As France reels from the rape of a Jewish girl, anti-Semitism comes to the fore in the election campaign

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PARIS (AP) — The alleged rape of a 12-year-old Jewish girl in a suspected anti-Semitic attack has sent shockwaves across France and brought concerns about anti-Semitism to the fore campaigning for the country’s parliamentary elections.

The National Rally party, which has sought to shed its historic ties to anti-Semitism, will have its first real chance to form a government if it emerges victorious after the two rounds of elections ending on July 7 , as the polls predict. It would be the first far-right force to lead a French government since the Nazi occupation.

Far-left figures, meanwhile, have faced accusations of anti-Semitism related to their response Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel and the subsequent war.

The concerns emerged after two adolescent boys in a Paris suburb were handed preliminary charges this week of raping a 12-year-old girl and religiously motivated violence, prosecutors said. Lawyer and Jewish leader Elie Korchia told French broadcaster BFM that the girl is Jewish and that the word Palestine was mentioned during the attack.

Politicians from all sides were quick to comment on the attack, which caused widespread shock and concern, especially after a wave of protests. anti-Semitic acts in France since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war.

France has the largest Jewish population in Europe, but given its own collaboration with the Nazis during World War II, anti-Semitic acts today are opening up old scars. France also has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, and anti-Muslim acts have increased in recent years.

On Wednesday evening, hundreds of people gathered in front of Paris City Hall to protest anti-Semitism. Many in the crowd held signs, including some with the slogan “raped because she’s Jewish.” Further protests are planned for Thursday evening at Place de la Bastille.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal wrote on Emmanuel Macron called on schools to hold a “discussion hour” on racism and anti-Semitism.

Jordan Bardella, president of the National Rally, said that if elected he would “fight the anti-Semitism that has plagued France since October 7.” In the wake of reports of the attack, Bardella announced that his party was withdrawing support for one of its candidates over an anti-Semitic social media post posted in 2018.

His predecessor as party chairman and presidential candidate of the National Rally for 2022, Marine Le Penaccused the “far left” of “stigmatizing Jews” and “instrumentalizing” the Israeli-Hamas conflict.

Left-wing leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon denounced “anti-Semitic racism”, although the France Unbowed party, which he previously led, itself faced accusations of anti-Semitism in connection with the war between Israel and Hamas.

While the alleged rape has increased tensions over anti-Semitism in France ahead of the June 30 and July 7 two-round parliamentary elections, it is far from a new issue in French politics.

More than 180,000 people across France, including 100,000 in Paris, marched in November to protest rising anti-Semitism in the wake of Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas in Gaza – the largest gathering to denounce anti-Semitism in France since a 1990 demonstration against the desecration of a Jewish cemetery.

Together with then Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and representatives of various other parties, Le Pen attended the march amid fierce criticism that her once pariah National Rally party had failed to shake off its anti-Semitic legacy despite growing political legitimacy.

Borne, the daughter of a Jewish Holocaust survivor, tweeted that “the presence of the National Rally does not fool anyone.”

Party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen’s father, was repeatedly convicted of anti-Semitic hate speech and downplayed the scale of the Holocaust. Marine Le Pen – runner-up in the last two presidential elections and likely a top candidate in 2027 – has worked to burnish the party’s image, kicking out her father and changing its name from Front National to National Rally.

Attal announced in May that “366 anti-Semitic acts” were recorded between January and March this year, a 300% increase compared to the first three months of 2023.

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Morton reported from London.

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