Less than half of French confident of government ability to tackle anti-Semitism

American Jewish Committee survey finds nearly three-quarters in France think racism against Jews is a problem affecting the entire society, 52% of Jews considered leaving

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)
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)

Less than half of the French public, Jews and non-Jews alike, have confidence that the country’s leaders can tackle what is seen as a widespread problem of anti-Semitism in the country, a survey released Monday found.

Nearly three-quarters of the public said that racism against Jews is plaguing all areas of French society, according to the American Jewish Committee’s Paris branch.

“But alignment on the antisemitism threat to French society, and the government’s weak responsiveness, does not mitigate the fears of Jews about their safety and future in France,” the group said in a statement.

Only 47 percent of Jews and 48% of the general public have confidence in French President Emmanuel Macron tackling anti-Semitism, the survey found. The government had the confidence of just 46% of Jews and 41% of the public in dealing with the issue, while local elected official fared better, with 58% of Jews and 56% of the public expressing confidence in their abilities.

Overall, 73% of the French public and 72% of Jews said that anti-Semitism is a problem that affects all of French society.

However, there were significant differences between how Jewish and non-Jewish people felt about the severity of anti-Semitism in the country.

The level of anti-Semitism is high according to 67% of Jewish respondents, while only 47% of the general public agreed. Just 27% of Jews felt the level is low, compared to 22% of the general public.

Illustrative People gather for a protest against anti-Semitism, in Creteil, east of Paris, Sunday, December 7, 2014, after an attack on a French Jewish couple revived worries about long-simmering anti-Semitic sentiment in France. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)

Over half of the public, 53%, said anti-Semitism has increased in recent years with just 18% saying it had decreased. Among Jews, 77% said it has increased, compared to 12% who said it has waned.

“Antisemitism has become a concern for French society as a whole,” said Anne-Sophie Sebban-Bécache, director of AJC Paris. “It is not considered anymore as only the concern of Jews. We are not as alone as we could have felt in the past to fight this scourge.”

Most French Jews, 70%, reported they have been the victim of at least one anti-Semitic incident, while among those below the age of 25 the figure jumped to 84%. One in ten Jews said they have been the victim of more than one incident. Nearly a quarter of French Jews, 23%, have suffered physical violence on at least one occasion, the survey found.

Most anti-Semitic incidents occur in the street or in school. Over half (55%) said they have been insulted or threatened in the street and 59% said they have suffered physical abuse in school.

In addition, 46% said they suffered anti-Semitic verbal abuse in the workplace, which the AJC described as “equally disturbing.”

“The continued spiraling of antisemitism in France has led significant percentages of the Jewish population to take protective actions,” the AJC said.

Many French Jews (37%) don’t wear any symbols that identify them as Jewish, and 25% said they don’t reveal their religion in the workplace.

Over half of Jews, 52%, said they have considered leaving France.

“This has to stop,” Sebban-Bécache declared. “The fight against antisemitism must be a national priority which has the adequate means to cover all of France.”

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. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

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.

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 December French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced the that a national anti-hate crime office would be created following a wave of anti-Semitic incidents in eastern France.

The AJC Paris study was carried out by pollsters IFOP in partnership with French think tank Fondapol. It sampled 505 French Jews and 1027 French people between October 14 and November 19, 2019, the AJC said.

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