February 12, 2019 / 6:52 PM / 8 days ago

France vows crackdown after surge in anti-Semitic incidents

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s prime minister on Tuesday described a wave of anti-Semitic acts across the country as disgusting and promised a tough response after government statistics showed a sharp rise in incidents targeting Jews over the last year.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe attends a ceremony to present the Ilan Halimi award to reward projects by youths combating anti-semitism and racism at the Hotel Matignon in Paris, France, February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Pool

The issue came to the forefront of French politics last weekend after anti-Jewish graffiti appeared in Paris streets and a tree in memory of Ilan Halimi - a young Jew murdered and tortured in 2006 - was cut in two.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on Monday that anti-semitic acts had risen 74 percent in 2018 to 541 from 311 the previous year, including 81 violent ones.

“These acts are disgusting,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told parliament.

“I share this anger ... in the face of more and more acts, which are targeting people or places, anti-Semitic acts against the memory of Ilan Halimi, anti-Semitic acts against the memory of Simone Veil, slogans placed here and there on this or that sign,” he added.

The word “Juden”, German for Jews, was sprayed in yellow letters on a bagel shop in Paris on Friday night, triggering memories of Nazi Germany.

Artwork on two Paris post boxes of Simone Veil, a former magistrate and Holocaust survivor best known in France for legalizing abortion in the 1970s, was also marked with swastikas over the weekend.

“It’s unbearable to think that violence is taking hold of our country, we can’t tolerate this,” Pierre-Francois Veil, son of Simone, told Reuters.

France has the biggest Jewish community in Europe — around 550,000 — a population that has grown by about half since World War Two, but anti-Semitic attacks have become more common.

A rabbi and three children were killed at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 by an Islamist gunman and in 2015 four Jews at a Kosher supermarket in Paris were among 17 people killed in the city by Islamist militants.

France has since become one of the world’s leading countries for migrants to Israel.

“We need to educate and remind people about our history, to talk about the horrors that hide behind those criminal acts. We also need to punish (more) and we know that we can’t be hesitant on that,” Philippe said.

Reporting by John Irish, editing by Ed Osmond

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