“These abuses are the absolute negation of what makes France a great nation. We won’t tolerate them”, Macron said on Twitter.
Alain Finkielkraut was walking on the fringes of a demonstration in central Paris on Saturday when a group of “yellow vests” insulted him with offensive remarks such as “dirty Zionist” and “France is ours”, according to a video broadcast by Yahoo News.
“I felt absolute hatred and, unfortunately, this is not the first time,” the French writer and philosopher told the Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche. He expressed relief that police intervened.
Finkielkraut has expressed his solidarity and sympathy with the “yellow vest” protesters from the outset but in an interview published Saturday in Le Figaro, he criticised the leaders of the movement, saying “arrogance has changed sides”.
Les injures antisémites dont il a fait l’objet sont la négation absolue de ce que nous sommes et de ce qui fait de nous une grande nation. Nous ne les tolèrerons pas.https://t.co/WSUTuJmQWX
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) February 16, 2019
Saturday’s incident triggered a wave of condemnation and messages of support for the philosopher.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said it was “simply intolerable” while the leader of the Republican opposition party, Laurent Wauquiez, denounced the “abject idiots”.
Ian Brossat, French Communist Party candidate for the European Parliament, said, “We can hate Finkielkraut’s ideas”, but “nothing can justify attacking him as a Jew”.
— Yahoo Actualités (@YahooActuFR) 16 febbraio 2019
Finkielkraut, who is seen as having pro-establishment beliefs, has since January 2016 been a member of the French Academy, the prestigious institution in charge of defining the French language.
Rising anti-Semitism in France
Sebastien Lecornu, the junior foreign minister, pointed the finger at “yellow vest” protesters for the latest offences.
The “yellow vest” protests began three months ago over fuel taxes but quickly grew into a broader anti-government rebellion fuelled by anger at Macron, with some using anti-Semitic tropes to refer to his former job as an investment banker.
“Conspiracy theorists are very present among their ranks,” Lecornu said, before referring to a survey released on Monday.
The Ifop poll said nearly half of the “yellow vests” believed in a worldwide “Zionist plot”, as well as the “Great Replacement” theory, which posits that immigration is being organised deliberately “to replace Europe’s native populations”.
But the rise in anti-Semitic acts in France predates the “yellow vest” demonstrations. A recent spate of anti-Semitic vandalism and graffiti in and around Paris has stoked fresh concerns about an increase in hate crimes against Jews.
Fourteen political parties on Thursday launched a call for action against anti-Semitism after the interior ministry reported a 74 percent increase in anti-Jewish acts last year.
During the latest episodes, the memorial for Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man who was kidnapped and killed in 2006, was desecrated when a tree planted in his memory was chopped down.
In addition, mailboxes decorated with portraits of the late Simone Veil, a Holocaust survivor and a European Parliament president who died in 2017, were daubed with swastikas.
The ‘yellow vest’ movement
The “yellow vests” were protesting for the 14th consecutive Saturday, but according to French media quoting the interior minister, the number of people protesting across the country has decreased.
Around 41,500 protesters nationwide turned out Saturday, some 10,000 less than the previous week, with 5,000 in Paris.
In the capital, tensions mounted as the more than four-hour-long march ended at Les Invalides, with projectiles thrown at police, some by masked individuals dressed in black, a uniform for the ultra-leftist Black blocs.
Lines of riot police used tear gas and an impressive backup, a special horse brigade and water cannon – apparently not used – to force the agitated crowd to disperse.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said 15 people were detained for questioning, far fewer than the scores detained in earlier, larger demonstrations that degenerated into scattered rioting and destruction.
However, the increasingly divided movement is having trouble maintaining momentum and support from the public that initially massively backed protesters, polls showed.