A teenager was arrested Thursday by French police in connection with an attack on an Israeli student in Paris, but denied the assault was anti-Semitic.
The 17-year-old suspect, who was known to police, was caught after being identified in security footage from the Paris Metro. Israel’s Kan public broadcaster said the teen was originally from Madagascar.
He admitted to assaulting the Israeli student, who has been named in reports as Yogev Burshtein, but rejected the student’s assertion the attack was motivated by anti-Semitism.
Burshtein has said he believes he was assaulted for speaking Hebrew.
“I can’t think of any other reasons besides the Hebrew language,” Burshtein told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call Tuesday.
בן 17 המוכר למשטרה נעצר בחשד לתקיפת הסטודנט הישראלי במטרו בפריז בתחילת השבוע. החשוד, יליד מדגסקר, אותר בזכות מצלמות אבטחה המוצבות במטרו והודה במעשים, אך הכחיש את הרקע האנטישמי לתקיפה@mayarachlin pic.twitter.com/9zaj1dss34
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) December 12, 2019
Burshstein said he was sending his father a voice message as he boarded the Paris Metro when he was attacked.
On his Twitter account, Netanyahu wrote that the incident “appears to be an anti-Semitic act.”
“We’ll do everything to fight any expression of violence and anti-Semitism,” he said.
According to France’s National Bureau of Vigilance Against anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, Burshtein was accosted by two males, one of whom struck him on the head, body and face, causing him to lose consciousness.
Yogev said that after his release from the hospital, he went to police to file a complaint but was told to return in six hours. He then reached out to Meyer Habib, a prominent Jewish lawmaker in France’s National Assembly, who said he asked the interior minister to immediately order a police investigation into the incident.
“This attack is another symptom of the new ‘daily’ anti-Semitism,” Habib said, according to Channel 12 news.
The incident comes amid a spate of anti-Semitic incidents in France, many of them in the east of the country.
The 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.
The number of anti-Jewish offenses reported to police rose to 541 last year from 311 in 2017, after falling for two years.
The lower house of France’s parliament last week approved a draft resolution that calls hate of Israel a form of anti-Semitism, drawing praise from Jerusalem and Jewish groups. The 577 members of the National Assembly voted on the draft, which also calls on the government to join other European nations in adopting the definition of anti-Semitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Agencies contributed to this report.