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Reports Shows Racist Acts Doubled in France Last Year

A French human rights commission reports the number of racist and anti-Semitic acts has almost doubled in France over a single year. The acts not only target Jews, but also Muslims living in France.

The report published Monday by the National Consultative Human Rights Commission, a government-affiliated group, found the worrying rise in racist acts registered over the last five years is continuing.

Indeed, the group found anti-Semitic and other racist acts reached an unprecedented high in 2004, with 1,565 threats or acts of violence registered. Thats almost twice the number of similar acts recorded in 2003, according to the commission - which used figures provided by the French Interior Ministry.

Moreover, the commission noted the attacks are becoming increasingly violent, with 36 people injured because of anti-Semitic acts in 2004, compared to 22 the year before. Many of the attacks are directed at Jews in France, and experts say the perpetrators are often disenfranchised French Muslim youths.

But nearly 600 acts of aggression or threats targeted Muslims. The commission suggested many were carried out by by far-right groups.

With estimated 600,000 Jews and five million Muslims living here, France has Western Europe's largest communities of both faiths.

Ruger Cukierman is head of the CRIF, the umbrella group of Jewish institutions in France. He says he's not very surprised by the results of the new report. After all, he says, attacks against Jews here have been rising steadily in recent years.

"We see that this wave, which at the beginning could appear as episodical, seems to become a permanent structural feature of the life in France, and even in Europe," he said. "It's worrisome. It shows that the various components of this anti-Semitism and of this racism are developing in parallel and contributing to the general atmosphere where anti-Semitism and racism are becoming opinions - and not crimes."

Anti-Semitism has been rising in France since 2000 - mirroring the rise of Israeli-Palestinian clashes in the Middle East. But the report noted that many of the recent incidents appear to be less and less connected to the situation in the Middle East.

Jewish leaders have praised the French government for cracking down on anti-Semitism. In an interview earlier Monday on French radio, Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin said the government would continue its aggressive policy. But Mr. Cukierman said local governments and other groups also should do more to combat racist and anti-Semitic acts.