Paris prosecutors have opened an investigation into dozens of Stars of David daubed on buildings around the city and its suburbs, which have been widely seen as antisemitic and threatening Jews, amid the war between Israel and Hamas.
The French prime minister Elisabeth Borne condemned “the despicable acts”, saying they will not go unpunished.
Fresh stars were painted on the facades of several buildings in a southern district of Paris, while similar tags appeared over the weekend in suburbs of the city including Vanves, Fontenay-aux-Roses and Aubervilliers.
In the nearby town of Saint-Ouen they were accompanied by inscriptions such as “Palestine will overcome”.
Since the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel, French authorities have registered 857 antisemitic acts, interior minister Gérald Darmanin said on Tuesday. “That’s as many acts of antisemitism in three weeks as there have been so far this year,” he said.
Darmanin said police and judicial authorities have opened several investigations into the anti-Jewish graffiti around the capital and vowed to Jewish communities around France that “we will protect you, absolutely, completely, day and night.”
The union of jewish students of France said the graffiti was designed to mirror the way Jews were forced to wear the stars by the Nazi regime.
“This act of marking recalls the processes of the 1930s and the second world war which led to the extermination of millions of Jews,” its president Samuel Lejoyeux said.
“The people who did this clearly wanted to terrify,” he added.
The French prime minister told the National Assembly “The situation in the Middle East does not justify antisemitism … my government is determined to wage a merciless fight against it.”
Borne’s own father survived the Nazi death camp Auschwitz but then took his own life when she was 11.
“It is the duty of the Republic to protect all the Jews of France,” she said, adding that all those guilty should be arrested and convicted.
The mayor of Aubervilliers, Karine Franclet, condemned the graffiti as being “in total contradiction with the fundamental values that we hold, including tolerance, equality and mutual respect, particularly in the current context,” while Saint-Ouen mayor Karim Bouamrane said perpetrators must be punished by the courts “with the greatest severity”.
Charlotte Goujon, the mayor of Petit-Quevilly, a town in the region of Normandy north of Paris, told AFP she had filed a complaint after antisemitic symbols including swastikas had been discovered last week.
Many jewish people say they have felt unsafe in Paris since the violence flared in Israel.
Jacques Isaac Azeroual, a kosher butcher in the city’s 19th district, which has a large Jewish community, said his customers had fallen by half.
“People are demoralised. They are scared of going out to shop,” he told AFP, adding that he shuts an hour early and covers his kippa with a hat when he leaves for fear of aggression.
“They [the antisemitic incidents] were not triggered by indignation over the images from Gaza – the antisemitic acts began on 7 October, even before the Israeli response,” said president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, Yonathan Arfi.
Israel has been bombarding Gaza since the 7 October attacks by Hamas militants, which killed about 1,400 people, according to Israeli officials. More than 8,500 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Gaza, according to figures from the health ministry in the Hamas-controlled territory.
Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press contributed to this report