STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) – Vandals have daubed swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans on around 90 graves in a Jewish cemetery in eastern France, local officials said on Tuesday, shortly before planned marches nationwide against a surge in anti-Semitic attacks.
French President Emmanuel Macron visited the cemetery on Tuesday in the village of Quatzenheim, near the city of Strasbourg, following the overnight desecration, walking through a gate scarred with a swastika as he entered the graveyard.
“It’s important for me to be here with you today,” a solemn looking Macron told local leaders and members of the Jewish community after paying respects at one of the desecrated graves.
“Whoever did this is not worthy of the French republic and will be punished… We’ll take action, we’ll apply the law and we’ll punish them,” he said.
Many French political leaders are due to join Tuesday evening’s march in Paris against anti-Semitism. Macron will visit the national Holocaust memorial with the heads of the Senate and National Assembly.
Figures released last week showed there were more than 500 anti-Semitic attacks in France in 2018, a 74 percent increase from 2017.
Among incidents in recent days, ‘yellow vest’ protesters were filmed hurling abuse on Saturday at Alain Finkielkraut, a well-known Jewish writer and son of a Holocaust survivor.
France is home to the biggest Jewish community in Europe — around 550,000 — a population that has grown by about half since World War Two, but anti-Semitic attacks remain common.
A rabbi and three children were killed at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 by an Islamist gunman, and in 2015 four Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris were among 17 people killed by Islamist militants. In 2006, 23-year-old Ilan Halimi was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by an anti-Semitic gang.
This month, artwork on two Paris post boxes showing the image of Simone Veil, a Holocaust survivor and former magistrate, was defaced with swastikas, while a bagel shop was sprayed with the word “Juden”, German for Jews, in yellow letters.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement in response to the cemetery attack.
“I call on all French and European leaders to take a strong stand against anti-Semitism,” he said in a video message recorded in Hebrew. “It is an epidemic that endangers everyone, not just us, and it must be condemned everywhere and every time it rears its head.”
His immigration minister, Yoav Galant, sent a tweet calling on French Jews to quit France and “come home” to Israel, where around 200,000 French Jews already live.
(Additional reporting by Mayaan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Gareth Jones)