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ANTI-SEMITISM

Outrage in France over swastika graffiti as anti-Semitic acts surge by 74 percent

A tree planted in a Paris suburb in memory of a young Jewish man who was tortured to death in 2006 has been chopped down, authorities said Monday, confirming the latest in a series of anti-Semitic acts in France.

Outrage in France over swastika graffiti as anti-Semitic acts surge by 74 percent
File photo: AFP
Ilan Halimi was kidnapped by a gang that demanded huge sums of money from his family, believing them to be rich because he was Jewish.
   
After being tortured for three weeks, the 23-year-old cellphone salesman was found dumped next to a railway in the southern suburb of Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois. He died while being brought to hospital.
   
On Monday, municipal workers sent to prepare a memorial site for an annual remembrance ceremony this week discovered that a tree planted in his honour had been chopped down and a second one partly sawn through, local officials told AFP.
   
The police are investigating the incident, which the French government's special representative on racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination, Frederic Potier, described as “ignominious”.
 
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Rising anti-Semitism forces Jews out of Paris suburbsPhoto: AFP

It is the latest in a series of anti-Semitic acts and attacks that have raised fears of a new wave of anti-Jewish violence in a country that is home to Europe's biggest Jewish population.   

Anti-Semitic acts surged by 74 percent last year, from 311 in 2017 to 541 in 2018, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said Monday.
   
“Anti-Semitism is spreading like poison,” the visibly moved minister said near the spot where the tree was chopped down.
 
“By attacking… Ilan Halimi's memory, it's the Republic that's being attacked,” he added, vowing that the government would take action.
 
In two separate incidents in the past two days, swastikas were drawn on Paris postboxes containing portraits of late Holocaust survivor Simone Veil and the word Juden (German for Jews) was sprayed on the window of a bagel bakery in the capital.
   
The incident involving the postboxes was reported by artist Christian Guemy, who painted the portraits of Veil on the boxes in the city's 13th district to mark her burial last year at the Pantheon, final resting place of France's most illustrious figures.
   
A former justice minister, Veil was a hugely respected figure whose death in 2017 caused a national outpouring of emotion.
   
“Shame on the despicable person that disfigured my tribute to Simeon Veil, Holocaust survivor,” Guemy tweeted Monday along with pictures of the boxes.
   
Reacting to the tweet, European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau expressed consternation over the “desecration”.
 
Outrage in Paris over anti-Semitic graffiti on bagel restaurant window
Photo: LICRA/Twitter
 
Jihadist attacks
 
Meanwhile on Sunday, one of the founders of French bagel bakery chain Bagelstein said vandals had sprayed the word “Juden” (see above) in yellow paint on the window of an outlet in the Ile Saint-Louis island in central Paris.
   
Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux drew a line between the graffiti and an arson attack last week on the home of parliament speaker Richard Ferrand, 
over which the “yellow vest” protest movement has come under suspicion.
   
But Gilles Abecassis, co-founder of Bagelstein, said he did not believe that anti-government demonstrators, some of whom have shown support for a comedian convicted of anti-Semitism, were responsible.
   
“They wrote it in yellow but that could be for the Star of David,” he said, adding that he had received thousands of messages of solidarity from around the world.
 
In November, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warned that France, whose pro-Nazi regime deported Jews during World War II, was “very far from being finished with anti-Semitism”.
 
In recent years, French jihadists have targeted Jews in a number of attacks.
 
In 2011, an Islamist gunman shot dead a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse and in 2015 an extremist claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group killed four people at a kosher supermarket in Paris.

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COURT

French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts

A French court has ordered Twitter to give activists full access to all its documents relating to efforts to combat racism, sexism and other forms of hate speech on the social network.

French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts
Photo: Alastair Pike | AFP

Six anti-discrimination groups had taken Twitter to court in France last year, accusing the US social media giant of “long-term and persistent” failures in blocking hateful comments from the site.

The Paris court ordered Twitter to grant the campaign groups full access to all documents relating to the company’s efforts to combat hate speech since May 2020. The ruling applies to Twitter’s global operation, not just France.

Twitter must hand over “all administrative, contractual, technical or commercial documents” detailing the resources it has assigned to fighting homophobic, racist and sexist discourse on the site, as well as “condoning crimes against humanity”.

The San Francisco-based company was given two months to comply with the ruling, which also said it must reveal how many moderators it employs in France to examine posts flagged as hateful, and data on the posts they process.

The ruling was welcomed by the Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF), one of the groups that had taken the social media giant to court.

“Twitter will finally have to take responsibility, stop equivocating and put ethics before profit and international expansion,” the UEJF said in a statement on its website.

Twitter’s hateful conduct policy bans users from promoting violence, or threatening or attacking people based on their race, religion, gender identity or disability, among other forms of discrimination.

Like other social media businesses it allows users to report posts they believe are hateful, and employs moderators to vet the content.

But anti-discrimination groups have long complained that holes in the policy allow hateful comments to stay online in many cases.

French prosecutors on Tuesday said they have opened an investigation into a wave of racist comments posted on Twitter aimed at members of the country’s national football team.

The comments, notably targeting Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, were posted after France was eliminated from the Euro 2020 tournament last week.

France has also been having a wider public debate over how to balance the right to free speech with preventing hate speech, in the wake of the controversial case of a teenager known as Mila.

The 18-year-old sparked a furore last year when her videos, criticising Islam in vulgar terms, went viral on social media.

Thirteen people are on trial accused of subjecting her to such vicious harassment that she was forced to leave school and was placed under police protection.

While President Emmanuel Macron is among those who have defended her right to blaspheme, left-wing critics say her original remarks amounted to hate speech against Muslims.

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