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French prosecutors open probe into antisemitic sign raised at anti-vaccine rally

Poster lists names of public figures, including prominent Jews, implying they control the media and calling them ‘traitors’; politicians, Israeli embassy decry ‘despicable’ display

Illustrative -- A protester holds a banner depicting French President Emmanuel Macron as a 'puppet' during a demonstration, part of a national day of protest against the mandatory COVID-19 health pass to access most of the public space, in Lille, northern France, on August 7, 2021. (Francois Lo Presti/AFP)
Illustrative -- A protester holds a banner depicting French President Emmanuel Macron as a 'puppet' during a demonstration, part of a national day of protest against the mandatory COVID-19 health pass to access most of the public space, in Lille, northern France, on August 7, 2021. (Francois Lo Presti/AFP)

French prosecutors opened an investigation Sunday into a “sign with a clearly antisemitic message” brandished during an anti-vaccination demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions a day earlier in the city of Metz.

The demonstration against the introduction of a public health pass gathered 3,800 people on Saturday, according to the police.

A photo posted on social media showed a woman holding up a sign bearing the names of several politicians, businessmen and intellectuals, some of whom are Jews.

The sign’s headline said: “But who?” in an apparent reference to a June interview given by retired general Daniel Delawarde to the CNEWS TV network, in which he was asked “who controls the media?” and answered: “The community you know well.”

The sign also says “Traitors!!!” and then lists a series of names, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Hungarian Jewish billionaire George Soros, Jewish intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy, World Economic Forum Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab and French-Israeli telecom magnate Patrick Drahi.

The Moselle prefecture said prefect Laurent Touvet “strongly condemns this message.”

“This sign is despicable. Antisemitism is a crime, by no means an opinion. Such remarks will not go unpunished,” said Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Twitter, adding the police were trying to identify the author of the sign.

Metz Mayor Francois Grosdidier said he was “outraged, scandalized, but unfortunately not surprised,” expressing hope that the bearer of the sign will be sanctioned.

The International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA) told AFP that it would file a complaint against the sign, and SOS Racisme also said it was “studying” the possibility of legal action.

The Israeli Embassy in France said it was “appalled at such an expression of the most despicable antisemitic hatred.”

Illustrative: A yellow star that reads ‘not vaccinated’ is attached to the back of a protester during a rally in Paris, July 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

Anti-vaccination activists in France have previously drawn outrage by comparing themselves to Jews who were persecuted by Nazi Germany during World War II. Holocaust survivors, French officials and anti-racism groups have expressed indignation.

As more than 100,000 people marched around France against government vaccine rules in July, some demonstrators wore yellow stars recalling the ones the Nazis forced Jews to wear. Other demonstrators carried signs evoking the Auschwitz death camp or South Africa’s apartheid regime, claiming the French government was unfairly mistreating them with its anti-pandemic measures.

As of Monday, people in France are required to show a QR code proving they have a special virus pass to enjoy restaurants and cafes or travel across the country.

A security officer checks passengers’ health passes at the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris, Aug.9, 2021 (AP Photo/Adrienne Surprenant)

The measure is part of a government plan to encourage more people to get the vaccine and to slow down a surge in infections, as the highly contagious delta variant now accounts for most cases in France. Over 36 million people in France, or more than 54% of the population, are fully vaccinated.

The special pass is issued to people who are vaccinated against COVID-19, who have proof of recent recovery from the virus or who have a recent negative test. The measure also applies to tourists visiting the country.

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