France creates anti-hate crime office as anti-Semitic wave shakes nation
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France creates anti-hate crime office as anti-Semitic wave shakes nation

Interior minister Castaner announces measure the day after Jewish cemetery is vandalized in eastern France, the latest in a string of hate crimes against Jews

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, center, followed by Strasbourg Chief Rabbi Harold Abraham Weill, second right, walk amid vandalized tombs in the Jewish cemetery of Westhoffen, west of the city of Strasbourg, eastern France, December 4, 2019. (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)
French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, center, followed by Strasbourg Chief Rabbi Harold Abraham Weill, second right, walk amid vandalized tombs in the Jewish cemetery of Westhoffen, west of the city of Strasbourg, eastern France, December 4, 2019. (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)

WESTHOFFEN, France — The French government is creating a national anti-hate crime office following a wave of anti-Semitic incidents in eastern France.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner made the announcement Wednesday in the town of Westhoffen, where vandals scrawled swastikas and other anti-Semitic inscriptions on 107 tombs in a Jewish cemetery the day before.

Speaking alongside Jewish leaders, Castaner condemned the graffiti as a sign that “hate is on our national territory.”

“We must respect the right to believe,” he said.

A special police unit has begun investigating the incident, Castaner said, and the new national office will seek to fight hate crimes.

The graffiti marked the latest in a string of anti-Semitic acts in the Bas-Rhin region. Anti-Semitic graffiti was also discovered Tuesday in the eastern French village of Schaffhouse-sur-Zorn, authorities said.

Strasbourg chief Rabbi Harold Abraham Weill looks at vandalized tombs in the Jewish cemetery of Westhoffen, west of the city of Strasbourg, eastern France, December 4, 2019. (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)

French president Emmanuel Macron condemned the vandalism Tuesday, saying Jews were an integral part of France. “Those who attack them, until their graves, are unworthy of our idea of France. Anti-Semitism is a crime and we will fight, in Westhoffen and anywhere else, until our dead can rest in peace,” he tweeted.

A recent surge in anti-Semitic violence and hate speech has prompted soul-searching for many in France, which has long wrestled with its history of discrimination and prejudice against Jews.

The number of anti-Jewish offenses reported to police rose to 541 last year from 311 in 2017, after falling for two years.

Dozens of Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated, swastikas have been found scrawled on the doors of people’s homes, and anti-Semitic motives have been linked to violent attacks, including the murder of a Holocaust survivor.

In October, anti-Semitic graffiti was spray-painted on a Judaica store in the French city of Lyon, reading: “Dirty Jew.”

Around 80 graves were daubed with swastikas at a Jewish cemetery in eastern France, in February local officials said, hours ahead of nationwide marches held at the time against a rise in anti-Semitic attacks.

The lower house of France’s parliament on Tuesday approved a draft resolution that calls hate of Israel a form of anti-Semitism, drawing praise from Jerusalem and Jewish groups. The 577 members of the National Assembly voted on the draft, which also calls on the government to join other European nations in adopting the definition of anti-Semitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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