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ANTI-SEMITISM

‘That’s enough’: Thousands protest in Paris against anti-Jewish attacks

Thousands of people, some carrying banners proclaiming 'That's enough', took to the streets of the French capital Tuesday evening to protest a spate of recent anti-Semitic attacks.

'That's enough': Thousands protest in Paris against anti-Jewish attacks
Photo: AFP

Thousands of people, some carrying banners proclaiming 'That's enough', took to the streets of the French capital Tuesday evening to protest a spate of recent anti-Semitic attacks, including the daubing of swastikas on nearly 100 graves in a Jewish cemetery in eastern France.

The Paris rally, in the city's central Place de la Republique, was one of about 70 staged nationwide Tuesday in response to a surge in anti-Semitic hate crimes which have triggered a deluge of outrage in France and Israel.

Eighteen political parties urged citizens to attend the protests, with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and more than half his cabinet attending the rally in Paris.

Two former presidents, the socialist Francois Hollande (see below), and the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy also turned up. Parliament suspended its work for several hours to allow MPs to attend the rally, while religious leaders met with the interior minister to affirm their unity.

Speaking on television Philippe said it was necessary to punish those who “because of ideology, because they think it's an easy option, because of ignorance or hostility call into question what we are — a diverse but proud people”.

Earlier in the day President Emmanuel Macron also promised to crack down on hate crimes when inspecting a cemetery in Quatzenheim in the Alsace region 
near Germany where 96 Jewish tombstones were spray-painted with blue and yellow swastikas the previous night.

“We shall act, we shall pass laws, we shall punish,” Macron told Jewish leaders as he toured the cemetery.

“Those who did this are not worthy of the Republic,” he said, later placing a white rose on a tombstone commemorating Jews deported to Germany during World War II.

Another grave bore the words “Elsassisches Schwarzen Wolfe” (“Black Alsatian Wolves), a separatist group with links to neo-Nazis in the 1970s.

It was the second recent case of extensive cemetery desecration in the region. In December nearly 40 graves as well as a monument to Holocaust victims were vandalised in Herrlisheim, about a half-hour drive from Quatzenheim.

Macron and his wife, Brigitte, later laid a wreath at the Paris Holocaust memorial.

'Shocking' vandalism

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the “shocking” anti-Semitic vandalism, while one of his cabinet colleagues urged French Jews to “come home” to Israel. 

Many French Jews are on edge after the government announced a 74 percent jump in anti-Jewish offences in 2018 after two years of declines.

Tensions mounted last weekend after a prominent French writer was the target of a violent tirade by a “yellow vest” protester in Paris on Saturday.

A video of the scene showed the protester calling the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut a “dirty Zionist” and telling him “France belongs to us”.

In France, several officials have accused the grass-roots yellow vest movement of unleashing a wave of extremist violence that has fostered anti-Semitic outbursts among some participants.

“It would be false and absurd to call the yellow vest movement anti-Semitic,” Philippe told L'Express magazine in an interview published Tuesday.

The prime minister, who has promised a tough new law targeting online hate speech by this summer, warned however that “anti-Semitism has very deep roots in French society”.

Long history

Macron, for his part, is to lay out his plans to combat anti-Semitism during a speech at the annual dinner of the CRIF umbrella association of French Jewish groups on Wednesday.

Anti-Semitism has a long history in France where society was deeply split at the end of the 19th century by the Alfred Dreyfus affair, a Jewish army captain wrongly convicted of treason.

During World War II, the French Vichy government collaborated with Germany notably in the deportation of Jews to death camps.

More recently French anti-Semitism, traditionally associated with the far right, has also spread among far-left pro-Palestinian extremists and radicals from amongst the growing Muslim community.

But Macron has resisted calls by some lawmakers to explicitly penalise so-called anti-Zionist statements calling into question Israel's right to exist as a nation.

A recent Ifop poll of “yellow vest” backers found that nearly half those questioned believed in a worldwide “Zionist plot” and other conspiracy 
theories.

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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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