Parisians descended on Place de la République to condemn rising antisemitism in France
Parisians descended on Place de la République to condemn rising antisemitism in France
Tens of thousands of people joined rallies against antisemitism in France last night, hours after swastikas had been daubed on 96 Jewish graves.

The desecration of the cemetery in a small village in eastern France came amid an increase in attacks on Jewish people and property in recent months.

In a sign of growing disquiet over the tide of violence against France’s 500,000-strong Jewish community — the biggest in Europe — President Macron cancelled meetings in Paris to visit the cemetery in Quatzenheim, Alsace. “I am here to bear witness to the solidarity of the entire nation, of our shame at seeing this . . . and to tell of my determination, or our determination, to fight against antisemitism in all its forms,” Mr Macron said.

Dozens of Jewish graves in Alsace were defaced with swastikas
Dozens of Jewish graves in Alsace were defaced with swastikasFREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

He was accompanied by Haïm Korsia, the chief rabbi of France, who asked: “The question is, who must lower their eyes? The antisemites or the Jews?”

Denouncing the “hate-filled group” that he said was behind the desecration, Mr Macron promised “clear, strong acts” to combat antisemitism. “Those who did this are not worthy of the French Republic and it will punish them,” he said before appearing to promise new legislation to penalise attacks on Jews.

Officials recorded a 74 per cent rise in antisemitic acts in France last year compared with 2017. Some were perpetrated by Muslims seeking to import the Middle East conflict into France, others by right-wing extremists among yellow-vest demonstrators campaigning against Mr Macron and the elite. The yellow vests’ victims include Alain Finkielkraut, the philosopher, who was called a “dirty Jew” during a protest in Paris on Saturday.

Some protesters have sought to play down the trend, arguing that it is being given prominence to undermine their movement, but Mr Macron said their attitude showed that France had failed to stamp out the antisemitic forces that led to collaboration with the Nazis and the deportation of 76,000 Jews during the Second World War.

One of the graves in Quatzenheim had been daubed with the words “Elsässisches Schwarzen Wölfe” [Alsatian Black Wolves], the name of a far-right group that campaigned for the autonomy of Alsace in the 1970s. Officials said that members of the group were in their eighties and unlikely to have carried out the attack but the message may indicate that extremist successors were at work.

Maurice Dahan, head of the local Israelite Central Consistory, France’s main Jewish institution, suggested that more Jews would leave France for Israel. “It’s shockwave after shockwave. I don’t know how long we are going to hold out. I want to be sick,” he said.

President Macron cancelled his official business to visit the cemetery yesterday
President Macron cancelled his official business to visit the cemetery yesterdayFREDERICK FLORIN/AP

Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, urged European leaders to take a strong stand against antisemitism. “It is a plague that endangers everyone, not just us, and it must be condemned wherever and whenever it rears its head,” he said.

Mr Macron flew back to the capital after leaving the cemetery to visit the Holocaust Memorial in Paris. Thousands of people joined a demonstration against antisemitism in the Place de la République in the city centre. Similar rallies were organised in about 70 other French cities.

The former French presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande attended the Paris demonstration, along with more than 20 ministers and representatives of most parties. Parliament suspended its work to allow MPs to attend. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, did not participate. She said that she would organise her own protest against antisemitism.