French police investigate antisemitic attacks in Paris

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Antisemitic graffiti in the 13th arrondissement of Paris displaying a portrait of the late politician and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil. Photograph: Jacques Demarthon/AFP/Getty Images

French police are investigating a spate of antisemitic acts in Paris and the surrounding area in the past few days, as the government announced a 74% rise in the number of antisemitic incidents last year.

In separate incidents in recent days, swastikas were drawn on Paris postboxes bearing portraits of the late politician and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil. The word Juden (German for Jews) was sprayed on the window of a bagel bakery on the Île Saint-Louis in the heart of the capital.

The French government’s special representative on racism, antisemitism and discrimination said the graffiti was sickening.

A tree planted in the southern Paris suburb of Sainte-Genevieve-du-Bois in memory of a young Jewish man who was tortured to death in 2006 was also chopped down, authorities said.

“Antisemitism is spreading like poison,” the interior minister, Christophe Castaner, said near the spot where the tree was vandalised. “By attacking … Ilan Halimi’s memory, it’s the Republic that’s being attacked,” he said, vowing that the government would take action.

The number of antisemitic acts in France increased by 74% last year, from 311 in 2017 to 541 in 2018, he said.

In Paris, the incident involving the postboxes was reported by the artist Christian Guemy, who painted the portraits of Veil on the boxes in the city’s 13th district to mark her burial last year at the Pantheon, the final resting place of France’s most illustrious figures.

A former justice minister and women’s rights defender, Veil was a hugely respected figure, whose death in 2017 caused a national outpouring of emotion.

Veil was 16 when she was arrested by the French Gestapo in Nice and deported along with family members to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp – her mother, father and brother were killed in the Holocaust.

“Shame on the despicable person that disfigured my tribute to Simeon Veil, Holocaust survivor,” Guemy tweeted on Monday along with pictures of the postboxes.

In November, the prime minister, Édouard Philippe, warned that France, whose pro-Nazi regime deported Jews during the second world war, was “very far from being finished with antisemitism”.

The government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux linked the graffiti on the bagel bakery to an arson attack last week on the home of the parliamentary speaker, Richard Ferrand, which some have blamed on France’s gilets jaunes protest movement.

But Gilles Abecassis, the co-founder of the bakery, said he did not believe that anti-government demonstrators, some of whom have shown support for a comedian convicted of antisemitism, were responsible.

“They wrote it in yellow but that could be for the Star of David,” he said, adding that he had received thousands of messages of solidarity from around the world.