Alarming spike in anti-Semitic attacks in France
French government and communities struggle to respond as anti-Semitic violence increases dramatically since the beginning of Israel's Gaza offensive.Paris -- France, home to Europe's biggest Muslim and Jewish communities, has seen 55 anti-Semitic attacks since the start of Israel's Gaza offensive, a Jewish student group said.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has appealed for calm and warned that perpetrators of hate crimes will be severely punished if they try to "transpose" the Arab-Israeli conflict onto France.
Raphael Haddad, president of the Jewish Students Union of France, said earlier this week that his group had registered 55 anti-Semitic attacks since the beginning of the Israeli military offensive on December 27.
Haddad said the violence was more intense than in 2001, when France was rocked by the spillover from the second Palestinian intifada that was crushed by the Israeli army.
He made the comments at a meeting in Paris of concerned Jewish and Arab groups organized by Urban Affairs Minister Fadela Amara, who has responsibility for France's volatile high-immigrant suburbs.
Hafid Bouchefa, from a community group in a Paris suburb, said tensions were running high in ethnically-mixed neighborhoods.
"There are young people there who are not thinking things through,” he said. “These are the same ones who torched cars during the 2005 riots."
Participants at the meeting also said they were worried by mass anti-Semitic SMS messages and emails making the rounds and agreed to draft a common appeal urging Jews and Arabs to "live together in peace.”
Three synagogues have been targeted in one week and there have been huge pro-Palestinian protests in cities across France.
In the latest attack, vandals late Sunday hurled nine firebombs at a synagogue north of Paris in Saint-Denis, setting fire to the next-door kosher restaurant.
French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie confirmed that there had been a flare-up in anti-Semitic violence and ordered security measures to be strengthened at Jewish sites across the country.
Meanwhile, two north African students were assaulted last week outside their high school in a wealthy Paris neighborhood, education officials and a victims' group said Tuesday.
The two teenagers suffered blows to the face when they clashed with a group of seven pro-Israeli activists who were distributing leaflets outside the school in the 16th arrondissement, they said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni expressed concern on Monday over a wave of anti-Semitism spreading across the world during the three-week offensive that has left more than 900 dead.
"Whatever one's opinion may be of this operation, it should never be used to legitimize hate and anti-Semitic incitement," she said.
Israel launched its air and ground offensive on December 27 to halt ongoing Palestinian rocket fire into southern Israel.