French President Emmanuel Macron. Picture: REUTERS
French President Emmanuel Macron. Picture: REUTERS

Paris — The French government has called for a firm response to a spate of anti-Semitic acts at the weekend, including graffiti and vandalism that have raised fresh alarm.

Government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux urged the police on Tuesday to pursue the culprits while suggesting the attacks could be blamed on far-left and far-right activists who have infiltrated weekly “yellow vest” protests.

Demonstrators have gathered every Saturday in Paris since November to denounce the government of President Emmanuel Macron.

“We’re not talking about the protesters who are struggling to make ends meet,” Griveaux told France 2 television. “But those who are committing violent acts, openly anti-Semitic or racist acts, they must be charged and severely punished,” he said.

But the rise in anti-Semitic acts in France predates the “yellow vest” movement and there was no evidence on Tuesday tying the latest incidents to the movement.

Interior minister Christophe Castaner said anti-Jewish offences reported to the police surged 74% in 2018 to 541 from 311 in 2017. Castaner said 183 involved assaults and at least one murder, while 358 were anti-Semitic threats or insults.

“Anti-Semitism is spreading like poison,” Castaner said while visiting a memorial site outside Paris for a young Jewish man who was tortured to death in 2006.

A tree planted at the site where 23-year-old Ilan Halimi’s body was found had been chopped down, and a second tree was partly sawed through.

Also in recent days, the word “Juden” (German for Jew) was scrawled on the window of a bagel bakery in Paris. Swastikas were drawn on Paris postal boxes decorated with a portrait of former cabinet minister and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil.

Last weekend, an antidiscrimination advocate revealed a graffiti saying “Macron Jews’ Bitch” in English on a garage door in the centre of Paris, and the phrase “Jewish pig” scrawled on a wall in the city’s northern 18th district.

Macron was also targeted in graffiti found on Monday at the headquarters of French daily Le Monde, which featured anti-Semitic tropes to refer to his former job as a Rothschild investment banker.

Junior foreign minister Sebastien Lecornu also pointed the finger at “yellow vest” protesters for the latest offences.

“Conspiracy theorists are very present among their ranks,” he said, before referring to a survey released on Monday.

The Ifop poll said nearly half of “yellow vests” believed in a worldwide “Zionist plot”, as well as the “Great Replacement” theory, which posits that immigration is being organised deliberately “to replace Europe’s native populations”.

France is home to the largest Jewish population in Europe and the community has been targeted by jihadists in recent years.

In 2011, an Islamist gunman shot dead a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse and in 2015 an extremist claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group killed four people at a kosher supermarket in Paris.

Writing on Twitter, far-right leader Marine Le Pen denounced “a surge in anti-Semitic acts and the desecration of Christian places of worship”.

Five churches were desecrated last week around the country, said police.