The French authorities opened an investigation on Sunday into “yellow-vest” protesters who were filmed shouting anti-Semitic insults at a leading writer and philosopher.
Police intervened to protect Alain Finkelkraut, 69, after a group of “yellow vests” started yelling furiously at him on the sidelines of a protest in Paris on Saturday.
Video footage posted on social media and broadcast on French television showed the protesters bellowing phrases including “dirty Zionist”, “France is ours” and “Go back to Tel Aviv”.
The incident provoked outrage across the political spectrum and raised concern about radical factions of the “yellow-vests”, a grassroots movement that has no formal leadership.
Mr Finkelkraut said: “I felt absolute hatred and, unfortunately, this is not the first time.”
The Yellow Vest protests
He had previously expressed sympathy with the “yellow vests” but criticised them in an interview published in Le Figaro newspaper on Saturday, saying that “arrogance has changed sides”.
He said he came across the protesters as he was walking home and approached them out of curiosity. He told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper that not all of them were hostile. He said one suggested that he put on a yellow vest and join the demonstration, and another praised his work.
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, tweeted: “The anti-Semitic insults he was subjected to are the absolute negation of what we are and what makes us a great nation. We will not tolerate them.”
The French interior minister said anti-Semitism was “spreading like poison” last week, with a 74-per-cent increase in offences against Jews in 2018.
The “yellow vest” protests began three months ago over fuel taxes but have broadened into a more general anti-government revolt. Some yellow vests have used antisemitic tropes to refer to Mr Macron and his former job as a Rothschilds banker.
Yellow vest protesters clash with police in France, in pictures
Mr Finkelkraut, the son of Polish Jewish immigrants whose father survived the Auschwitz concentration camp, is a controversial figure.
Critics have accused him of views verging on Islamophobia and racism, which he has always denied.
Even his critics, however, expressed indignation at the abuse on Saturday. Ian Brossat, a prominent French Communist, said: “We can hate Finkelkraut’s ideas [but] nothing can justify attacking him as a Jew.”
In 2005, Mr Finkelkraut apologised for describing France’s diverse football team as “black, black, black”, — a pun on the expression “black, blanc, beur”, meaning “black, white, Arab”, coined after its 1998 World Cup victory. He said his words in a newspaper interview had been taken out of context.
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