(PARIS) — Paris judicial authorities opened an investigation Sunday into anti-Semitic remarks hurled at a noted philosopher during a yellow vest protest, an incident that raised national concerns about the movement’s ascendant radical fringe.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said the investigation was being conducted into “public insult based on origin, ethnicity, nationality, race or religion.”
A band of men taunted philosopher Alain Finkielkraut on the sidelines of a protest through the French capital Paris on Saturday. “Go back to Tel Aviv,” ”Zionist,” and “France is our land” were among the insults captured on video.
Finkielkraut, a member of the prestigious Academie Francaise, told French television station LCI on Sunday he doesn’t intend to file a complaint.
The scene was a vicious verbal interlude as thousands of protesters made their way through the Left Bank for the 14th Saturday in a row of demonstrations by the yellow vest movement.
Several thousand protesters gathered again in Paris on Sunday to mark the three-month anniversary of the yellow vest movement’s protests, which started Nov. 17 with nationwide protests of fuel tax increases.
The movement, which takes its name from the fluorescent safety vests many protesters wear and French motorists are required to carry, has lost steam and participants amid weekly vandalism and violence.
Police fired tear gas to disperse yellow vest protesters Saturday in Paris and other cities. In Lyon, a police van was attacked with two officers inside, shattering the windows.
An online invitation to Sunday’s main Paris march said, “Let’s stay peaceful.”
The verbal attack on Finkielkraut could risk further eroding the movement’s initially strong public support.
The movement has become the top domestic challenge for President Emmanuel Macron, who is accused by demonstrators accuse of favoring the haves over the have-nots.
Macron was quick to condemn the verbal attacks on Finkielkraut, along with other government officials.
Finkielkraut once showed sympathy for the movement but criticized it in a recent interview with daily newspaper Le Figaro.
“I want one thing, I want to know who they are….What movement do they belong to? That interests me,” Finkielkraut said on LCI.
“I’m neither a victim nor a hero,” he said, noting he was not physically attacked.
Arrests will be made based on France’s anti-racism law, said Laurent Nunez, the second-ranking official at the Interior Ministry. One suspect has been identified, Nunez said.
The insults came days after the government reported a huge jump in incidents of anti-Semitism last year, 541 registered incidents compared to 311 in 2017. Swastika graffiti was found Feb. 11 on street portraits of Simon Veil, a Holocaust survivor considered a French national treasure for her life’s work.
The yellow vest movement, which began as protests against a fuel tax hike, has broadened to include a range of concerns about France’s living standards and the economic stresses facing ordinary families.
It is now marked by growing divisions within its ranks. One yellow vest protester who has tried to put together a candidates list for the European Parliament election was heckled Sunday by detractors.