‘You feel the hate rising’: Jews in Paris speak out about rise in anti-Semitism

The French will take to the streets on Tuesday to denounce the rise in anti-Semitic acts in France. The Local spoke to members of the Jewish community in Paris to find out what they think about the rising levels of hatred, the 'yellow vest' protesters and what politicians can do about it.

'You feel the hate rising': Jews in Paris speak out about rise in anti-Semitism
Photo: Fred Dufour, AFP
In 2018 French police recorded a 74-percent surge in anti-Jewish acts, which has put anti-Semitism in France – the home of Europe's biggest Jewish population – back under the spotlight.
On Tuesday Swastikas and anti-Semitic tags were found daubed over 80 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in eastern France on the very day that nationwide marches against anti-Semitism are due to take place.
This is the latest act in a series of anti-Semitic acts that have recently taken place in France, including swastikas being drawn on Paris postboxes containing portraits of late Holocaust survivor Simone Veil and the word 'Juden' (German for Jews) found sprayed on the window of a bagel bakery in the capital.
With anti-Semitism in France under the spotlight once again, the Jewish community in Paris have spoken out about what it's like to live amid rising levels of hatred towards them.
Some say the steep rise in hatred is nothing new.
“Anti-Semitism hasn't been on the rise for the past few months or years, it's been on the rise for the past decade or so,” Laurent Kaobe, 50, told The Local in a Jewish supermarket in the 19th arrondissement of the capital where many working class Jewish families live. 
“You see things getting worse for Jews in France whenever people's lives get harder in general. Suddenly the insults in the streets start and your neighbours won't speak to you anymore,” he said. 
Kaobe went on to say that anti-Semitism isn't covered enough in the news in France. 
“Whenever something happens between Israel and Palestine, the bias is towards Palestine,” he said. “I'm not saying it's like during the war with the Nazis but it's more serious than it was 20 years ago and it's pushing a lot of people to leave France.”
The rue des Rosiers, a street in Paris' Jewish quarter.  Photo: Jacques Demarthon, AFP
In an interview with Le Parisien on Tuesday, Francis Kalifat, president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish organisations, said that the Jewish community suffers half of all racist acts in France. 
“The 74 percent increase in 2018 in anti-Semitic acts means that the Jewish population of our country, which accounts for less than one percent of the global population, accounts for more than 50 percent of the racist acts committed,” he said. 
In Paris, tensions are being felt in the Jewish community.
One woman in the 19th arrondissment, who declined to give her name, stressed that she was most worried for her children.
“You feel it more these days,” she said. “My 15-year-old had 'sale juif' shouted at him in the street near our apartment recently, not even by a teenager, by an adult.
“We don't feel safe anymore. I worry about my children all the time, I tell them to be polite but not too friendly to people they see around because you never know what they might do.
“It feels like the number of this kind of incident is blowing up at the moment but I don't know why, I don't know what they want.”
The Jewish woman, who is a resident of the multicultural 19th arrondissement in the capital's northeast, said anti-Semitism didn't only affect the Jewish community.
“We live in an area where there are a lot of Muslims but we have Muslim neighbours who are very friendly and also worried about the rise in anti-Semitism. I don't feel like this is a Jewish community problem or a Muslim community problem but something that needs to be dealt with by everyone,” she said.

“The problem is I don't know what the government can do. They can do certain things like increase the prison sentence for people who commit anti-Semitic acts but it's in people's heads and now people feel like they can say it in public.
“You feel the hate rising,” she said. 
ANALYSIS: The yellow vests and France's new wave of anti-Semitism
Several Jewish people told The Local that some members of the public are increasingly open about being anti-Semitic in a way that wasn't acceptable in the past. 
“I haven't been subjected to any anti-Semitic acts myself possibly because I'm a man and I can defend myself,” said Nathan Uzan, 36. 
“But I have heard others in the community talking more about it and several people I know have been more cautious when they go out late at night. 
When it comes to what politicians can do Uzan said “words are not enough”. 
“People commit an anti-Semitic act and they're put in prison for two to three years, then they're back out on the streets to carry on. But I have heard others in the community talking more about it and several people I know have been more cautious when they go out late at night.”


Gilets Jaunes
Much of the focus of the recent rise in anti-Semitism has been on the yellow vest movement given the number of high-profile incidents that have taken place during the protests, including the abuse of a philosopher Alain Finkielkraut in Paris on Saturday.
Many in the Jewish Community say the 'yellow vest' protesters are not universally anti-Semitic, but that the movement had brought out the hatred in certain people. 
“Anti-Semitism is not the motive for the Gilets Jaunes movement but it has become part of it,” said one woman. “The extreme left and right elements have taken over the 'yellow vest' movement,” she said. 
Yellow vests scream 'dirty Zionist' at French writer
One Jewish man, who asked not to be named told The Local: “There is no reason why you have to be anti-Semitic to fight for the rights of workers but this is not the real ideology of the movement. The extreme right and extreme left are there to break and destabilise society.”
In an interview with the Express on Tuesday, the French prime minister Edouard Philippe said that that the yellow vest crisis had allowed some barriers to be broken but that the movement in itself wasn't antisemitic.
He said the problem was much wider than that.
“We need to look at the problem face on: anti-Semitism is deeply rooted in French society. We would like to think the opposite, but it's a fact,” he said.
Edouard Philippe and over a dozen members of the French government plan to attend a rally against anti-Semitism in Paris on Tuesday evening.

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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.