When Ethel Scetbon told her parents she wanted to change the shape of her nose, her parents took it in their stride. "I thought it was typical teenage angst," said her mother, Nathalie, 48.

A year earlier, Ethel, 15, had started classes in a state secondary school in the cosseted Le Marais district of Paris.

But in the space of a year, she went from enjoying classes to deep unhappiness. It took her parents months to realise she was being made the target of anti-Semitic harassment.

As staunch defenders of France's secular system, in which religion plays no part in state education, it hadn't occurred to them that their Jewishness would make Ethel a target. The bourgeois Le Marais, in the heart of Paris, is home to the Jewish quarter and famed for its tolerance.


But her daughter was being bullied by a pupil. "He threw scrunched-up paper swastikas, sang Nazi songs and told her Hitler should have finished off the job," said Nathalie. This autumn, Ethel starts classes at a liberal Jewish school in south-eastern Paris.

There is mounting anecdotal evidence that French Jews are taking their children out of state schools at least partly due to fears of anti-Semitism, with the European Jewish Congress warning of a new education "ghetto" being created.

At Ethel's school in le Marais her bully was also found to be sexually harassing other girls. He was eventually expelled.

France recorded a rise of 74 per cent in anti-Semitic incidents from 2017 to 2018. Eric Ciotti, a conservative French MP, blamed the rise of Islamist fundamentalism in "banlieues", the areas ringing France's big cities. He claimed that in the schools of Seine-Saint-Denis, the high-immigrant suburb north-east of Paris, "there is barely a single Jewish child left".

A man at the rally against anti-Semitism in February following a significant increase in anti-Semitic acts in France. Photo / Getty
A man at the rally against anti-Semitism in February following a significant increase in anti-Semitic acts in France. Photo / Getty

Many Jewish families switch to private schools for positive reasons, said Elodie Marciano, of Choose Jewish Schools, but admitted there was a "growing sense of insecurity, a heavy atmosphere that is pushing parents to take pre-emptive action".

In Belgium, anti-Semitic incidents against its 35,000 Jews doubled in 2018, to more than 100.

In Brussels, where a jihadist terrorist murdered four people at the Jewish Museum, it is not unusual to see armed guards at buildings with Jewish links.

Mehdi Nemmouche was jailed for life for the attack. The case highlighted the link between extremist Islam and anti-Semitism. In January the Muslims of Belgium executive apologised after an old video re-emerged of an imam calling for the "burning" of Zionists.


Mohamed Toujgani, of the al-Khalil mosque, apologised for the video, but the scandal raised fears after Belgian government raids at some mosques found anti-Semitic literature calling for the destruction of Israel.

Francis Kalifa, head of the French Jewish umbrella group CRIF, pointed out the more insidious rise of what he called "everyday anti-Semitism".

He said recent headlines focused on terror attacks: a shooting at a Jewish school in 2012; the killing of Jews at a Kosher supermarket in eastern Paris in 2015; the murder of two pensioners in their homes - Sarah Halimi and Mireille Knoll, a Holocaust survivor.

"Everyday anti-Semitism, however, doesn't kill," he said. "It is not spectacular, it's small things: mockery, pushing and shoving, knowing smiles in stairwells, stolen letters from postboxes, graffiti on cars."

Anti-Semitic incidents in 2018 increased by 74 per cent with 541 incidents, up from 311 in 2017, the Kantor Report found. "What is equally worrying is that the figures for the first half of 2019 are as high," said Mr Kalifa. Frédéric Potier, the head of a government body created to fight racism and anti-Semitism, said until now, most anti-Semitism in France came from Islamism and was linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But he blamed the recent explosion in hate speech on social media.

"Online platforms are a fertile ground for hatred, and it increasingly spills out in the public sphere," he said.

Millions tune into extreme-Right, anti-Jewish polemist Alain Soral's online rants. He has claimed on his website that "Jews are manipulative, dominant and hateful".

Politically, the far Right has the wind in its sails in France; Marine Le Pen's National Rally (RN) came first in European Parliament elections in May.

In February, she leapt to the defence of French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut after he was subjected to anti-Semitic abuse during a "yellow vests" protest. But Mr Finkielkraut warned that even if it had changed its tune, RN is also careful not to cut all ties with Soral and other high-profile members of what critics call the French "fachosphere".

Delphine Horvilleur, a rabbi with the Liberal French Jewish Movement in Paris, said: "In France, we're going through an unprecedented situation with an extreme weakening of the Left and Right and an alliance of extreme discourse." Mr Kalifa said this had a knock-on effect. "First we have seen children being taken out of state schools, but the next stage was entire families leaving neighbourhoods they were born in en masse," he said.

Some banlieues have emptied while the Jewish population of the 17th arrondissement of Paris, for example, has gone from a few thousand to 45,000 and from one synagogue to 15.

This all chimes with a survey that found 40 per cent of millennial Jewish Europeans were considering leaving the country as they felt unsafe.

Mouchka Tevel, who runs the Jewish school Chné-Or of 700 pupils in Aubervilliers, Paris, said the school roll, "due to cases of anti-Semitism", had shot up so much that the school was thinking of building a new wing.

Raya Kalenova, a vice president of the European Jewish Congress, said the escalation in anti-Semitism in France and Belgium had left Jewish parents feeling "obliged to put their children in the ghetto". She added: "It's hard to imagine it could happen 75 years after the Holocaust. It's unbelievable."

However, Patrick Petit-Ohayon, head at the United Social Jewish Fund, which oversees 32,000 Jewish pupils, urged caution. He said the migration from state schools was no "tidal wave", although he agreed there had been an uptick of late.

- The Daily Telegraph