Paris (CNSNews.com) - Racist attacks in France quadrupled in 2002 and included an "explosion" of anti-Semitic acts, according to a new report.
The study, released Thursday by the independent National Consulting Committee on Human Rights, said that 313 acts of racist violence were committed last year and that more than half were anti-Semitic in nature.
Six times more anti-Semitic attacks occurred last year than in 2001.
Gerard Fellous, the committee's secretary general, said the report shows the French government must reinforce its fight against racism.
"The justice system must punish those perpetrating the crimes, and there should be a campaign of prevention, education and mediation in schools and in the streets to make people understand that these are not just banal acts," he said.
Fellous said anti-Semitic attacks showed a particularly strong rise in the spring of 2002, when a resurgent Palestinian Intifada resulted in suicide attacks against Israel.
Michel Zaoui, a lawyer on the executive committee of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF), said the report's conclusions gave him cause to worry. The study brings to light a reality that was not apparent in public opinion and government policy, Zaoui said.
"France is not an anti-Semitic country," he said, "but there has been a shift in anti-Semitic attitudes over the past few years from the far right to the left and the extreme left.
"The previous leftist government didn't do anything to discourage anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propositions by militant Islamic preachers, in part because their philosophy was to show sympathy to the 'damned' and poor. Now, the rightist government would like to act but is afraid of antagonizing Muslims," Zaoui said.
Upon receiving the report, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin stated that war in Iraq could increase tensions in France between Muslims and Jews.
"We must prevent international tensions from transferring over to our national community," Raffarin said in a statement on his website.
France has an estimated Muslim population of five million, many of whom are second-generation immigrants from North Africa, but it is also home to the largest Jewish population in Western Europe.
The prime minister also condemned last weekend's attacks on young Jewish students by Arab youth at a peace demonstration in Paris, saying the attacks were "unacceptable" and "intolerable."
On Thursday, a student demonstration in Strasbourg was broken up by police when violence erupted amidst chanting of "Allah Akbar" and "Bush, Sharon, Hitler, where's the difference?"
The report was issued along with a BVA poll that found racism was hardly on the minds of many French people.
Concern about racism came in seventh place on a list of social issues after unemployment, security, AIDS and drugs, even though a majority of those polled acknowledged that racism was widespread in France.
About half of those polled said they would not alert police if they witnessed a racist incident, and only five percent of those polled thought Jews might be targets of racist crimes.
Other acts of violence recorded in the report were mostly against the immigrant Muslim population, and many of those aggressors were members of far-right groups such as the Front National, whose candidate was defeated by President Jacques Chirac in last year's elections.
The report also recorded 992 racist "menaces" - or less severe racially motivated crimes - including graffiti, insults, leaflets and intimidation. That figure was three times higher than in 2001.
A government source said the prime minister was studying the report to determine further action, which would include previously announced initiatives in schools. A series of actions to attempt to bring together France's various communities will be announced on April 10.
See Earlier Story:
French Anti-War Protests Lead to Anti-Jewish Violence (March 27, 2003)
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