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Attacks play into Le Pen's hands

By CNN's Chris Burns

SARCELLES, France (CNN) -- A wave of anti-Semitic attacks has hit France in recent weeks, most of them linked to the Mideast crisis.

The attacks were fueled by anti-Israeli anger -- and played into the hands of far-right presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Since Israel launched its offensive in the Palestinian territories in the wake of deadly suicide attacks, attacks on Jewish targets in France have skyrocketed -- especially on soft targets.

"They cannot attack the Israeli Embassy or Israeli company in Paris, so they attack the Jews and their symbols," says Marc Knobel of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

More than 300 incidents have been reported since March 29, when Israel's offensive began -- this, as Le Pen made it to the May 5 runoff against conservative President Jacques Chirac.

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Is there any connection between the attacks and Le Pen's success? Are they both signs of rising anti-Semitism?

Jewish leaders here say it's more complicated than that. They see the attacks playing into the hands of Le Pen, who promises a crackdown on crime.

"Those attacks and burning synagogues, etc., entered into the framework of law and order, disorder, what is the government going to do, etc.," says Emmanuel Weintraub of the Council of Jewish Institutions in France.

Le Pen denies accusations he's an anti-Semite, although he was fined for calling Hitler's gas chambers a detail of history.

Still, Jewish leaders don't see him firing up anti-Semitism.

"Le Pen is in a difficult situation," says Rabbi Michael Williams. "He hates Jews and he hates Arabs. And he doesn't know who he hates most. I rather think he hates Arabs more than Jews for the moment."

Some Jewish leaders blame French media criticism of Israel's offensive for inspiring the attacks. They also blame deeper problems among France's Arab population of 5 million.

"It is a problem of integration," says Weintraub. "They don't feel integrated. Even if they go to school, they say they're short of jobs. And this is a way of expressing their disenchantment."

Many of France's 700,000 Jews are hopeful the attacks will taper off. But if they don't?

"If we have 10 anti-Semitic acts by day, what I make personally?" asks Knobel. "If I stay in this country, in the country of human rights; I'm French and I love my country. Or I go alone. And sometimes I think of this, and it's very terrified for me."

It's a terrifying thought most find hard to believe, but which remains in the backs of their minds.




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