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France rallies against anti-Semitism, as latest incident shocks officials

A series of attacks across France in recent days has alarmed politicians and prompted calls for action against what some commentators describe as a new form of anti-Semitism among the far-left and Islamist preachers.

Vandalism comes days after a report noted an increase in anti-Semitic acts in France last year

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, and French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, left, react as they visit the vandalized Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim on Tuesday. (Frederick Florin/Associated Press)

A series of attacks across France in recent days has alarmed politicians and prompted calls for action against what some commentators describe as a new form of anti-Semitism among the far-left and Islamist preachers.

The problem was starkly underlined on Tuesday with the discovery of more than 90 graves in a Jewish cemetery in eastern France desecrated with swastikas and other abuse. It remains unclear who carried out the attack.

"It's important for me to be here with you today," a solemn looking Macron told local leaders and members of the Jewish community after paying respects at one of the desecrated graves in Quatzenheim.

"Whoever did this is not worthy of the French republic and will be punished ... We'll take action, we'll apply the law and we'll punish them."

A crowd of thousands then gathered Tuesday night on Paris's famed Republic Plaza to say "No" to anti-Semitism in a prescheduled rally.

Dozens of rallies took place Tuesday evening in French cities as organizations from across France's political spectrum united under a common motto: "That's enough."

Thousands attended the protest at the Place de la Republique in Paris on Tuesday night. (Philippe Wojazer/Reuters)

The main gathering, in the French capital, took place with former Presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and many other government officials.

Paris residents and officials together sang the national anthem, the Marseillaise.

Figures released last week showed there were more than 500 anti-Semitic acts in France in 2018, a 74 per cent increase from 2017.

Israeli officials express condemnation

Among incidents in recent days, yellow vest protesters were filmed hurling abuse on Saturday at Alain Finkielkraut, a well-known Jewish writer and son of a Holocaust survivor.

France is home to the biggest Jewish community in Europe — around 550,000 people — a population that has grown by about half since the Second World War, but anti-Semitic attacks remain common.

A rabbi and three children were killed at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 by an Islamist gunman, and in 2015 four Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris were among 17 people killed by Islamist militants. In 2006, 23-year-old Ilan Halimi was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by an anti-Semitic gang.

This month, artwork on two Paris post boxes showing the image of Simone Veil, a Holocaust survivor and former magistrate, was defaced with swastikas, while a bagel shop was sprayed with the word "Juden," German for Jews, in yellow letters.

Swastikas were painted on about 90 gravestones at the Jewish cemetery overnight. (Frederick Florin/Associated Press)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement in response to the cemetery attack.

"I call on all French and European leaders to take a strong stand against anti-Semitism," he said in a video message recorded in Hebrew. "It is an epidemic that endangers everyone, not just us, and it must be condemned everywhere and every time it rears its head."

His immigration minister, Yoav Galant, sent a tweet calling on French Jews to quit France and "come home" to Israel, where around 200,000 French Jews already live.

With files from Associated Press

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