Alleged rape of 12-year-old Jewish girl sparks antisemitism outcry in France

The alleged gang-rape of a 12-year-old Jewish girl in northern France has triggered an outcry over surging antisemitism in the country, a key issue in the looming French parliamentary elections this month.

Politicians from all sides have weighed in on the alleged attack, with French President Emmanuel Macron condemning a “scourge of antisemitism” that he said is festering in French schools, and far-right leaders placing blame on the left for failing to take anti-semitism seriously enough.

The Nanterre prosecutor’s office announced Wednesday that it has launched an inquiry into the alleged “aggravated rape” of a minor, after receiving “reports from a 12-year-old girl” of the incident on June 15.

Three boys, aged 12 and 13, have been taken into custody, the prosecutor also said.

Whether the girl was targeted for her religion is part of the probe, with two of the boys now being investigated for aggravated gang rape of a minor, group violence against a minor for reasons of religion, death threats and insult for reasons of religion, according to the prosecutor’s statement.

The third boy has been placed under “assisted witness” status in relation to the alleged rape, the prosecutor added.

The alleged attack took place as the girl tried to return home after meeting a friend. Two boys approached her and attempted to block her path outside her house. After a third boy arrived, the group began to physically attack the girl, hurling antisemitic insults at her, BFMTV reported, citing police sources.

The girl received several death threats and one of the boys called her a “dirty Jew,” according to the account reported by BFMTV.

Antisemitic incidents have increased by 284% in France between 2022 and 2023, according to data from the French interior ministry. In 2023, antisemitic acts constituted 60% of all anti-religious acts, compared to 26% in 2022, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told the French Senate earlier this year.

Growing fears of an antisemitism problem

The incident has sparked an intense political debate on what politicians have described as a spiraling antisemitism problem in France linked to Israel’s war in Gaza.

On Wednesday, Jordan Bardella, the far-right firebrand hoping to score big wins for his National Rally party in the upcoming elections, pledged to tackle antisemitism if elected in three weeks’ time. “Since October 7, an atmosphere of anti-Semitism has spread and developed in an extremely worrying manner in our country, which we must combat,” Bardella told reporters.

Bardella’s party colleague and far-right juggernaut, Marine Le Pen said in a post on X that the attack revolted members of her party, highlighting the uptick in antisemitic incidents across the country.

French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris, France on June 20, 2024. - André Pain/Pool/AFP/Getty Images
French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris, France on June 20, 2024. - André Pain/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Le Pen said the recent surge in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war reveals a worrying “stigmatization” of Jewish people which “everyone should be fully aware of” when hitting the ballot boxes on June 30 and July 7.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal meanwhile described the incident as a “despicable” and took direct aim at his left-wing political opponent, Jean-Luc Melenchon, whom he accused of previously downplaying the severity of antisemitism in France by describing it as a “residual” issue.

Politicians in France have a “responsibility” to ensure that antisemitic rhetoric does not become “trivialized,” Attal said in an interview with TF1 Info Wednesday, warning that if trivialized it can lead young people in particular to “the worst.”

Melenchon for his part said he was “horrified by this rape,” saying in a social media post that “it put under a concerning spotlight the conditioning of criminal male behavior from a young age, and antisemitic racism.”

Voter anger over the issue appeared clear on Wednesday, as demonstrators gathered outside Paris’s city hall on, according to reporting from BFMTV.

Protesters carried placards with slogans such as “Raped at 12 because she was Jewish,” and “Anti-Semitism is not residual,” and listened to speeches from Jewish rights activists in attendance.

“All light must be shed on the circumstances of this crime, including its anti-Semitic nature, if this is confirmed,” the main Jewish interest group in France, the Conseil représentatif des institutions juives de France (CRIF) said.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the number of boys under investigation for alleged gang-rape.

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