Jewish cemetery attacked in southern France

Catholic cemetery opposite site reported to be unscathed, indicating a targeted attack

Matt Drake
Friday 10 January 2020 11:54 GMT
Picture of the Jewish cemetery of Bayonne, southwestern France, where a dozen graves have been desecrated
Picture of the Jewish cemetery of Bayonne, southwestern France, where a dozen graves have been desecrated (AFP via Getty Images)

Around a dozen graves have been vandalised in a Jewish cemetery in southwest France, including a commemorative plaque dedicated to a child victim of the Holocaust.

The vandalism – which took place in Bayonne, in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques area – was discovered on Sunday by the president of the Jewish community of Bayonne and Biarritz, Déborah Loupien-Suares. She was visiting the graves of her grandparents at the time.

Ms Loupien-Suares tweeted: “Indignation and anger after the desecration of the Jewish cemetery of Bayonne. The investigation will be conducted calmly and those responsible will be punished.”

Speaking to local media Sud-Quest, she said there were no antisemitic phrases or inscriptions at the cemetery but there was “significant damage” to the gravestones with several left smashed and broken. This included a plaque dedicated to a Jewish girl deported by the Nazi regime during the Second World War.

Ms Loupien-Suares added: “There are very significant degradations on seven to ten graves in the cemetery, which have been exploded.

“There were no antisemitic tags or inscriptions so I don’t want to ignite the debate, I want the investigation to be carried out calmly.”

Ms Loupien-Suares believes the vandalism was targeted as she went to a Catholic cemetery opposite the site but “there were no similar degradations”.

The mayor of Bayonne, Jean-René Etchegaray, said: “It is the first time that this has happened in Bayonne, where the Jewish community has been fully integrated for years. ”

Two Jewish cemeteries have been attacked in recent months in Alsace, eastern France, The Local FR reports. Over 100 graves were defaced with swastikas at the cemetery in Westhoffen in December and 96 tombs were targeted at Quatzenheim, Alsace, in February 2019.

Reports of antisemitic offences in France have risen 74 percent in 2018 from the previous year. After the Westhoffen vandalism, Emmanuel Macron said: “Jews are and make France and those who attack them, even their graves, are not worthy of the idea we have of France.”

According to the EU‘s Fundamental Rights Agency, antisemitism is defined as homicides and attempted homicides, terror attacks and attempted terror attacks, arson and attempted arson, defacing and vandalising, and physical violence and assault. It also includes Antisemitic threats which cover speech acts, threatening gestures and insults, graffiti, pamphlets and emails.

Although the number of antisemitic actions in France in 2018 were higher than the previous year, they were still lower than in 2014. However, a separate trend has found that antisemitic threats are consistently reported in higher numbers than in actions.

The Service for the Protection of the Jewish Community (JPC) in its annual report on antisemitism found that the majority of the respondents in France, around 80 per cent, who experienced antisemitism before the 2018 survey did not report the most serious incident to the police or any other organisation.

Over one-third of the respondents in France (37 per cent) experienced some form of antisemitic harassment in the five years before the survey and one quarter (27 per cent) encountered harassment in the 12 months before the survey.

Mark Gardner, Director of Communications for the Community Security Trust (CST) - a charity established to ensure the safety and security of the UK’s Jewish community – told The Independent: “Cemetery desecrations are an especially sickening and visible sign of deep Jew-hatred.

“There are problems of antisemitism across Europe, including Britain, with different problems coming from different political and theological directions. Then, there is also antisemitism from racist and anti-social behaviours that are offensive, but not ideological as such.”

The Independent has contacted the World Jewish Congress Paris community and Déborah Loupien-Suares for comment.

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