PARIS, France — French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday condemned an “unacceptable increase” in anti-Semitic vandalism and hate speech, linking it to a wave of demonstrations against his government, according to spokesman Benjamin Griveaux.
“Anti-Semitism is a repudiation of the Republic, in the same way that attacking elected officials or institutions is a repudiation of the Republic,” Macron told ministers at a cabinet meeting, Griveaux said.
There has been widespread outrage over anti-Jewish graffiti and vandalism in and around Paris last weekend, including the desecration of a memorial to a young Jewish man who was tortured to death by an anti-Semitic gang in Paris in 2006.
A tree planted at the site where 23-year-old Ilan Halimi’s body was found had been chopped down, and a second tree was partly sawed through.
Around 300 people gathered at the Paris memorial site Wednesday in Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois outside Paris to mark the anniversary of Halimi’s gruesome killing.
Officials, including the Israeli ambassador to France, planted trees to replace two cut down over the weekend.
According to Macron’s spokesman, the president said the incidents were “a new turn of events linked to the movement” of so-called “yellow vest” anti-government rallies.
The weekend incidents coincided with another Saturday of yellow vest protests against Macron and his perceived pro-business policies.
Government officials have suggested the anti-Semitic acts could be blamed in part on far-left and far-right activists who have infiltrated the weekly protests. But they offered no direct evidence of a link, and the rise in anti-Semitic acts predates the movement, which began in November.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner revealed Monday that the number of anti-Jewish incidents reported to police surged 74 percent last year, to 541 from 311 in 2017.
In a statement, Castaner said 183 involved assaults and at least one murder, while 358 were anti-Semitic threats or insults.
“Anti-Semitism is spreading like poison,” Castaner said while visiting the Halimi memorial site Monday.
Also in recent days, the word “Juden” (German for Jew) was scrawled on the window of a bagel bakery in Paris, and swastikas were drawn on Paris postal boxes decorated with a portrait of former government minister and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil.
Last weekend, graffiti saying “Macron Jews’ Bitch” in English was reported on a garage door in the center of Paris, and the phrase “Jewish pig” was scrawled on a wall in the city’s northern 18th arrondissement, or district.
Macron was also targeted in graffiti discovered Monday at the headquarters of French daily Le Monde, using anti-Semitic tropes to refer to his former job as a banker.
France is home to the largest Jewish population in Europe and the community has been targeted by jihadists in recent years.
In 2011, an Islamist gunman shot dead a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse and in 2015 a terrorist claiming allegiance to the Islamic State terror group killed four people at a kosher supermarket in Paris.
Writing on Twitter, Far-right leader Marine Le Pen denounced “a surge in anti-Semitic acts and the desecration of Christian places of worship.”
Five churches were desecrated last week around the country, police told AFP.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.