Jacques Brinon/AP
Demonstrators of the Jewish Defense
League are seen during a march through
Paris to show opposition to racism and
anti-Semitism on Feb. 26, 2006.

Holocaust T-Shirt Highlights France’s Anti-Semitism Problem

August 14, 2008 01:28 PM
by Josh Katz
Anti-Semitic T-shirts sold in France and other recent incidents underscore the conflict between Jews and North Africans in a country with a reputation for anti-Semitism.

T-Shirts Sold with Holocaust Slogan

French prosecutors are investigating a reputed case of anti-Semitism in which T-shirts that were sold in a store in the Belleville neighborhood of eastern Paris displayed the slogan “Jews are forbidden from entering the park” in German and Polish. The slogan is taken from Nazi signs posted in the Polish town of Lodz in the 1940s, which lost about 95 percent of its Jewish population of 200,000 in concentration camps during the War, according to the BBC.

The sales assistant at the store, who said she did not know the meaning of the slogans, claimed “one person had bought five of the grey, sleeveless garments for about 18 euros ($27) each.”

The news of the T-shirts comes on the heels of another incident sparking accusations of anti-Semitism in France. In July French magazine Charlie Hebdo published a controversial cartoon from cartoonist Bob Siné that suggested President Nicolas Sarkozy’s son, Jean, would convert to Judaism prior to marrying his Jewish fiancée, heiress Jessica Sebaoun-Darty.

Responding to a public outcry of anti-Semitism and the threat of lawsuits from the families of Sarkozy and Sebaoun-Darty, the editor of Charlie Hebdo asked Siné to apologize, though he refused.

Background: Jewish–Muslim violence in France

The Belleville section of Paris has been the site of clashes between young Jews and Muslims of North African origin on numerous occasions.

France is home to the third largest Jewish population in the world—after Israel and the United States—but it also has a reputation for anti-Semitism. Since the second Palestinian Intifada began in 2000, attacks against Jews have markedly increased in France and more Jews are leaving the country for Israel. A July 2008 article from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote, “Many French Jews say they no longer feel comfortable or welcome in France, particularly within the working-class suburbs of Paris, where many Muslim immigrants live.”

The International Herald Tribune also described the tension between Jews and North Africans in France in a March 2006 article. The friction breeds in communities with large Jewish populations, where North Africans moved in the 1950s and 60s. According to the Tribune, “Jew” is a commonly used epithet in working class suburbs of Paris where the two ethnic communities collide. “It’s blacks and Arabs on one side and Jews on the other,” said Sebastian Daranal, a young black man.

The Tribune indicates that it’s difficult for the French authorities to counter such a contentious atmosphere because of their own history of North African colonialism. “As long as anti-Semitism came from the extreme right there was a reaction,” said Barbara Lefébvre, a history teacher who has written on the subject. “But when it came from that part of the population that itself was a victim of racism, no one wanted to see it.”

Many factors are cited for the difficulties, including ill-feelings over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and economic troubles.

In June 2008 a Jewish teenager wearing a yarmulke was hospitalized after being attacked by a group of youngsters in the 19th Arrondissement of Paris; 23-year-old Ilan Halimi was beaten to death in the same suburb a year earlier. John Rosenthal of World Politics Review explained that French authorities painted the incident as one in a series of “clashes” between “youth gangs,” the Jews on the one side and black Arabs on the other.

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