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Friday, February 13, 2004

Antisemitism in France

"What's wrong with my pen? It's a Jew."
IHT: ... While the public discussion focuses on France's vaunted secularism, on women's rights and the definitions of Frenchness, racism is a silent but powerful undercurrent propelling the debate.

It is an undercurrent that Sarah Aguado, a precocious 13-year-old, knows well. As the only Jew in a school with a large Muslim minority, she was repeatedly insulted and attacked and finally forced to flee.

Classmates called her a "dirty Jew." One student slapped her and made a racist remark. Another asked whether her family in Israel "owned guns and killed Palestinians." Sarah stopped eating and had nightmares, her mother said. Five weeks ago, mother and daughter moved to the south of France, where Sarah enrolled in a new school, relieved to exit the "catastrophic" situation.

As France's National Assembly passed a law Tuesday banning head scarves and other religious symbols from the classroom, teachers and Jewish groups said that the larger problem of anti-Semitism in French schools remains deeply ingrained and would not be solved simply by banning religious headgear.

Anti-Semitism is so prevalent in some of the housing projects that ring Paris and other major French cities that "it's become infused into the language," according to Barbara Lefebvre, a history teacher at a French public school.

"Just about every week I see students in my class - where there are no Jews - insulting each other by saying, 'Stop it, you Jew.' Or 'No, you can't borrow my pen, it's not yours, Jew.' Or if their pen is broken they'll say: 'What's wrong with my pen? It's a Jew.'

"When you point it out, they say, 'This is just a way of speaking.'"...