Jewish Leaders Call For Protection After French Attacks

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

London ( - Anti-Semitic attacks in France have increased dramatically in the past week in an apparent spillover from fighting in the Middle East.

In the most recent incidents Thursday, a building housing a synagogue was firebombed in the city of Montpellier and two buses owned by a Jewish school were set aflame overnight in a Paris suburb. No one was injured.

Last Saturday, a synagogue was burnt down in the southern port city of Marseille, even though police had recently increased patrols near the building. Two other houses of worship were damaged by fire in other cities.

In other incidents, vandals attempted to burn down a building in a Jewish cemetery in Strasbourg and shots were fired at a Jewish butcher shop near Toulouse. And at Paris' Orly Airport, peaceful protests by Palestinian and Israeli groups descended into brawls.

History of attacks

A report by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) found anti-Semitic activity in France reaches further back than this week's headline-grabbing events. Between Sept. 9, 2000 and Nov. 20, 2001, the ADL report said, 330 anti-Semitic incidents took place in Paris alone.

"The series of attacks on Jewish institutions and businesses in different French cities over the weekend show once again that the blight of anti-Semitic violence has hit France harder than any other European country," ADL national director Abraham H. Foxman said in a statement.

"This sad record calls for openly and clearly acknowledging that anti-Semitism is rampant in many French cities and suburbs," Foxman added.

The ADL, along with Jewish leaders in France, have called on politicians to denounce the attacks as a concerted anti-Semitic campaign and step up efforts to find the perpetrators.

The two main contenders in the French presidential race condemned the weekend attacks.

"When a synagogue is burnt, France is humiliated. When a Jew is attacked, the whole of France is attacked," said incumbent French President Jacques Chirac.

Police have ratcheted up protection at Jewish religious sites, and some large synagogues have been placed under a 24-hour guard.

"Passions that flare up in the Middle East must not flare up here," said Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. "Even if we have the largest Jewish community in Europe and one of the largest Arab-Muslim communities on the European continent, we must not import this violence."

France is home to more than 600,000 Jews and anywhere between four and six million Muslims.

Anti-Semitic attacks thought to be connected to the heavy fighting in the Middle East have also been reported elsewhere in Europe. Two Molotov cocktails were thrown at a synagogue in Antwerp, Belgium early Wednesday and German police were investigating an assault on two American Jews in Berlin, the Associated Press reported.

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