The solemn boulevards and quiet side streets of the 17th Arrondissement in Paris suggest Jewish life in France is vibrant: There is a new profusion of kosher groceries and restaurants, and about 15 synagogues, up from only a handful two decades ago, reports The New York Times.
But for residents like Joanna Galilli, this area in northwestern Paris represents a tactical retreat. It has become a haven for many Jews who say they have faced harassment in areas with growing Muslim populations. Ms. Galilli, 28, moved to the neighborhood this year from a Parisian suburb where “anti-Semitism is pretty high,” she said, “and you feel it enormously.”
“They spit when I walked in the street,” she said, describing reactions when she wore a Star of David.
France has a painful history of anti-Semitism, with its worst hours coming in the 1930s and during the German occupation in World War II. But in recent months, an impassioned debate has erupted over how to address what commentators are calling the “new anti-Semitism,” as Jewish groups and academic researchers trace a wave of anti-Semitic acts to France’s growing Muslim population.
Nearly 40 percent of violent acts classified as racially or religiously motivated were committed against Jews in 2017, though Jews make up less than 1 percent of France’s population. Anti-Semitic acts increased by 20 percent from 2016, a rise the interior ministry called “preoccupying.”
In 2011, the French government stopped categorizing those deemed responsible for anti-Semitic acts, making it more difficult to trace the origins. But before then, Muslims had been the largest group identified as perpetrators, according to research by a leading academic. Often the spikes in violence coincided with flare-ups in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, according to researchers.
For the French government, the issue is deeply complicated, touching on the country’s rawest political nerves, as well as ethnic and religious fault lines. France has Europe’s biggest population of both Jews and Muslims, and Muslims face both discrimination in employment and in their treatment by the police.
French leaders fear pitting one side against the other, or even acknowledging that a Muslim-versus-Jew dynamic exists. To do so would violate a central tenet of France — that people are not categorized by race or religion, only as fellow French citizens, equal before the law.
“We are all citizens of the republic, one and indivisible. But this doesn’t correspond to reality,” said a pollster, Jérôme Fourquet, who along with a colleague, Sylvain Manternach, wrote a recent book, “Next Year in Jerusalem, French Jews and anti-Semitism,” published by the respected Fondation Jean-Jaurès, a think tank associated with the Socialist Party.
“All the politicians speak of living together,” Mr. Fourquet said. “And yet, instead, we have de facto groupings based on culture and community. Yet to recognize this is to recognize the failure or breakdown of the French model.”