France is reeling from the shock of yet another display of anti-Semitism after vandals desecrated a Jewish cemetery in Lyon on Monday night.
Fifty-six graves and a war memorial dedicated to Jews who died during the Second World War were daubed with swastikas and misspelled slogans glorifying Adolf Hitler and urging resistance to “the Islamist invasion”.
Two men who were spotted near the de la Mouche cemetery late on Monday night were being questioned by police yesterday. But police said they had no evidence that the pair were responsible for the crime. President Jacques Chirac expressed his determination to track down the vandals in a letter to Marcel Dreyfus, a Jewish leader in Lyon. “The perpetrators of this outrage are being actively pursued,” he wrote. “They will be punished to the maximum extent the law allows. France will not tolerate these attacks on her soil.”
Richard Wertenschlag, Lyon’s chief rabbi, said the vandalism was not only an affront to the Jewish community but also to the values of the French people. “How is it that after the Holocaust, someone can still attack Jews – even those who are dead – for the simple reason that they are Jews?” he said. “It is very symbolic to see graves that bear the Star of David defaced by a swastika. It is an indescribable shock.”
The attack, the third on a Jewish cemetery in France this year, has provoked widespread condemnation from French politicians. The Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin called the attack odious, M. Chirac said it was cowardly and the Justice Minister Dominique Perben visited the cemetery. All expressed solidarity with the Jewish community and promised to step up the fight against anti-Semitism.
But alarm is growing among France’s 600,000 Jews and five million Muslims. Despite President Chirac’s drive to eradicate racism, racist and anti-Semitic acts in France have reached their highest point in decades: 135 physical attacks against Jews and 95 against members of other ethnic minorities were reported in the first half of 2004.