France ‘at war with Islamo-fascism’, says prime minister

Desecration of Jewish cemetery has compounded shock at attacks in Copenhagen, writes Lara Marlowe

France was still reeling at similarities between the attacks in Copenhagen and events in Paris last month when it was announced late on Sunday that a Jewish cemetery in Alsace had been desecrated.

The wrought-iron gate of the cemetery in the town of Sarre-Union had been knocked down. Some 250 of its 400 headstones were pushed over, and a holocaust memorial was broken into pieces. Mausoleums were broken into, although the remains inside them were not disturbed.

"The republic will not tolerate this new wound that harms the values which all French people share," said interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

Reacting to the crime, prime minister Manuel Valls said on Monday: "My message to Jews is that France loves you. I feel profound disgust. The foundations of our civilisation are being destabilised."


Referring to the attacks in Copenhagen, Valls said France is at war with “Islamo-fascism”, both within and outside the country.

Mr Valls objected to Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's appeal to the Jews of Europe to move to Israel. "A Jew who leaves is a piece of France that is lost . . . Just because one is in an election campaign doesn't mean one should make such statements," Mr Valls said, referring to Israel's March 17th legislative elections.

President Francois Hollande will visit the graveyard in Alsace, where 400 Jews are buried, on Tuesday. Only two Jewish families remain in the town. "We're not in Prague during the second World War, where they paved the streets with Jewish tombstones. We're in France!" said Jacques Wolff, whose family are interred in Sarre-Union.

The arrest of five suspects, all youths aged between 15 and 17, on Monday, left officials perplexed. The youth who first turned himself in said he was not in any way motivated by anti-Semitism. Local officials said the accused were “from families who originate in the region”, which seemed to exclude the children of Muslim immigrants.

The cemetery had been desecrated twice before. In May 1988, 60 headstones were overturned and 11 broken. In 2001, 54 headstones were knocked down. Jewish and Muslim cemetaries have been repeatedly desecrated in Alsace over the past 20 years. In 2004, 127 graves in the Jewish cemetery at Herrlisheim-pres-Colmar were covered with anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi graffiti.

Whatever the motivation of the youths accused of vandalising the cemetery, the desecration has further traumatised France’s 500,000-strong Jewish community. Four Jews were killed in the siege of the Hyper Casher supermarket in Paris on January 9th.

The Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France reports that anti-Semitic acts doubled in number last year. The increase was particularly high during and after last summer’s Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip.

"The killer in Copenhagen had chosen his targets: a cartoonist, Jews, police," said Le Figaro's front-page editorial. "Exactly like Paris, a month ago." The Paris killers were Muslims born in France, who had served time in prison. The murderer in Copenhagen was born there, and had also been in prison.

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is an Irish Times contributor