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April 08, 2003

Jews attacked in French anti-war protests

The Telegraph today ran this disturbing story about France
Street protests against American and British military action in Iraq have escalated into attacks by Muslim youths on Jewish demonstrators, sparking fears of a new wave of anti-Semitism across France.

The French government was forced to appeal for calm after protesters, some of them carrying pictures of Saddam Hussein, burnt the Israeli flag and turned on Jewish students, attacking one of them with an iron bar, during a series of anti-war rallies.

Officials fear that anti-war sentiment, supported by President Jacques Chirac, may be running out of control and could ignite widespread violence. Banners at recent demonstrations have shown the Star of David intertwined with a Nazi swastika, while protesters shouted "Vive Chirac! Stop the Jews".

In response, French police have announced the formation of a new unit to investigate "racist and anti-Semitic crimes", and stepped-up protection for synagogues and Jewish schools.

Jean-Paul Proust, the head of the Paris Prefecture of Police, promised the new unit would "systematically follow up all complaints".

President Chirac, whose bitter opposition to the United States-led military offensive in Iraq has won him almost universal support in France, has remained silent on the attacks, but his prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, sought to rein in public sentiment, saying that people should "not choose the wrong enemy".

Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister, also warned demonstrators not to use the war in Iraq as an excuse for violence. "Whether it is a case of French Muslims or French Jews, each has the right to pray, believe and live his faith as he sees fit," he said.

Public passions have been fuelled by anti-war rhetoric in the French media, which has concentrated on civilian casualties and highlighted setbacks suffered by the coalition forces.

An opinion poll in the newspaper Le Monde found that almost a third of French people wanted Saddam to win the war. Only 53 per cent wanted the Anglo-American forces to triumph.

The fears of increased anti-Semitism come only a month after the French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin allegedly told a group of centre-Right MPs that "the hawks in the US administration are in the hands of [Ariel] Sharon".[more]