Jewish Singer in Heckled in France

By Eva Cahen | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

Paris ( - Anti-Semitism in France reached a new level last weekend when a singer performing at a charity concert was heckled with cries of "Dirty Jew" and "Death to Jews" as the country's first lady and the patroness of the event, Bernadette Chirac, stood watching backstage.

Shirel, a 25-year-old singer who holds American, French and Israeli citizenship, was performing in the eastern French town of Macon on Saturday night at a concert that was being taped for television.

Five youths were taken into custody on Wednesday after being identified on the videotape and were set to be charged in connection with the incident.

The singer told a local newspaper, Le Dauphine Lib?r?, that after the performance, Mrs. Chirac said to her that the incident was "deplorable." But Shirel also said she was shocked that none of the organizers went on stage to "publicly condemn the anti-Semitic aggression."

Manek Weintraub, a member of the executive council of the Representative Council of the Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF) and chairman of the French section of the World Jewish Congress, said that Mrs. Chirac "missed an opportunity to do something correct."

"She should have said something," Weintraub said.

Government ministers have reassured the singer and told her that France would not tolerate anti-Semitism.

The concert was aired on television Monday night with the soundtrack cut during the insults while an on-screen message explained what had happened.

On the same evening as the concert, French Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin, as the guest of honor at the CRIF's annual dinner, addressed his hosts by telling them: "Don't be afraid."

Weintraub said he accepted the government's reassurances.

"They do quite a lot and Raffarin does quite a lot. An inter-ministerial committee meets every month to exchange information about racism and anti-Semitism and work on ways to fight it," he said.

The government announced this week that it was allocating more than $15 million towards increased security for Jewish synagogues, schools and institutions.

But Weintraub said there is an increased level of worry among French Jews about anti-Semitic acts and more talk of emigration to Canada or the United States.

France has seen a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in recent months, including attacks in public places on citizens identified as Jews, and even a skit on state-owned television by a comedian who gave the Nazi salute as he shouted "IsraeHeil" and invited Arab youths to join the "American-Zionist axis."

Weintraub said 90 percent of France's anti-Semitic incidents could be traced to disaffected Arab youths sympathizing with the Palestinian cause.

In addition to having the largest Jewish population in Western Europe, France is home to 5 to 6 million Arabs, mostly immigrants and children of immigrants from former North African colonies.

"But if tomorrow (Israeli Prime Minister) Sharon withdraws from Gaza and there is peace in Israel, the anti-Semitism will probably continue, because it is an anti-Semitism of resentment," Weintraub said.

"Muslim immigrants see that Jews who came to France at the same time as they did have become doctors and drive Mercedes," he said. "But Arab youths have no education, live in poverty in housing projects and have a 30 percent jobless rate."

"There is a long history of blaming Jews in Europe and now anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism have been coupled to go hand in hand, based on resentment, suspicion and envy," he said.

A recent poll by IPSOS for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera found that 49 percent of those polled in nine European countries believed that Jews in their countries were different from other citizens.

As French media reports multiply on last weekend's anti-Semitic slurs directed at Shirel, Weintraub said he realized that the publicity was due to the show business nature of the incident.

"The public thinks stopping a show with anti-Semitic insults is going too far," said Weintraub. "Attacks on Jewish schools don't receive as much publicity."

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