PARIS (Reuters) – Anti-Semitic violence has risen in French schools in 2003 despite a drop in the overall number of attacks, with children as young as 10 being bullied because they are Jewish, a French Jewish leader has said.
Roger Cukierman, head of the Crif umbrella group of French Jewish organisations, said European countries were not tackling Islamist fundamentalism aggressively enough and were vulnerable to further terror attacks.
While praising the conservative French government’s efforts to combat anti-Semitism as “exemplary”, Cukierman said he was worried about a rise of violence in schools.
“In 2003, we saw for the first time a large number of attacks against children by their classmates and this is new, so from my point of view 2003 saw a worsening even if official numbers show a drop in attacks,” he told a news conference on Wednesday.
Education Minister Luc Ferry said earlier this month there had been a dramatic rise in racism and anti-Semitism among pupils. He recommended schools show Holocaust-themed films like “Schindler’s List” or “The Pianist” to fight the trend.
France has seen a jump in anti-Semitic attacks in the last three years which officials say have been committed mainly by Muslim youths angered by Israeli-Palestinian violence.
France’s 600,000-strong Jewish community is the largest in Europe. The country is also home to up to five million Muslims, making Islam the country’s second religion after Catholicism.
France registered 193 violent anti-Semitic attacks and 731 verbal threats against Jews in 2002, up from 119 attacks and 624 threats in 2000. The sharp increase prompted it to launch a tough campaign against anti-Semitic violence.
Interior Ministry statistics show the number of physical attacks fell 36 percent in 2003 from the previous year, while the number of reported insults was down 37 percent.
Cukierman said the Jewish community had worked with the ministry in 2003 to coordinate their numbers, but he suggested official data still underestimated the scale of attacks.
He praised Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s pledge to curb anti-Semitic television broadcasts from the Middle East and to fine satellite operators who carry channels with anti-Jewish programmes.
But he said France and other European countries were still underestimating the threat of Islamist fundamentalism.