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People attend a national gathering to protest antisemitism and the rise of anti-Semitic attacks in the Place de la Republique in Paris People attend a national gathering to protest antisemitism and the rise of anti-Semitic attacks in the Place de la Republique in Paris 

France in shock over Jewish cemetry attack amid rising antisemitism

rench officials and ordinary people across the political spectrum are marching in Paris and dozens of other cities against antisemitism, amid a dramatic rise in physical and verbal attacks against Jewish people in France. The protests began just hours after French President Emmanuel Macron headed to a Jewish cemetery in eastern France that was damaged overnight in the latest anti-semitic incident that has shocked the nation.

By Stefan J. Bos

It resembled a scene from the 1930s or 1940s. Some 80 Jewish grace have vandalized the cemetery in the small Alsace region town of Quatzenheim. Swastikas were seen on several tombstones.

The overnight attack came just hours before in Paris, and dozens of other French cities planned to march and rally against anti-Semitism.

French President Emmanuel Macron was heading to this Jewish cemetery to express his outrage over the attacks. These and other anti-semitic incidents also overshadowed a news conference Macron gave following talks with Georgia's President Salome Zurabishvili.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report

President Macron said: "I want to say again here that every time a French person because he or she is Jewish, is insulted, threatened — or worse, injured or killed — the whole Republic” is attacked. It is not for the Jews to defend themselves but for the republic to defend them."

The cemetery assault came days after the French government reported a significant rise in anti-Semitism last year: 541 registered incidents, up 74 percent from 311 in 2017.

Large Jewish Community

The rising anti-Semitism in France, home to the world’s largest Jewish population outside of Israel and the United States, was underscored last weekend when hate speech was directed at prominent philosopher Alain Finkielkraut during a march of yellow vest anti-government protesters.

In other recent incidents, swastika graffiti was found on street portraits of Simone Veil — a survivor of Nazi death camps and a European Parliament president who died in 2017. The word “Juden” was painted on the window of a bagel restaurant in Paris, and two trees planted at a memorial honoring a young Jewish man tortured to death in 2006 were vandalized, one cut down.

Two youths were detained Friday after they allegedly fired shots at a synagogue with an air rifle in a Paris suburb where a sizeable Jewish community lives.

France also saw the murder of three children and a teacher from a Jewish school in 2012 by an Islamic extremist in the southwestern city of Toulouse.

Former French Presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy were set to join thousands of protesters and government officials on the Paris streets to protest against anti-semitism amid reports that thousands of Jewish people flee France every year.

President Macron was to deliver a speech at Wednesday’s annual dinner by a leading Jewish group.

20 February 2019, 12:50