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Rise of anti-Semitism elevates fears in France

France has the largest Jewish population outside of Israel and the U.S., with 500,000 Jewish people living there. And with several high-profile, anti-Semitic incidents in recent years, along with statistics showing a significant rise in anti-Semitic attacks, there are growing concerns among the Jewish community. Special correspondent Christopher Livesay and videographer Joan Martelli report.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    An "increasing sense of emergency." That's how the president of the European Jewish congress recently described the concern over growing anti-Semitism in Europe. That includes France, where an increase in anti-Semitic attacks has raised the alarm. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Christopher Livesay reports from Paris.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Every Saturday for the past eight months thousands of people have donned yellow road-safety vests and marched on the streets of Paris and other cities in France. The so-called Yellow Vest protests. What began as and remains a mostly economic campaign against high fuel taxes has evolved into a more wide-ranging anti-establishment protest — sometimes violent — targeting policemen, journalists, the wealthy, the French president. But what's shocked many here in France is that they've also at times targeted jews.

    The yellow vest movement is a largely leaderless one that's given a platform to people of all kinds of ideologies.Yet some people say it's that same openness that's allowed antisemitism to rear its ugly head.

    Last February police had to step in to protect prominent philosopher Alain Finkielkraut after he was bombarded with insults and anti-Jewish taunts. And some protesters have been spotted calling French President Macron a "whore of the Jews" and their "puppet."

  • Nonna Mayer:

    The yellow vest is a very heterogeneous movement but it favors the expression of antisemitism because of its populist and anti-elite tones.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Research Professor Nonna Mayer says the yellow vest movement, while not anti-semitic itself, has accicentally revealed a subset of the movement that is. And statistics who anti-semitic incidents are on the rise, up 74% from last year.

  • Nonna Mayer:

    There were 541 acts according to the police count. /// One third of them were actually violence against people or against a synagogue or against a house. The others were what they call threats. That means graffitis, insults, intimidation.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    And there's another new layer to today's anti-Semitism— social media.

  •  Johanna Barasz:

    The reality on the web is not a few hundreds. It's thousands of course every day! Every day!

  •  Christopher Livesay:

    Johanna Barasz is Assistant Director of Dilcrah, a government agency set up in 2014 specifically to coordinate the government's response to hate crimes, including anti-Semitism. She showed us some examples of anti-Semitic postings …

  • Johanna Barasz:

    It's supposed to be the hand of a Jew///pushing on the people.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Many are offensive. But they're not illegal.

  • Johanna Barasz:

    To go clearly against the law you have to target directly people, incite violence.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Or deny the Holocaust. In fact, France is one of several countries in Europe, including Germany, where Holocaust denial is a crime.

  • Johanna Barasz:

    This one says, today Hitler is the minimum. We need to kill more Jews, this is what it means. This is not easy to prosecute but it can be argued that it is an apology for the genocide and this is illegal.

    In Germany they just passed a law in which if they don't take down the illegal contents like Facebook or Twitter or any kind of platforms// then they are confronted to huge fines, like million of dollars.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    And you would like to be able to impose the same kinds in France?

  • Johanna Barasz:

    Yeah, yeah.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    How bad is it right now?

  • Rabbi Tom Cohen:

    In certain neighborhoods I would not walk around with my kippa.

  •  Christopher Livesay:

    Rabbi Tom Cohen is an American who's lived in Paris for the last 25 years. Though he's proud of his small synagogue he wouldn't let us film the outside of his building.

  •  Rabbi Tom Cohen:

    We are trying to avoid any attacks.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    You are trying to avoid becoming a target?

  • Rabbi Tom Cohen:

    Avoid becoming a target. Exactly. That's what the security services recommended, so. We have to have to have guards.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    There's been a heightened need for security here since March 2012. A man identifying himself as a follower of ISIS targeted a Jewish day school in Toulouse killing a rabbi and three children.

  •  Rabbi Tom Cohen:

    After the attack of Toulouse the French government mobilized the French army and in this particular small synagogue, we say in Yiddish "estibola" which means a little tiny, tiny synagogue, I had 8 soldiers living here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 4 months///That response of the French government at the time saved my religious school because parents were afraid at that point saying why would I send my kids to school thinking maybe something might happen.

  •  Christopher Livesay:

    France is home to the largest Jewish population outside Israel and the United States. Half a million Jews live here. Many in Paris's Marais neighborhood. More recently the 17th district just north of the Arch de Triumph has become the NEW Jewish quarter of Paris with about 40-thousand Jews — some of whom say they have fled to the city from the suburbs because of anti-semitism there.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    You do have a large number of migrants from majority Muslim countries. Does that impact at all the level of anti-Semitism.

  • Nonna Mayer:

    It's more complicated because In the suburbs of Paris where you have Jews and where you have people who are immigrant born identify to the Palestinian cause. It's a very special mix of social insecurity, social resentment with the emotional trigger of what's going on in the Middle East and then suddenly that makes them gives them the possibility to defend a cause, the cause of the Palestinians.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Sacha Ghozlan, President of the national organization Union of French Jewish Students, helped commission a poll which he says shows how bad things really are even at France's esteemed public Sorbonne University.

  •  Sacha Ghozlan:

    What came out from this poll is that for the Jewish students specifically 89 percent of them have experienced directly anti-Semitism in the University.

  •  Christopher Livesay:

    He showed us how the office of the Jewish Student Union was ransacked last year.

  • People:

    "Long live to Arafat, Death to Israel, Long live to Palestine."

  • Christopher Livesay:

    So do we know who did this?

  • Sacha Ghozlan:

    No we don't.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    The slurs /were very anti-Israeli. Is that the same thing as being anti-Semitic?

  • Sacha Ghozlan:

    No, actually you can protest against the policy of the Israeli government. That's fair. That's politics. But when you say 'death to Israel' that is something very particular. So people use their hate against Israel to target Jewish people here in France. And I'm fed up with tweets coming from the government saying we condemn these acts. We want more acts coming from the government/from the deans of the University.

  • Georges Haddad:

    The Jewish students have problems but others, Islamic students, Arabic students have problems too.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Georges Haddad is President of The Sorbonne. He denounces anti-Semitism and defends his university.

  • Georges Haddad:

    My University is not anti-Semitic at all and I am the best example.// I am a Jewish person from a Jewish family coming from Tunisia and I have been twice elected President of this University.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    And while Haddad takes anti-Semitic acts seriously, he says the numbers on campus are marginal, two or three a year, and there isn't much that he can do about them.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    So in the meantime what do you do?

  • Georges Haddad:

    Discuss, dialogue. I'm not pessimistic. I'm realistic.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Rabbi Cohen too believes "dialogue" has a place. It's one of the reasons he helps organize this interfaith choir at a nearby church. The theme of this performance? "Peace," Shalom in Hebrew. It's something Rabbi Cohen says his community strives for even in the shadow of anti-Semitism knowing there were times when things were far worse.

  • Rabbi Tom Cohen:

    It's not Vichy France. And, matter of fact, it that's the one major difference I always say. The French government is 110 percent behind us. And we feel it.

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