Breaking the Cycle of Violence

Countering Antisemitism and Extremism in France

Executive Summary

The deadly terrorist attacks on November 13 in Paris, coming less than a year after the killings at Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, have focused long overdue attention on the resurgence of antisemitism and extremism in France. France has both the largest Jewish and one of the largest Muslim communities in Europe. With the rise of the xenophobic far-right National Front party, this situation is a tinderbox. “Antisemitism is unacceptable no matter where it comes from,” said the Chief Rabbi of France, Haim Korsia, in July 2015. “When there is a Republic with strong values—liberty, equality, fraternity, which we often forget—we have security and serenity for everyone, including Jews.”

Violence targeting Jews and Jewish sites has led to a heightened sense of insecurity, and an increasing number of Jews are relocating in or outside of France for security reasons. Some observers have drawn comparisons to Europe in the 1930s. While that dark history continues to cast a cautionary shadow, as it should, the comparison is inapt. Nonetheless, antisemitism is a grave threat to human rights, and its resurgence in France should be of great concern to the French government and its allies, including the United States.

Antisemitic violence harms not only its direct victims but entire Jewish communities, preventing them from being able to exercise their fundamental rights. And the potential damage is even greater: Left unchecked, antisemitism leads to the persecution of other minorities, and to an overall increase in repression and intolerance. An increase in antisemitism is a harbinger of societal breakdown.

This report analyzes the nature and extent of antisemitism in France and presents recommendations for combating it by promoting tolerance and inclusiveness. Based on public information and interviews with a range of government officials, civil society representatives, and academic experts, the report examines this problem within broader and interrelated phenomena, including the ascendancy of the far-right party the National Front, mounting anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment, the spread of Islamic extremism, and the increasing alienation of many Muslims in France. While the report assesses spikes in antisemitic incidents related to developments in the Middle East, it focuses on France and the domestic dynamics contributing to this problem. However, we see France as a test case for the plight of Jews on the continent because the pertinent trends there also exist in other European countries.


Published on January 7, 2016


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