President Emmanuel Macron has promised to punish vandals who daubed swastikas on almost 100 graves at a Jewish cemetery in eastern France just hours before nationwide rallies to denounce an “unprecedented” wave of anti-Semitic acts.
"We shall act, we shall pass laws, we shall punish," Mr Macron told Jewish leaders while inspecting the 96 tombstones daubed with blue and yellow swastikas in the village of Quatzenheim, near the Alsatian city of Strasbourg.
His words came before almost all of France’s political leaders were due to convene at a march in Paris against a recent surge in anti-Semitic acts, which rose 74 per cent last year.
"Those who did this are not worthy of the Republic," said Mr Macron, later placing a white rose on a tombstone commemorating Jews deported to Germany during the Second World War. Another grave bore the words "Elsassisches Schwarzen Wolfe" ("Black Alsatian Wolves), a separatist group with links to neo-Nazis in the 1970s.
This is the second such cemetery in the area to be vandalised since December, along with a nearby monument to Holocaust victims.
Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded a Europe-wide response to anti-Semitism and his government's immigration minister later issued a call for French Jews to 'come home'.
Mr Macron was also due to pay his respects at the Paris Holocaust memorial on Tuesday ahead of the anti-racism marches, attended in Paris by the prime minister and leaders of all parties bar the far-Right National Rally, which will hold its own ceremony.
France has been appalled by a series of anti-Semitic acts in recent days, culminating last weekend in a violent barrage of insults against a prominent French writer at a yellow vest protest.
In the filmed incident, a man can be seen branding the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut a "dirty Zionist" and telling him "France belongs to us”.
While several high-profile yellow vests were due to attend the anti-hate marches, a recent Ifop poll of self-professed “gilets jaunes” found that nearly half those questioned believed in a worldwide "Zionist plot" and other conspiracy theories.
"The yellow vests aren't an anti-Semitic movement," said Jean-Yves Camus of the Political Radicalisation Observatory in Paris. "But it's a leaderless, horizontal movement... and extremist elements have been able to drown out the voices of its high-profile figures in the media," he told AFP.
Edouard Philippe, the prime minister, called for a “sacred union” against anti-Semitism, saying it had “very deep roots in French society”.
At more than half a million, France is home to Europe’s biggest Jewish community but anti-Semitic attacks remain common.
A rabbi and three children were killed at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 by an Islamist gunman, and in 2015 four Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris were among 17 people killed by Islamist militants. In 2006, 23-year-old Ilan Halimi was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by an anti-Semitic gang. A tree in his memory was hacked down this month.
In recent days, artwork on two Paris post boxes showing the image of Simone Veil, a Holocaust survivor and former magistrate, was defaced with swastikas, while a bagel shop was sprayed with the word "Juden", German for Jews, in yellow letters.
National Assembly president Richard Ferrand on Tuesday denounced “an unprecedented wave of anti-Semitic acts”.
Responding to the grave desecration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “I call on all French and European leaders to take a strong stand against anti-Semitism.”
His immigration minister, Yoav Galant, sent a tweet calling on French Jews to quit France and "come home" to Israel, where around 200,000 French Jews already live.
France's parliament on Tuesday debated whether anti-Zionism should be classified as a form of anti-Semitism, a stance Mr Macron said he opposes.