Portraits of a Holocaust survivor stained with swastikas. A memorial in honor of a Jewish man vandalized. A bagel shop with the German word “Juden” sprayed on its front window. These are just a few of the hundreds of anti-Semitic acts that have been committed in France, which is home to the world’s largest Jewish population outside Israel and the United States, in recent months.
According to French authorities, the total of registered anti-Semitic acts rose to 541 in 2018 from 311 in 2017, a rise of 74 percent.
A judicial official told The Associated Press on Tuesday that four investigations have been opened by Paris prosecutors after the latest incidents in the French capital last weekend. The person was not authorized to be publicly named because the investigations are ongoing.
“Anti-Semitism is spreading like a poison, like a venom,” Interior minister Christophe Castaner said when attending Monday night a ceremony at the memorial of Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man who was tortured to death back in 2006. Two trees planted at the scene where he was found dying in a Paris suburb have been vandalized.
“It’s rotting minds, it’s killing,” Castaner said, vowing that the government would fight anti-Semitism.
Castaner did not link the rise of incidents to any specific groups. But some members of France’s yellow vest anti-government movement are known for extremist views, and several anti-Semitic incidents have occurred amid the broad-based movement that started in November.
Frederic Potier, a French government official in charge of fighting anti-Semitism, racism and discrimination based on sexual orientation, said some far-right groups have managed to infiltrate yellow-vest demonstrations.
“Anti-Semitic tags up to nausea in the heart of Paris this weekend,” Potier wrote in a message on Twitter with a picture of a Parisian wall with a derogatory inscription, insinuating that French President Emmanuel Macron was just a tool of a supposed Jewish plot.
“When the hatred of the Jews overlaps with the hatred of democracy, the vocabulary of the fachosphere (the sphere of fascists) is found on the walls,” Potier wrote.
In addition to the desecration of the Ilan Halimi memorial, portraits of the late Simone Veil drawn on mailboxes were daubed with swastikas. A survivor of Nazi death camps and a European Parliament president who died in 2017, Veil also spearheaded abortion rights as one of France’s most prominent female politicians.
In a separate incident, one of the founders of bagel chain Bagelstein said the word “Juden” was painted on the window of one of their restaurants, although he insisted the inscription was found before Saturday’s yellow-vest demonstrations in Paris.
In a speech to France’s leading Jewish group last year, Macron pledged to protect the nation’s Jews amid growing concerns about intolerance. In 2012, three children and a teacher from a Jewish school were killed by an Islamic extremist in the southwestern city of Toulouse. In 2015, four customers of a Paris kosher supermarket were slain by another extremist.