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Anti-Semitism in the European Union: France

(Updated January 2015)

Jews in France (total population: 60 million) – the biggest such community in Western Europe (600,000-700,000, half of them living in the Paris area) – are generally well respected, socially assimilated and well represented in politics.

Anti-Semitic prejudices in France were already virulent during the Six Day War and the Anti-Zionist campaign of the 1970s and 1980s. With the successes achieved by the extreme right-wing Front National and an increasing denial of the Holocaust in the 1990s such stereotypes once again received strong acceptance. At the same time, in the mid-1990s began the critical engagement with National Socialism, collaboration and the responsibility of the Vichy Regime.

As the second Intifada began, the number of anti-Semitic criminal offences rose drastically; out of 216 racist acts recorded in 2000 146 were motivated by anti-Semitism. The peak was reached during the Jewish High Holidays in October 2000; one third of the anti-Semitic attacks committed worldwide took place in France (between 1 September 2000 and 31 January 2002 405 anti-Semitic incidents were documented). The perpetrators were only seldom from the extreme right milieu, coming instead mainly from non-organised Maghrebian and North African youths. After interrogating 42 suspects, the police concluded that these are “predominantly delinquents without ideology, motivated by a diffuse hostility to Israel, exacerbated by the media representation of the Middle East conflict (…) a conflict which, they see, reproduces the picture of exclusion and failure of which they feel victims in France”. Beginning in January 2002, but mainly from the end of March till the middle of April 2002 , there was a wave of anti-Semitic attacks. In the first half of April attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions in Paris and surrounding areas were daily occurrences. This was a repeat of the situation of October 2000. In reaction to the anti-Semitic mood the number of the French Jews who immigrated to Israel in 2002 doubled to 2,566, the highest number since 1972.

In addition, there was an almost polemical debate on the nature as well as the denunciation of anti-Semitism linked to the situation in the Middle East and to Islam, a debate, which led to divisions between prominent participants and anti-racist groups. Anti-Semitism and security questions specific to the Jewish community were almost absent from public debate during this period. In fact, the main ideological themes in the public debate at a time of both Presidential (12 April and 5 May 2002) and national (9 and 16 June 2002) elections were law and order and the unexpectedly strong support for the Front National and its leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who played on anti-Semitic resentments. Viewed from a later perspective, there is an obvious connection with anti-Semitism. During that same period there was a renewed outbreak of anti-Muslim acts and speech attributed to the far right.

1. Physical acts of violence

Indications are that there was a significant decrease in May and June 2002 in observed acts in relation to the period from 29 March to 17 April 2002, a period in which police sources recorded 395 events, ranging from graffiti to assaults. Sixty-three percent of these events involved anti-Semitic graffiti, while 16 cases of assault and 14 of arson or attempted arson against synagogues were reported to the police. These acts principally took place in large urban areas (Ile-de-France, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Alsace). Many of the violent incidents occurred around the pro-Palestinian demonstrations at the end of March in Lyon, Strasbourg, Marseille and Toulouse. While the hypothesis of a détente needs to be confirmed by time, it is true that hostility displayed towards Jews was still observed, in particular by new Jewish victim support groups. The people in charge of the help lines « SOS Vérité et Sécurité » or « SOS antisémitisme » estimated an average of 8 to 12 reports of this kind every day.

On 10 May eight Arabs who studied with him in the same school attacked a 16-year-old Jewish youth in Bordeaux. The attack was accompanied by curses and threats. On 12 May 2002 in Saint-Maur des Fossés (a Paris suburb), three young Jews who were playing football stated that they were insulted and attacked by about fifteen young people “of North African origin”. They lodged a complaint against them for assault and racist remarks.

2. Verbal aggression/hate speech

Indirect threats

On 18 May 2002 at a demonstration organised in the XIXth district of Paris by the Parti des Musulmans de France against the “Naqba”, hostile slogans towards Jews were shouted without any attempt from the organisers to intervene.

On 26 May 2002 during a demonstration organised in Paris against George W. Bush’s trip to France by groups such as the French Communist Party, the Green party “Les Verts”, the Revolutionary Communist League (“Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire”, LCR) and others such as the MRAP (“Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l’amitié entre les peuples” - Movement against racism and for friendship between peoples) and the Human Rights League, about thirty teenagers chanted anti-Jewish and pro-Bin Laden slogans. The organisers expelled them. Ethnic minority activists were then forced to intervene to prevent some youths from attacking a young couple on a scooter in the belief that they were Jewish.

The anti-Semitic atmosphere also found expression in verbal attacks at schools and universities.


On 21 May 2002 the police questioned an 18-year-old female student who was suspected of drawing anti-Semitic slogans and symbols on a kosher butcher’s shop front in Pré Saint-Gervais (Seine-Saint-Denis, Paris suburb).

In June 2002 advertising posters in various metro stations as well as election posters were defaced by graffiti showing the Star of David and the swastika connected by an “=” sign. It should be noted that many Front National and RPF (Rassemblement pour la France) election posters were also defaced by graffiti with such terms as “racist” or “Fascist”.


In the edition of the daily Le Figaro from 7 June 2002, Oriana Fallaci , who is the Italian author of a polemical book entitled “La rage et l'orgueil” (Rage and Pride), wrote a similarly polemical article entitled “Sur l'antisémitisme” (“On anti-Semitism”).

On 10 June 2002 the MRAP (Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l'amitié entre les peuples) lodged a complaint against Oriana Fallaci’s book, calling it “a despicable work where slander, vulgarity and confusion intermingle with contempt. This book is an ‘asserted call’ to racist hatred and violence against all Muslims.” The request for it to be banned proved unsuccessful.


On 7 June 2002, the publication on the website Indymedia-France of a text in which the “Israeli concentration camps” were compared to the Nazi camps in Germany during the Second World War provoked the resignation of two editorial team members. One of the founding members of this anti-globalisation site, which was created after the Seattle summit, demanded the expulsion of the author of the article, “to prevent Indymedia-France from falling under revisionist influence”. The incriminated article also pondered whether Israel might be equated with Nazi Germany. On the other hand, another website contributor stated that, “in parallel, there is a debate on the website to determine whether the [Israeli] government is a Nazi government or not.”

3. Research studies

Between 28 January and 1 February 2002, the Sofres Institute surveyed 400 people aged between 15 and 24 living in France. A massive majority rejected anti-Semitic acts: 87% of the respondents considered that “anti-Semitic acts against synagogues in France” are “scandalous; the state must punish the culprits very severely”; 11% of them considered that “if the Jews did not support Israel as much, these attacks would not take place”; 88% of the respondents considered that “the Jews should be allowed to follow their usual customs without risking to get into a fight”; in contrast, 11% considered that “if the Jews did not seek to make themselves conspicuous in wearing the kipah, this kind of fight would not take place”; 99% of respondents judged that defacing synagogues is “very serious” or “rather serious” (against 1% of them who consider this is “not very serious or not serious at all”); 97% of respondents judged that writing anti-Semitic graffiti is “very serious” or “rather serious” (against 3%); 91% of respondents judged that joking about gas chambers is “very serious” or “rather serious” (against 9%); but 11% allocate “a share of responsibility for these acts to the Jewish community, because of its support to Israel”. To the question “do the Jews have too much influence…?” in France, 77% answered that they “rather disagree” or “do not agree at all”; specifically in the media, 79% responded that they “rather disagree” or “do not agree at all”; and in politics, 80% answered that they “rather disagree” or “do not agree at all”. These figures are much weaker than those collected by Sofres during a previous survey, which covered the whole population, conducted in May 2000 for the Nouveau Mensuel magazine. Then 45% of the respondents had agreed with the statement that Jews have “too much influence”.

To the question “regarding people who say that the Holocaust and the gas chambers did not exist, what is your position?”, 51% estimated that “these people should not be condemned because everyone is free to think whatever they want”; against which 48% said “these people must be condemned because they deny a serious historical fact”. The figures suggest that the Holocaust is to some extent trivialised, in so far as “freedom of thought” (and expression) is often placed above the other issues at stake.

Several observers believe that far-right anti-Semitic violence has shifted towards anti-Semitism of the suburbs. In this respect, the survey provided new information on the state of mind of the youth of North African origin “towards the Jews and anti-Semitism”. As a matter of fact, they were asked the same questions as above. Thus, 86% of them judged that “defacing synagogues” is “very serious” or “rather serious”; 95% of them thought that the Jews have the “right to follow their usual habits without risking to get into a fight”; and only 5% of them thought that “if the Jews did not seek to make themselves conspicuous in wearing the kipah, this kind of fight would not take place”. In the end, 54% of them underlined the seriousness of “insulting the Jews, even if it is a joke”. Compared with the overall group of people between 15 and 24, such answers tend to show that the youth of North African origin is more tolerant than the average, an attitude that can undoubtedly be explained by the fact that anti-Semitic acts or attitudes remind them more or less directly of how they themselves have suffered from racial or cultural discrimination as Muslims or children of North African parents.

On the other hand, according to this survey the tendency is reversed concerning traditional anti-Semitic prejudices. The question relating to the Jews’ alleged influence shows that “respectively 35%, 38% and 24% of the youth of North African origin (against only 22%, 21% and 18% of the whole group of young people) completely or rather think that the Jews have too much influence in the economic and political fields and in the media”. Strangely enough, the poll did not say anything about their answers to the questions concerning the Holocaust.

According to an exclusive survey carried out on 3 and 4 April 2002 by the CSA poll institute and the weekly Marianne of a 1000 people aged over 18, 10% of the French dislike the Jews (while 23% of them dislike North Africans and 24% of them dislike young French people of North African origin), which is the case with 52% of far-right voters (whether for Le Pen or Mégret).

The surveys commissioned by the ADL conducted between 16 May and 4 June 2002 and between 9 and 29 September concerning “European Attitudes towards Jews, Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict” (see Table: Report on Belgium) established that 17% of respondents agreed to at least three of the four anti-Semitic statements presented. Forty-two percent agreed to the statements that “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country” and “Jews have too much power in the business world”, whereby amongst youths the agreement was far higher with 61% and 64%, respectively. With regard to the current conflict in the Middle East, 29% expressed that they sympathised with the Palestinians and only 10% sympathised with Israel. 37% had no preference for one side or the other.

4. Good practices for reducing prejudice, violence and aggression

The publishing of documents such as the Sofres public opinion poll entitled “Youth and the Jewish Image”, as well as the public meetings organised to accompany them, maintain a feeling of hope with regard to both the growing tolerance towards the Jews and to their “normalisation” in French society. The situation also seems to be encouraging concerning the attitude of children of North African parents towards the Jews, in a time when the global geopolitical situation remains very shaky.

The educational information campaigns within Muslim groups, such as on the theme “to burn a synagogue is like burning a mosque”, have encouraged people to talk again and have improved solidarity between the different communities in this field. Thus, the gesture of a local Muslim group in Aubervilliers (northern suburb of Paris) is particularly symbolic: it lent its school bus to a Jewish school of the same area as its buses were destroyed during an attack.

Beyond inter-religious dialogue, the spontaneous or organised mobilisation of civil society against the far right has reaffirmed the Republic’s common values. Such reactions have at least reminded us that the fight against racism, xenophobia and discrimination remains a common struggle.

The fact that anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish acts in France are presently being committed mainly by youngsters from North African immigration, apparently acting in an isolated manner, brought many observers to the conclusion that a far right anti-Semitism has been superseded by a form of anti-Semitism rooted in urban decay and social deprivation. The French term for this combination of urban decay and social deprivation is “banlieue”, literally “suburb”, which functions in roughly the same way as “inner city” in English. Beyond the local character of this observation, some, like the philosopher Pierre-André Taguieff – during his highly publicised book launch in spring 2002 –, spoke of a “new planetary judeophobia” ("nouvelle judéophobie planétaire”) that explains “all world problems by the existence of Israel”. This “new judeophobia”, which he sees as initially brought about by radical Islamic activists, by the heirs of “third-worldism” and by far-left anti-globalisation activists, accuse the Jews of being themselves racist. Thus, according to Taguieff, there seems to be an “anti-Jewish anti-racism”. In this way, it can appear that “the fight against racism and the fight against anti-Semitism have been dissociated from one another”, as Shmuel Trigano wrote in the weekly newspaper Actualité Juive (25 April 2002), adding that “suburb anti-Semitism has indeed broken the “united front” strategy, revealing that the victims of racism (Arab Muslims) could be anti-Semites”. This point of view, which is shared by some Jewish personalities and groups, can extend to an exclusively Jewish conception of the fight against anti-Semitism and a tendency to link it to support for Israel and its current government.

5. Reactions by politicians and other opinion leaders

The current political climate, which has been dominated by the growth of the far right and the renewed Republican mobilisation since 21 April 2002, eclipsed anti-Semitism and tensions between Jews and Muslims in France and removed them from the political agenda. It resulted in the abandonment of the large demonstration against racism and anti-Semitism, for peace in the Middle East and for the union of all communities, planned for Sunday, 12 May 2002, to run parallel to the “Peace Now” demonstration in Israel. Many trade unions, politicians of both left and right organisations and numerous personalities had organised this demonstration.

Representatives from Jewish organisations criticised the French Government for being inactive. President Chirac, who was re-elected on 5 May 2002, reacted officially to the accusations that he had denied the gravity of the threats against Jews coming mainly from abroad, in particular from Israel and the United States, on several occasions. He stated that he “has protested against the ‘anti-French campaign’, which took place in Israel and which aimed at presenting France as an anti-Semitic country”. “France is not an anti-Semitic country”, he repeated the day before the 55th Cannes Film Festival, in response to the American Jewish Congress, which had sought to dissuade Jewish celebrities from participating in the film festival. During his discussions with President George W. Bush, who was in France on 26 and 27 May 2002, President Chirac “protested strongly” against the idea conveyed in the United States that France is seized by a kind of anti-Semitic fever.

On 19 April the French Interior Minister Daniel Viallant, together with his colleagues from Belgium, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom, issued a joint declaration on “Racism, Xenophobia and Anti-Semitism” that appealed for an undertaking of preventive measures and a European-wide coordination of the responsible agencies and offices.

On 29 May 2002, Nicolas Sarkozy, the new Interior Minister, went to the synagogue of Clichy-sous-Bois, which was attacked with a petrol bomb on 10 August 2000, and launched the slogan “zero tolerance for anti-Semitism”. On 2 June 2002, he welcomed representatives from the Jewish community at the Ministry of the Interior. The Minister promised to improve the coordination of the suitable preventive or educational safety measures and to follow up regularly the files indexing complaints, particularly those submitted by “SOS Vérité et Sécurité”. The participants agreed that similar meetings would take place periodically in Ile de France and in the provinces. Moreover, the Minister is said to have committed himself to work in partnership with the Ministries of Justice and of Education.

On 21 July 2002 French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin declared at a meeting held on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the roundup of French Jews for deportation: “to harm the Jewish community is to harm France, harm the values of our republic.” A new government’s hard line on crime and North African juvenile gangs in the second half of 2002 led to a remarkable decrease of anti-Semitic incidents. Besides the conspicuous presence of police protecting Jewish institutions the initiatives of the new Minister of Interior Nicolas Sarkozy promoting an active dialogue with different sections of the Muslim community changed the situation in a positive way.

2014 Incidents

During 2014 there were multiple incidents of Anti-Semitism and hate speech directed against Jewish individuals living in France.  This hostile environment contributed to the more than doubling of the numbers of French immigrants to Israel in 2014, with over 7,000 French individuals making Aliyah. A timeline of the Anti-Semitic events that occured in France during 2014 can be found below. 

January 26: Multiple anti-government protestors were filmed chanting “Juif, la France n’est pas a toi” -translated to “Jew, France is not yours” at a populated rally in Paris. 

March 2: A Jewish man was savegely beaten on the Paris Metro by attackers who made it clear that they were attacking the man because he was Jewish.  The attackers said "Jew, we are going to lay into you.  You have no country." 

March 10: A 52 year old Jewish man was assaulted by two individuals weilding a stun-gun outside of a Synagogue in Central Paris. The Jewish man was shot with the stun-gun and sustained minor injuries, and was released from the hospital soon after he arrived.

March 20: A Jewish teacher was violently attacked while leaving a popular Kosher restaurant in Paris.  The attackers broke the teacher's nose and drew a swastika on his chest. 

April 3: A Moroccan man is fined over $4,000 for posting pictures online of himself giving the Nazi salute in front of the Grand Synagogue in Bordeaux.

May 15: In a viscious and senseless act, a Jewish woman and her baby were attacked at a bus station in Paris by a man who shook the baby carriage violently with the baby inside and shouted "Dirty Jewess, enough with your children already."

June 9: As they were walking to their Synagogue in Paris's Romainville suburb on Shavuot, two Jewish teens and their grandfather were chased for a significant amount of time by four men wielding axes. 

June 10: A young Jewish man wearing a Yarmulke and tzitzit was attacked with a taser in Paris by a group of his peers.  In the town of Sarcelles, two young Jewish men were sprayed with tear gas. 

June 24: A French court dropped their lawsuit against French commedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, ruling that they do not believe that the comedian's video mocking the Holocaust constitutes hate speech.

July 10: A young Jewish girl was pepper-sprayed by an unprovoked assailant in Paris.

July 14: French celebrations of Bastille Day got out of hand as anti-Israel rioters attacked the Don Isaac Abravanel Synagogue.  The congregants gathered inside of the Synagogue fought back. 

August 14: A request was made by the Simon Wiesenthal Center asking a small town in Paris to change it's name from "La-Mort-aux Juifs" or "Death to the Jews" to something more appropriate. 

September 2: French authorities thwarted a plot by two French teenage girls to blow up a synagogue in Lyon.  These authorities confirmed that the young girls were part of a "network of young Islamists who were being monitored by security services."

November 12: A kosher restaurant was firebombed and suffered extensive damage, and a Jewish student wearing a yarmulke was assaulted outside of his high school.

December 2: France historically votes to recognize Palestine as a state, a move criticized by politicians and officials from all over the world. 

Charlie Hebdo

At 11:30a.m. local time on January 7 2015 two gunmen dressed in black and armed with Kalishnakov assault rifles approached the headquarters of satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo located in Rue Nicolas-Alpert.  The two gunmen, later identified as Cherif and Said Kouachi, made their way into the building shooting maintenence staff and caretakers as they went.  After forcing a terrified Charlie Hebdo writer to unlock the door to the second floor meeting room where an editorial meeting was currently underway, they entered the room and called out many of their victims by name before they began shooting wildly.  The gunmen killed ten people in the meeting including all of their intended targets before fleeing the building shouting "We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad" and "Allahu Akbar." 

As the gunmen were in the process of fleeing the scene of the massacre, police arrived outside of the Charlie Hebdo offices. A gun battle ensued between the gunmen and police officers, and eventually the gunmen escaped after killing Muslim Police Officer Ahmed Merabet.  The getaway car was found abandoned near the Charlie Hebdo offices, and after carjacking another vehicle the perpetrators were able to evade the French police forces. On the day following the attacks French authorities caught a break in their case when the suspects robbed a gas station in the Aisne region.  The brothers were able to stay one step ahead of the French police and took refuge in the Creation Tendance Decouverte print warehouse in Dammartin-en-Goele. Hundreds of French police officers surrounded the building, igniting an 8 hour standoff. Just before 5:00p.m. local time explosions and gunfire could be heard coming from inside of the print warehouse and Cherif and Said Kouachi emerged from the building opening fire.  They were promptly killed by the French police. 

During the search for the Charlie Hebdo suspects, a lone individual shot dead a policewoman and injured a man in a Paris suburb.  Initially it was dismissed that the two attacks were related, but upon further investigation it seemed as if they were planned in conjunction.  The lone gunman escaped the scene of the attack after a shootout with police and re-emerged a few hours later at a Kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes, Paris. The gunman was then identified as Amedy Coulibaly, and he demanded that they Kouachi brothers be allowed to leave the Creation Tendance Decouverte print warehouse where they were hiding from police unharmed.  Shortly after the raid on Creation Tendance Decouverte print warehouse that killed the Kouachi brothers, French special forces moved in on Coulibaly who had taken multiple people hostage in the Kosher supermarket.  Coulibaly had just begun to recite his evening prayers to Mecca when the supermarket was stormed by French special forces who immediately shot him dead and released the remaining 15 hostages.  The French authorities recovered 4 dead bodies from the store, all of them Jewish individuals.  The Jews killed while being taken hostage at the store will be buried in Israel.  A video of Amedy Coulibaly was released posthumously in which he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS).  It is believed that this video was filmed sometime between when the Charlie Hebdo shootings began and when Coulibaly took the people hostage at the Kosher supermarket. 

Following these attacks, Israeli leaders announced that they would welcome into Israel any French Jew who feels threatened or unsafe due to the current social climate in France. Israeli prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined leaders from all over the world in Paris on January 11 during a march to commemorate the lives lost to the senseless attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Kosher supermarket in Paris.  The Prime Minister stated "I wish to tell to all French and European Jews — Israel is your home."  Israeli Orthodox newspaper HaMevaser published a photograph of world leaders at the march, but in a controversial move photoshopped out the women in the photograph, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  This was met with ridicule from news organizations and social media around the world. 

French Politicians expressed their support for Jewish individuals: French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on January 11 2015 that "If 100,000 French people of Spanish origin were to leave, I would never say that France is not France anymore. But if 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure."  France has both the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe, and French immigration to Israel has drastically increased since the mid-2000's. 

The community of Netanya in Israel is full of French ex-patriots who have made Aliyah to Israel, and in early 2015 they began to prepare for a large influx of immigrants. The French-Israeli owner of a bakery in Netanya told the New York Times "We are waiting for them.  This is our country.  We have no other place."  Netanya offers the new immigrants the comforts of French Synagogues, dentists that speak French, and French style restaurants. 

Sources: C.R.I.F. - Released by the European Jewish Congress, Tablet Magazine (January 9 2015), The Washington Post (January 11, 2015), The New York Times (January 15, 2015)