NBC News reports that five teenagers are being detained and questioned by French police in connection with hundreds of Jewish gravestones that were knocked over and defaced with swastikas and Nazi slogans.
According to Voz Iz Neias news service, the young men, all aged 15-17 were taken into custody after the youngest boy turned himself in to the police station. The boy was encouraged to surrender by a friend and was shocked by the massive reaction across the country to the vandalism. The boy purportedly denied any anti-Semitic leanings.
“Apparently, he was very, very affected by the scale of the reaction to this affair, including the statements from the highest state authorities,” Prosecutor Vannier told reporters.
On Sunday, more than 300 tombs were found desecrated in the Jewish cemetery in the eastern town of Sarre-Union. President Francois Hollande labelled the incident “odious and barbaric,” and Prime Minister Manuel Valls tweeted that the “vile, anti-Semitic act” was “an insult to memory.”
The teenagers’ time in custody had been extended by one day so officials could “understand the motivation behind the act before deciding on which charges will be filed,” an official at Vannier’s office said according to NBC.
“We don’t know the motives of these adolescents who don’t have past criminal records and we don’t know of any ideological convictions that could explain their behaviour. They are very very shocked by the turn of events,” Vannier told Voz Iz Neias.”
Under French law, the teenagers could face up to seven years in prison for “desecration of graves” and “degradation committed as a group.” The five boys pushed over tombstones in the cemetery and opened up vaults. A monument to the victims of the Holocaust at the entrance was also vandalized.
The cemetery has been vandalized in the past. In 1988, around 60 Jewish steles were knocked over, and 54 tombs were wrecked in 2001.
The vandalism comes on the heels of a fatal shooting in Copenhagen at a Jewish synagogue and just over a month after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. The gunmen in that attack took over a kosher supermarket, holding the customers hostage. The Islamist gunman shot dead four Jews during the incident, but was later killed by French police.
As reported by NBC News, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the opportunity to call on Europe’s Jews to emigrate.
“To the Jews of Europe and to the Jews of the world I say that Israel is waiting for you with open arms,” Netanyahu said.
The statement was met with irritation by Prime Minister Valls.
“The place for French Jews is France,” stressed Valls.
Valls also urged national “unity” in the face of what he called “Islamo-fascism,” a choice of words that has raised eyebrows in France.
“To combat Islamo-fascism, for that is what it should be called, our strength must come from unity,” he said.
France’s population contains Europe’s largest Jewish population, as well as the largest Muslim population. Exact figures are not available as the French state does not officially collect data on religious preferences.
Regrettably, anti-Semitic acts have doubled since 2014, and includes an increase in acts of physical violence. As a result, the number of French Jews emigrating to Israel has increased in recent years.
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