France’s Hollande vows to protect Jews after cemetery vandalism
search

France’s Hollande vows to protect Jews after cemetery vandalism

President seeks to reassure community as Europe copes with wave of anti-Semitism, terrorism

French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech during a ceremony at the Jewish cemetery in Sarre-Union, eastern France, on February 17, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Patrick Hertzog)
French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech during a ceremony at the Jewish cemetery in Sarre-Union, eastern France, on February 17, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Patrick Hertzog)

SARRE-UNION, France — President Francois Hollande vowed the state would protect French Jews with all its force, as he led a ceremony Tuesday at a Jewish cemetery where hundreds of graves were vandalized.

“I know some are asking if they can live in peace in their country, and ask who will protect them against those who wish them harm,” Hollande said at the ceremony in Sarres-Union in the eastern Alsace region.

“One more time, I want to give the Republic’s response — that it will protect you with all its force.”

He was speaking at a Jewish cemetery where some 300 tombs and graves were defaced and damaged last week.

French Gendarmes investigate in the area of defaced tombstones at the Jewish cemetery of Sarre-Union, northeastern France, on February 16, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Frederick Florin)
French Gendarmes investigate in the area of defaced tombstones at the Jewish cemetery of Sarre-Union, northeastern France, on February 16, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Frederick Florin)

“You get the impression that an army has passed through here,” said the chief rabbi of Strasbourg, Rene Gutman, as he visited the cemetery.

Five boys aged 15 to 17 have been taken into custody over the incident.

Prosecutors say there is no indication they were specifically targeting the Jewish community, with one boy reportedly claiming they were unaware the cemetery was for Jews.

But in the current climate — following violence against Jews in Copenhagen this week and last month’s jihadist attacks in Paris — the vandalism has jumped to the top of the political agenda.

Hollande, keeping with the resolute tone he has struck repeatedly since the Paris attacks, called the vandalism “an odious act.”

“This is not just another incident, another banal act — it is the expression of an idea that corrodes our Republic,” said Hollande.

The local prosecutor said Monday the youngest of the suspects came forward to police after being taken aback by the scale of reaction to the vandalism.

France’s government has been particularly keen to show it is tackling anti-Semitism in the face of Israel’s repeated calls for Jews to emigrate.

“To the Jews of Europe and to the Jews of the world I say that Israel is waiting for you with open arms,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this weekend, repeating a call he made after the Paris attacks, in which four Jews were killed.

French police special forces evacuate local residents on January 9, 2015 in Saint-Mande, near Porte de Vincennes, eastern Paris, after at least one person was injured when a gunman opened fire at a kosher grocery store on January 9, 2015 and took at least five people hostage, sources told AFP. The attacker was suspected of being the same gunman who killed a policewoman in a shooting in Montrouge in southern Paris on January 8. (photo credit: AFP/ Martin Bureau)
French police special forces evacuate local residents on January 9, 2015 in Saint-Mande, near Porte de Vincennes, eastern Paris, after at least one person was injured when a gunman opened fire at a kosher grocery store on January 9, 2015 and took at least five people hostage, sources told AFP. The attacker was suspected of being the same gunman who killed a policewoman in a shooting in Montrouge in southern Paris on January 8. (photo credit: AFP/ Martin Bureau)

The Council of Europe called on France to take firmer action on hate crime as the European rights institution released a report into the issue on Tuesday.

“In recent years, the anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and homophobic acts have increased greatly. It is vital to stop this phenomenon and punish those responsible,” said human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks.

The government has said it is working on new legislation to tackle hate crimes, which will be tabled in the coming weeks.

Last month, the country’s main Jewish group said the number of anti-Semitic acts doubled in France during 2014, with acts involving physical violence leading the increase.

Some 851 anti-Semitic acts were registered in 2014, compared with 423 the previous year, with acts of physical violence jumping to 241 from 105, the association said.

read more:
comments