President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday praised French President Emmanuel Macron for “how seriously you take the issue of anti-Semitism,” amid a dramatic rise in anti-Semitic attacks and vandalism throughout the country.
“Mr. President, times like these demand clear and strong leadership,” Rivlin wrote in what his office described as an “urgent letter” to his French counterpart. “Your actions, as well as your words, show how seriously you take the issue of anti-Semitism,” he added.
The letter comes a day after thousands rallied in Paris and other French cities against a spate of attacks against Jewish communities and individuals, including most recently the spray-painting of swastikas on some 80 gravestones at a Paris cemetery late Monday.
Rivlin thanked Macron for visiting the cemetery on Tuesday.
“I am writing, both personally and on behalf of the State of Israel, to express my appreciation to you for visiting the Jewish cemetery at Quatzenheim and the Holocaust memorial in Paris yesterday,” he wrote.
“The mass desecration of Jewish graves with symbols of neo-Nazism is a shocking reminder that anti-Semitism is still amongst us. Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Just this week, we have seen several other serious and disturbing acts of anti-Semitism. They are an affront to the Jewish people, to the French Republic, and to all humanity.”
At the Tuesday rallies, former French presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy joined Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Republic Plaza at one of the main events, whose theme was “That’s enough.”
Political parties from across the spectrum participated, though Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party held a separate event.
Macron also went to the Shoah Memorial, a Holocaust museum in Paris, to observe a moment of silence with parliament leaders.
“Every time a French person, because he or she is Jewish, is insulted, threatened — or worse, injured or killed — the whole Republic” is attacked, Macron said at a news conference in Paris ahead of the rallies.
Macron’s visit to the vandalized Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, a small town in the northeastern Alsace region, came several hours before the rallies. He said he felt shame at the sight of the defaced grave markers.
“This looks like absurd stupidity,” the French leader said, looking visibly sad and concerned.
Macron observed several moments of silence in front of the vandalized graves while local Jewish community representatives stood by.
“We will take action,” he promised.
France is home to the world’s largest Jewish population outside Israel and the United States.
Among the incidents sparking worries of renewed anti-Semitism was a torrent of hate speech directed at Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut during a Saturday march by yellow vest protesters.
On Wednesday, Rivlin also called Finkielkraut, telling him he wanted “to send you my full support after the wicked and hurtful attack you suffered.”
According to Rivlin’s office, he told the philosopher, who was berated to go “back to Tel Aviv,” that the attack was “a shocking reminder that anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activity are irretrievably linked. The world must fight this relentlessly and without compromise.”
“I am sure you know that Tel Aviv is a wonderful place but be in no doubt that every Jew, and every person, has the right to choose wherever they live,” Rivlin said.
In recent incidents, swastika graffiti was found on street portraits of Simone Veil — a survivor of Nazi death camps and a European Parliament president who died in 2017. The word “Juden” was painted on the window of a bagel restaurant in Paris, and two trees planted at a memorial honoring a young Jewish man tortured to death by an anti-Semitic gang in 2006 were vandalized, one cut down.
According to sociologist Danny Trom, author of “France Without Jews,” thousands of Jewish people leave France every year because of anti-Semitism.
“This is a low-intensity war, perhaps, but let’s not forget the murder of children killed at close range by Mohamed Merah in a school,” Trom told French magazine Telerama, referring to the 2012 slayings of three children and a teacher from a Jewish school by an Islamic extremist in the southwestern city of Toulouse.
“It is without equivalent in the history of France,” he said. “Jews have been present in France since the dawn of time. Now, the pressure is such that they are led to consider their country inhospitable.”
The French government reported a big rise in anti-Semitism last year: 541 registered incidents, up 74 percent from 311 in 2017.
Leaders from France’s main religious communities, including Christian, Muslim and Jewish representatives, met at France’s Interior Ministry on Tuesday. In a joint declaration, they solemnly condemned anti-Semitic acts and called on people to make individual commitments to combat all forms of racism and hatred.