Protesters gathered Tuesday night in cities across France to march against anti-Semitism after a rise in such incidents in the country.
The marches came after around 80 graves were desecrated with swastikas overnight in a Jewish cemetery in eastern France, according to local officials. Photos showed tombstones spray-painted with blue and yellow Nazi symbols and other graffiti.
French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the attack during his visit Tuesday to the cemetery in Quatzenheim, where he inspected the damage.
“We will take actions, we will use laws and we will punish,” Macron told local communities leaders at the cemetery.
“Those who did this are not worthy of the republic. … France will punish them. I don’t want what happened here to give ideas to others.”
Macron later visited the Paris Holocaust Memorial on Tuesday evening.
The attack comes after anti-government gilets jaunes or “yellow vest” protesters hurled verbal abuse Saturday at philosopher and Israel supporter Alain Finkielkraut as he ran into the demonstrators on the 14th consecutive weekend of their marches.
It was also the second recent attack at a Jewish cemetery in France. Tombstones and a holocaust memorial outside Strasbourg were vandalized in December.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was shocked at the vandalism in Quatzenheim and called on leaders in France and Europe to “take a strong stand against anti-Semitism.”
“It is a plague that endangers everyone, not just us, and it must be condemned wherever and whenever it rears its head,” Netanyahu said.
Anti-Semitic incidents on the rise
The country, which is home to the 500,000 Jews – the largest community in Europe – has seen a 74% increase in anti-Semitic acts, according to French authorities, with 311 incidents recorded in 2017, compared with 541 in 2018.
At least 11 people have been killed in anti-Semitic violence in France since 2016. Last March, 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll was slain in her Paris apartment, an act of brutality that compelled thousands to protest in the capital.
In 2017, Sarah Halimi, 65, was also killed in her apartment in the city and thrown from her balcony in what was called an anti-Semitic attack.
In 2015, four people were killed and 15 others were held hostage at a kosher supermarket in Paris in a siege carried out by an associate of the Charlie Hebdo shooters. Three years earlier, three children and one teacher were slain at a Jewish school in Toulouse.
A 2018 CNN survey of seven European countries – Great Britain, Sweden, Germany, France, Poland, Hungary and Austria – pointed to the prevalence of anti-Semitism in Europe. Anti-Semitic stereotypes proved widespread in France, where a quarter of respondents said Jews had too much influence in business and finance.
The study also revealed ignorance about the Holocaust, particularly among younger generations. One in five French people between 18 and 34 said they’d never heard of the Holocaust.