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France has become the epicenter of 21st century antisemitism in Europe

France has become the epicenter of 21st century antisemitism in Europe — a phenomena which is now beginning to replicate in other countries around the world, the US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism has warned.

“I think that in many ways France has proven to be ‘Ground Zero’ for European antisemitism, in part because of the large Muslim population,” the envoy, Deborah Lipstadt, told a panel hosted by the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF) and the World Jewish Congress (WJC) in Paris on Monday. “If we’d been having this conversation 15 years ago, I would have said France is a unique situation – sadly, it’s not unique anymore.”

In her remarks, which follow a week-long trip to Belgium and France to meet with EU officials on combating antisemitism, Lipstadt cited some of the deadly antisemitic and terrorist attacks that have plagued France over the last twenty years, among them the 2006 kidnapping and murder of Ilan Halimi, a young cellphone salesman, by an antisemitic gang known as “The Barbarians”, as well as the 2012 and 2015 respective gun attacks on a Jewish school in Toulouse and a kosher supermarket in Paris.

Other incidents  included the 2017 murder of Sarah Halimi, a Jewish woman who was beaten and thrown to her death from the third-floor window of her Paris apartment by her neighbor, Kobili Traore, during a frenzied antisemitic assault. French Jews were outraged in April 2021 when the country’s highest court upheld an earlier decision that Traore could not be held criminally responsible for Halimi’s death because his intake of marijuana on the night of the killing had rendered him temporarily insane.

Lipstadt warned the evolution of antisemitism which once limited to France had now spread to other countries, including the United States. “I think that in many respects, France emulates what we’ve seen in other places, because it’s not just Islamist extremist antisemitism, it’s also from the right and from the left,” she said. 

Lipstadt also noted that the convergence of antisemitic criticism of Israel from the fringes of both right and left wing ideologies is occuring not only in France, but in the US and UK as well.

“There was an individual associated with far-right white supremacism who posted on [Twitter] a cartoon of the Statue of Liberty with a glob across its face, blinding it, with a Jewish Star of David, a Magen David,” she said. “And it was retweeted by someone on the far left saying ‘this is the most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen.’”

Lipstadt noted that while the United States and European countries have invested significant resources in Holocaust education and memorials, that they are not enough to solve the problem of antisemitism.

“It’s not a magic bullet. We sometimes think people engage in antisemitism […] and the judge will say ‘You have to go visit the local Holocaust memorial,’” she said. “Now maybe they will learn from that the dangers of antisemitism, but I’m not sure it’s the great inoculator that we think it is.”  

Lipstadt also discussed Ken Burns’ latest documentary, The US and the Holocaust, and her role as an ambassador in the US State Department in ensuring that confronting antisemitism is a priority in US foreign policy. “The roots of my office go back to the American recognition that antisemitism is the canary in the coal mine,” she said. “It may start with the Jews, it doesn’t end with the Jews.”

Andrew Bernard