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In France, The Seeds Of A Hatred Renewed


The recent fighting in Gaza has had an impact in Europe, especially in France. The country is home to Europe's largest Muslim and Jewish populations and its seen a number of anti-Semitic incidents in recent weeks. But some of the people confronting the issue say, any rise in anti-Semitism has more to do with the economic and social problems of young Muslims in France. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has this report from Paris.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: In July, two pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Paris turned violent when a handful of young, male marchers attacked synagogues along the route. The youths clash with French riot police and fought with the members of the Jewish Defense League. Some yelled death to the Jews. The French Interior Minister said, hearing such threats on the streets of Paris was shocking and unacceptable.


BEARDSLEY: A few days later French Jews sang the Marseillaise along with the Israeli national anthem at a heavily guarded pro-Israel demonstration in the center of Paris. Thirty three-year-old Fabien Levy was there. He says, French Jews are scared today.

FABIEN LEVY: (Through translator) We're up against a new anti-Semitism. These people are Islamic radicals who live in the suburbs and they come into the city. There so many of them and they're not scared of anything.

BEARDSLEY: The French Interior Minister has described a new anti-Semitism that he says, blends the Palestinian cause and Jihadism with hatred of Israel and the French value system. Rabbi Michel Serfaty has been fighting anti-Semitism for the last decade in France. He says, the new wave has nothing to do with the anti-Semitism of the pre-war years.

MICHEL SERFATY: (Through translator) French Jews are being put to the test. There's no doubt there's a resurgence of anti-Semitism but it's coming from actors in African and North African, Muslim communities in France. So do we turn around and leave and let the anti-Semites win? No. We must resist as citizens of France.

BEARDSLEY: Serfaty laughs at the notion of the far right national front party being a possible source of the new anti-Semitism. Its voters are angry about the rise of immigration and Islam, he says. Not about well assimilated Jews. Official statistics show that around 95 percent of anti-Semitic acts in France are perpetrated by youths of Arab, African and North African descent. The Rabbi Serfaty and his colleague Imam Mohammed Azizi know this segment of the population well. They've traveled eight times around France in their Judeo-Muslim friendship bus taking their message of peaceful coexistence to tough immigrant, mostly Muslim neighborhoods. Azizi says, a whole second generation of Muslim immigrants is unemployed and living on the fringes of French society.

MOHAMMED AZIZI: (Through translator) Sometimes the young people are full of anger because they don't understand why they're so marginalized. Is it their religion? Their race? Their culture? They hate the powers that be, the establishment and Jews are considered part of that. They're susceptible to extremist messages - this is the source of the anti-Semitism we see in France today.

BEARDSLEY: Azizi says, in such places there is little knowledge of Judaism's long history in France nor of its links with Islam. He and Rabbi Serfaty are trying to change that. Sacha Reingewirtz is head of the Association of French Jewish Students. He agrees that a lot of the new anti-Semitic sentiment is coming from Muslims but he says, characterizing the problem as only Muslim versus Jew doesn't fully reflect it. He says, today's anti-Semitism includes some of the old same stereotypes.

SACHA REINGEWIRTZ: You see a lot of people who now believe that Jews control the media, Jews control the finance so they are putting back to very old anti-Semitism cliches.

BEARDSLEY: Reingewirtz says, those old cliches are being rehashed on social media and being adopted by those who feel excluded from French society. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.