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Anti-Jewish Attacks in France Increasing - 2002-04-01

A new wave of anti-Jewish attacks has hit France in recent days, including the destruction of a synagogue in Marseilles Sunday night. French leaders are vowing to find those responsible.

Few dispute that the dozens of anti-Jewish attacks here over the past 18 months mirror the rising tide of violence in the Middle East. France is home to about 650,000 Jews and five million Muslims - the largest population of both faiths in Western Europe.

A March report, co-authored by an anti-racist group and a Jewish student organization, documented 405 anti-Jewish acts in France since September 2000, when the new round of Palestinian-Israeli clashes began. French authorities offer much lower estimates. Nonetheless, in most cases authorities suspect ethnic Arab and Muslim youths are the likely aggressors.

There were more incidents in the past two days. Synagogues in Strasbourg and Lyon were attacked on Saturday, along with a Jewish butcher shop outside another French city, Toulouse. And finally, late Sunday, a synagogue in Marseilles was burned to the ground.

In neighboring Belgium, a Molotov cocktail partly destroyed a Brussels synagogue.

Emmanuel Weintraub, a member of CRIF, an umbrella group of Jewish institutions in France, called the latest surge of incidents "an outrage." But he says there is no comparison between what is happening to Jews in France and the violence in Israel. "This violence is not yet lethal violence," he said. "It's damaging, it damages buildings. Some people were attacked, they were slightly injured. But so far, in 18 months, there is no case of manslaughter. So we can't compare. What you have over there is war."

Nonetheless, the anti-Jewish incidents have raised concern both in France and in Israel. In January, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon began offering a new incentive package for French Jews to immigrate to Israel. One member of Mr. Sharon's government called France the most anti-semitic country in Western Europe. The remark sparked an outcry here, even as French politicians and Jewish leaders agree the numbers of anti-Jewish incidents is rising.

French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin have denounced the latest wave of attacks. And on Monday, the French Interior Ministry announced new measures to protect Jewish schools and other institutions.

Muslim leaders, along with the Palestinian representative to France, Leila Shahid, have denounced the attacks. But Jews like Emmanuel Weintraub say these leaders are not always listened to by youths in the street.