Macron to unveil measures to fight anti-Semitism
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Macron to unveil measures to fight anti-Semitism

Authorities arrest protester caught on video hurling abuse at Jewish writer and philosopher Alain Finkielkraut during ‘yellow vest’ demonstration in Paris on Saturday

French President Emmanuel Macron looks at a grave vandalized with a swastika during a visit at the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, on February 19, 2019, on the day of nationwide marches against a rise in anti-Semitic attacks. (Photo by Frederick FLORIN / POOL / AFP)
French President Emmanuel Macron looks at a grave vandalized with a swastika during a visit at the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, on February 19, 2019, on the day of nationwide marches against a rise in anti-Semitic attacks. (Photo by Frederick FLORIN / POOL / AFP)

PARIS, France (AFP) — French President Emmanuel Macron will announce measures to fight a flare-up in anti-Semitism during a dinner with Jewish community leaders Wednesday, a day after a spate of hate crimes brought thousands onto the streets in protest.

Macron’s address to the annual dinner of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, or CRIF, will be closely followed by Europe’s biggest Jewish community.

On a visit Tuesday to a cemetery in the Alsace region, near Germany, where 96 Jewish tombstones were spray-painted with blue and yellow swastikas, Macron promised: “We shall act, we shall pass laws, we shall punish.”

His visit came as thousands of people took part in rallies around France to condemn a recent spike in anti-Jewish crimes, which Macron and his government has linked in part to anti-Semitic elements within the “yellow vest” protest movement.

On Tuesday evening, a protester caught on video hurling abuse at Jewish writer and philosopher Alain Finkielkraut during a “yellow vest” demonstration in Paris last weekend was taken into custody in the eastern city of Mulhouse.

French Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut is targeted by yellow vest protesters shouting anti-Semitic slogans, Paris, February 16, 2019 (Screen grab via Yahoo)

Authorities confirmed the suspect, who has been named in French media as telephone salesman Benjamin W., was the bearded man seen on video calling 69-year-old Finkielkraut a “bloody Zionist” and telling him “France is ours” after the philosopher ran into demonstrators on the street.

The suspect, who wore a green “keffiyeh” scarf, was one of the most vocal members of a group that jeered Finkielkraut and called him a “racist,” apparently referring to the academic’s repeated warnings about what he sees as the failure of Muslim immigrants to integrate into French society.

On Tuesday, thousands of people, some carrying banners proclaiming “That’s enough,” took to the streets of Paris to denounce the rise in anti-Semitic acts and attacks — one of around 70 protests staged nationwide.

Several officials have accused the “yellow vest” movement, which includes far-right and far-left elements, of causing a dramatic spike in anti-Semitic attacks and vandalism.

The protests began three months ago over fuel taxes but quickly grew into a broader anti-establishment, anti-capitalist rebellion, with some demonstrators using anti-Semitic slurs to denigrate Macron, a former investment banker.

People walk down the Champs Elysees avenue on February 16, 2019 during the 14th consecutive week of “yellow vest” (“gilets jaunes”) protests. (Eric Feferberg/AFP)

A recent Ifop poll of “yellow vest” backers found that nearly half of those questioned believed in a worldwide “Zionist plot” and other conspiracy theories.

But the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported to police had already risen before the “yellow vests” began occupying roundabouts last November — up by 74 percent last year over 2017, according to French Interior Ministry figures.

Anti-Semitism has a long history in France where society was deeply split at the end of the 19th century by the Alfred Dreyfus affair, a Jewish army captain wrongly convicted of treason.

During World War II, the French Vichy government collaborated with Germany notably in the deportation of Jews to death camps.

Traditionally associated with the far right, anti-Semitism has shot up in the French Muslim community, also Europe’s largest, in the past two decades, with Jews the target of several deadly attacks by French jihadists.

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