French President Francois Hollande said his country must offer its protection to the French Jewish community, and vowed to introduce tougher penalties for "racist, anti-Semitic or homophobic" remarks in the wake of last month's militant attacks in Paris.
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Hollande spoke at the 30th annual dinner hosted by Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), the country's main Jewish organization. He called for "faster, more effective sanctions" against hate speech, the AFP reported, adding: "I want such speech to come under criminal law rather than press laws."
Hollande said anti-Semitism should be treated as an aggravating circumstance in the prosecution of all offences. Would-be jihadists would also face stiffer punishment under a draft intelligence bill to be unveiled next month, he said. "Jews are at home in France – it's the anti-Semites who have no place into the Republic", said Hollande.
Absent at the dinner was the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, who was outraged over comments by a Jewish community leader, Roger Cukierman, blaming young Muslims for anti-Semitic violence. Boubaker and other Muslim leaders refused to attend the dinner, though Cukierman said he was talking about a "very small minority" of Muslims.
The French Muslim Council (CFCM) denounced Cukierman's comments as unfounded, including his use of the expression ‘Islamo-fascism.’ Leaders of the CFCM have attended the event since the creation of the Council in 2003.
Cukierman explained later that he was specifically thinking of the authors of recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen who had "claimed allegiance" to Islam. "Jews and Muslims, we are all in the same boat", he said.
Hollande also noted that acts against Muslims are also on the rise in France.
Soldiers and police have been deployed outside synagogues and Jewish schools.since January's Paris attacks, in which 17 people were killed, including four Jews gunned down at a kosher supermarket.
Last month, the country's main Jewish group said the number of anti-Semitic acts doubled in France during 2014, with acts involving physical violence leading the increase.
France is home to Europe's largest Jewish population, estimated to be between 500,000 and 600,000, as well as the continent's largest Muslim population, estimated at around five million.
French migration to Israel hit a record high last year of 6,600 people, and many believe the trend will accelerate.
France is still on high alert following January's shooting rampage by three jihadists who attacked the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, the Jewish supermarket and police officers in a three-day campaign of terror. The attacks were the worst in France in decades.