PARIS – Anti-Semitism is a reality in France, a government spokesman said Tuesday, seeking to focus attention on a surge in hate crimes and away from doubt over an alleged attack on a woman and her infant.
Four days after a 23-year-old woman said she was the victim of an anti-Semitic attack (search) that stunned France, police had no witnesses and few clues, and the media suggested she had a history of filing false reports.
Government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope assured that "light would be shed on this affair" once investigators had finished their work and reiterated calls for anyone with information to step forward.
Both France-Info radio and the television station LCI reported Monday that the young woman had filed several complaints for violence and aggression in the past that never proved true. Neither provided sources, but LCI said she had filed six such complaints. That information could not be immediately confirmed.
Despite the doubts being cast on the woman's report, officials continued to issue statements of shock and assurances that anti-Semitism would not be tolerated.
Whether the woman's account proved true or not, Cope said, has little bearing on France's need to act against growing intolerance toward minorities and the violence that stems from it.
"The explosion of the number of racist and anti-Semitic acts committed in our country in the last few years is a reality that we must combat," Cope told RTL radio.
The Interior Ministry released figures last week showing that hate crimes had spiked in the first half of the year. There were 510 anti-Jewish acts or threats in the first six months of 2004 — nearly as many as in all of last year, 593.
Racist attacks were up, too: There were 95 attacks and 161 threats through June, compared with 232 total such crimes reported in 2003.
Friday's alleged attack against the young woman in a suburban Paris train drew fierce condemnation from politicians and Jewish groups.
"Beyond the considerable emotion that a story like this provokes, there is a reality," said Cope, who is also adjunct interior minister. "This reality, no matter what, should not be concealed."
The woman told police she was robbed by a gang of six young men, who cut open her shirt with knives, drew swastikas (search) on her body after mistaking her for a Jew, and overturned her stroller, causing her infant to tumble out. Neither she nor the child were seriously hurt.
The woman told police the men were of North African and African origin and that none of about 20 witnesses came to her rescue.
Newspapers gave the story front-page prominence Monday with headlines like "The Train of Hate."
On Tuesday, front pages were universally skeptical. "Questions on an attack," blared the newspaper Liberation, which said the woman's account was full of "gray areas" and "contradictions."
Surveillance cameras at the station where the culprits reportedly left the train showed no young men running from the scene, and none of the purported 20 witnesses have come forward despite repeated calls from officials and promises of anonymity.