and violence.

The suspects beat the girl and forced her to have sex “while uttering death threats and antisemitic remarks”, one police source told Agence France-Presse.

The case has shocked France, drawing condemnation from across the political spectrum as the country prepares for a high-stakes parliamentary election.

“Words have effects, ideas have consequences,” wrote the French prime minister, Gabriel Attal. “The fight against antisemitism must be that of all republicans,” he said.

Raphaël Glucksmann, who led a French socialist list in the European parliamentary elections, warned in a social media post on Thursday that “any attempt to minimise the explosion of antisemitism is dangerous”.

Antisemitic incidents have spiked in France. A Crif report published in January said there had been 1,676 antisemitic acts in 2023, compared with 436 the previous year, with a big increase after the Hamas attacks of 7 October and Israel’s subsequent assault on Gaza.

Last month, French police shot dead a man armed with a knife and an iron bar who set fire to a synagogue in Rouen.

“The situation has deteriorated very significantly after 7 October,” Arfi said.

“You have always the pressure to take a position regarding the conflict, and it means being a Jew is being, in a way, a legitimate target for some people,” he said.

The upcoming French elections, on 30 June and 7 July, have posed a dilemma for parts of the Jewish community in France.

Some have raised concerns about antisemitism within the country’s far left and the credibility of the far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s claims to have detoxified her party.

In recent days, high-profile figures including the Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld have said they would vote for Le Pen’s National Rally in case of a runoff with the left-green New Popular Front alliance, which includes the far-left France Unbowed.

Le Pen has courted Jewish voters, seeking to distance herself from the legacy of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who as leader was known for his antisemitic rhetoric. The 96-year-old has been convicted several times of contesting crimes against humanity in claims that the gas chambers used to kill Jews during the Holocaust were only a “detail” of history.

After reports of the alleged rape emerged this week, Le Pen blamed the left for stigmatisation of Jews and urged French voters to keep that in mind when they vote.

But her party has continued to grapple with accusations of antisemitism. On Wednesday, it withdrew support for one of its candidates over an antisemitic message posted in 2018.

The result of this fraught climate was that French Jews were fearful of the future, said Arfi.

“They are very worried [about] the future, also due to the two extreme blocs which now are growing in France – the extreme right, the extreme left – even if some Jews sometimes think to be attracted by the extreme right as an answer to antisemitism, most of the Jews think it is also a real threat.”

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