Paris authorities opened an investigation Sunday into anti-Semitic remarks hurled at a noted Jewish philosopher during a yellow vest protest in the capital, an incident that raised national concerns about the movement’s ascendant radical fringe.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said Sunday an investigation was launched into “public insult based on origin, ethnicity, nationality, race or religion.”
A few demonstrators targeted philosopher Alain Finkielkraut with insults on the sidelines of a yellow vest protest through Paris on Saturday.
The shocking incident prompted criticism from French President Emmanuel Macron and other prominent figures.
The abuse, directed at Finkielkraut, 69, came as tens of thousands of protesters marched across France, marking three months since the movement began.
French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the incident and called it “the absolute negation of what we are and what makes us a great nation.”
“We will not tolerate it,” he said on Twitter.
The president’s was among a chorus of tweets, with Interior Minister Christophe Castaner denouncing “the surge of pure hate,” while government spokesman Benjamin Griveau tweeted that “the ugly beast lurks in the anonymity of the crowd.”
Video footage from a freelance journalist showed police taking action to protect Finkielkraut, a pro-Israel, left-wing philosopher who is among France’s most widely-respected thinkers.
The insults included words like “Zionist!” and “Go back to Tel Aviv!” and “We are France!” Finkielkraut once showed sympathy for the movement but criticized it in a recent interview with Le Figaro daily. Some yellow vest protesters have expressed racist or anti-Semitic views online and on the sidelines of protests.
“I felt an absolute hate,” Finkielkraut told the Sunday paper Le Journal du Dimanche. He expressed relief that police intervened, while adding that not all of the demonstrators had been hostile.
A best-selling author, Finkielkraut in 2016 entered the pantheon of French academia when he was admitted into the Academie Francaise, which is a council of 40 greats elected for life.
Paris last weekend saw a rash of anti-Semitic vandalism, including swastikas drawn on pictures of Holocaust survivor Simone Veil and the word “Juden” spray painted on a Jewish-owned bagel shop.
Vandals also desecrated a memorial to a 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.
Macron’s spokesman said last week that the president called the incidents “a new turn of events linked to the [yellow vest] movement.”
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 last Monday that the number of anti-Jewish incidents reported to police surged 74 percent last year, to 541 from 311 in 2017.