French Police Launch Search for ‘Yellow Vest’ Protesters Who Accosted Elderly Jewish Woman on Paris Metro
French police opened an investigation on Wednesday into allegations that an elderly Jewish woman was subjected to antisemitic invective while traveling on the Paris Metro last weekend, after she approached three supporters of the “yellow vests” social protest movement with a request to stop their abusive chants and gestures.
France’s interior minister, Christophe Castaner, described the incident as “vile and unbearable,” and promised that “everything will be done to identify these individuals.”
“They must answer for their abject acts,” Castaner wrote on Twitter as reports of the incident emerged on Sunday.
Since the appearance of the mass “yellow vests” protests in mid-November — named for the reflective yellow jackets worn by its participants, who initially came together to protest a now-withdrawn government fuel tax — concerns have risen about the violent behavior of some of the movement’s supporters, along with the infiltration of antisemitic elements from the far-left and right. A number of antisemitic and anti-Zionist signs have been spotted at the demonstrations, along with hundreds of similar posts by “yellow vests” supporters on social media.
Ten people have died in the unrest.
Among the movements’ most vocal backers is the viciously antisemitic comedian Dieudonné Mbala Mbala, the inventor of the quenelle — an inverted Hitler salute enthusiastically adopted by his admirers, hundreds of whom marched through the Montmartre district in the French capital on Saturday chanting Dieudonné’s “Song of the Quenelle.”
The incident involving the 74-year-old Jewish woman — named in the French press as “Agnes” — occurred following Saturday’s protests. According to Thibaut Chevillard, a journalist for the outlet 20 Minutes who was traveling in the same subway carriage, three inebriated men wearing yellow vests began chanting for the resignation of French President Emmanuel Macron while making the quenelle salute. On seeing this, Agnes rose from her seat and challenged the men, explaining that the salute was an antisemitic gesture and informing them that her own father had been deported to the Auschwitz death camp during World War II.
Chevillard said that no passengers came to the defense of Agnes as the three men berated her, demanding that she get off the train while mockingly denying the existence of the Nazi gas chambers.
Interviewed by Chevillard on Sunday, Agnes said she was proud that she had stood up to the three men, despite the potential danger she faced. “I never imagined that I was going to reason with them,” she said pointedly. But she also expressed a modicum of disappointment that her fellow travelers had not come to her defense. “They probably thought it was not worth answering,” she remarked.
On Monday, a spokesman for the “yellow vests” movement, Benjamin Cauchy, told French broadcaster BMFTV that antisemitism and racism had no place in the protests.
“These fanatics are messing up this popular movement,” Cauchy said. “We reject all racial discrimination, xenophobia, antisemitism.”