Gilets Jaunes: Is a yellow vest the new platform for anti-semitism?

Anti-Semitism has clouded society for centuries, but ever so more recently. From the UK’s Labour Party, to the Israeli-Palestine tensions, and, over the centuries, France. Unfortunately, anti-semites didn’t disappear with the death of Hitler or the end of France’s Vichy regime, and it seems that a world free of such hatred is a few generations to come at least.

The plague of anti-Semitism is a touchy nerve in French politics. Its history is painful, particularly that of the 1930s and ‘la collaboration’ during World War II. Anti-Semitism formed a great part of Marshal Petain’s government’s ideology - ‘l’idéologie de la Révolution nationale’. These views were not forced upon by the Germans, rather it was ‘state anti-Semitism’ carried out by the will of the French leaders. It played on the anti-Semitism already deep-rooted in French society and flourished particularly after the defeat to the Germans in May-June 1940.

Today, there’s a new wave of anti-Semitism arising on French soil. In 2017, almost 40% of violent acts deemed either racially or religiously motivated were committed against Jews, even though France’s Jewish population makes up less than 1%. Police statistics show that anti-Semitic acts in France have risen by 74% in 2018 alone. While in 2016, a 20% rise was described as “preoccupying” by the Interior Minister, just two years later Macron branded it “the worst resurgence of anti-Semitism since World War II”. His Prime Minister, Edouard Phillipe, even made a comparison to Kristallnacht (The Night of the Broken Glass) which saw the murder of at least 91 Jews, 67% of synagogues, and 85% of Jewish-owned businesses destroyed. It’s clear that such statements would never be made lightly.

Today there is no evil dictator or far-right government enforcing such views. Instead, it’s a problem within the French people themselves.

The Yellow Vests (‘gilets jaunes’) is a movement that arose in the wake of a green tax placed on fuel in late 2018.  The protestors were originally from rural areas who had to drive long distances as part of their everyday lives. Unable to afford the rise in fuel prices, protests sparked denouncing the new tax. However, as with many such movements, the demands grew. The protesters now demanded better standards of living and social welfare benefits among many other societal concerns.

Not all the protesters are violent, and the movement was largely supported by the French public. Polls conducted in early December 2018, show that 72% of French people support the Gilets Jaunes but 85% were against the violence. French authorities state that the majority of the violence is incited by anarchists known as ‘casseurs’. But what is the link between a movement about fuel tax and the rise of anti-Semitic hate crimes?

You can find the rest of this article in our September issue...