In Depth

Anti-Semitism in France: is enough being done?

The murder of an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor in Paris heightens fears in Jewish communities

French authorities are treating the murder of an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor in Paris as a potential hate crime, the latest incident in a disturbing pattern of violence against the country’s Jewish population.

Mireille Knoll, who narrowly escaped a mass round-up of French Jews in 1942, was stabbed to death and set on fire in her apartment in the city’s 11th arrondissement on Friday.

Prosecutors say two men have been arrested in connection with the murder. 

Jewish advocacy groups “were quick to put the case within the context of rising anti-Semitism in France” and point out the similarities to other recent attacks, The Washington Post reports.

How big is the problem?

Knoll’s murder comes almost a year after another elderly woman was killed in the same neighbourhood. Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Orthodox Jew, was beaten to death in her home in April.

Investigators initially refused to treat the murder as an anti-Semitic attack, angering Jewish groups, who accused the authorities of covering up the true nature of the crime. The murder, committed by a Muslim neighbour, was reclassified as an anti-Semitic attack only last month.

“This has been a point of contention between Jewish leaders and the French government, even as French President Emmanuel Macron has recently sought to improve relations,” the Post says.

Other high-profile attacks on Jewish communities include the 2012 shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse, which left four people dead, and the 2015 jihadist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris.

Nearly 8,000 French Jews emigrated to Israel in the wake of the supermarket attack, in which an employee and three customers were shot dead by an Islamist gunman, The Local reports.

“That exodus has since slowed, but a spate of anti-Semitic attacks since have continued to frighten one of Europe’s biggest Jewish communities, numbering an estimated half a million,” it says.

The latest government figures show that anti-Semitic violence rose by 26% last year in France.

Sharon Nazarian, director of international affairs at the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, says the rising tide of anti-Semitism in France “is so pernicious” because it is coming from all sides.

“From the right in the form of classical anti-Semitism, from the left in the guise of criticism of Israel, and from Islamic extremists who too often target Jews,” she writes for The Hill.

What is the government doing?

Speaking to France’s leading Jewish group earlier this month, President Macron acknowledged the community’s fears and announced new plans to fight racism and anti-Semitism online.

“We have understood, with horror, that anti-Semitism is still alive,” he told CRIF, an umbrella group of Jewish organisations. “And on this issue our response must be unforgiving.”

Steps to protect the Jewish community have already been taken by the authorities, according to Nazarian.

“Security has been stepped up at Jewish institutions, and government leaders are now more willing than ever before to speak out against anti-Semitism whenever it rears its ugly head,” she says.

But she adds that there’s still “much more that needs to be done” to ensure the safety and security of Jewish people.

In 2015, France invested €100m (roughly £71m at the time) in a long-term plan to fight racism and anti-Semitism, according to the Jewish Chronicle.

But Sammy Ghozlan, head of the national anti-Semitism monitoring group BNVCA, says successive governments have pledged - and failed - to tackle the problem.

“Fighting racism and fighting antisemitism is important, but authorities are wrong to fight them together because they are different phenomena carried out by different people,” he told the paper.

“You’ll never successfully bring antisemitism down if you do not identify what it is and hit it at its root.”

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