Antisemitic “Qui?” Movement Sweeps Over France Amid Covid-19 Mass Protests

A protest in Paris, France, against government-mandated Covid-19 health measures.

August 31, 2021

A troubling antisemitic trend has emerged in recent months at demonstrations in France against the government’s Covid-19 vaccination policies, and it is being monitored by the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) Information Hub, which vigilantly tracks developments that threaten the Jewish people.

While Holocaust trivialization has been seen worldwide over the past year and a half, with Nazi-era yellow Stars of David being appropriated as a protest symbol, adherents of the French “Qui?” (“Who?”) movement — who come from both extremes of the political spectrum — engage in explicit antisemitism, propagating conspiracy theories blaming Jews for the pandemic.

The “Qui?” phenomenon rapidly grew following a television interview in June in which Dominique Delawarde, a retired French army general, claimed that certain groups were controlling “the media pack in the world and in France.”

“Who are these people?” Delawarde asked sarcastically.

When pressed by his CNews interviewer to answer his own question, Delawarde said, “This is a community that you know very well.”

Soon after the interview, signs displaying the word “Qui?” began appearing at nationwide rallies — which have drawn tens of thousands of people to the streets — against the coronavirus health pass that is now required for many daily activities in France.

French prosecutors have opened hate speech and incitement of violence investigations into the signs, with police in Paris looking into whether the “Qui?” banner-wavers are “provoking public hate or violence against a group of people because of their origin, their belonging or not belonging to a particular ethnic group, a nation, a race or a religion.”

In early August, a schoolteacher and former far-right parliamentary candidate, Cassandre Fristot, was arrested for brandishing a homemade sign at a demonstration in the northeastern city of Metz that listed a group of mostly Jewish personalities as “traitors.” If convicted of the hate charges against her, Fristot faces a one-year jail sentence and a fine of up to 45,000 euros.

The antisemitic sign held by Cassandre Fristot at a demonstration in Metz, France.

There have also been multiple reports of vandalism incidents across France in which graffiti bearing Nazi symbols and the word “Qui?” have been scrawled on monuments, houses of worship, and medical facilities, among other public locations, with vaccination centers being a particularly frequent target.

In mid-August, for example, swastikas were daubed on a stone memorial to the late Auschwitz survivor and human rights icon Simone Veil in Brittany’s Perros-Guirec commune.

The defaced memorial to the late Auschwitz survivor and human rights icon Simone Veil in Perros-Guirec, France.

Among many other incidents, a gas pump was defaced with a Star of David and the word “Qui?” in Romans-sur-Isère and a public art display was vandalized in a similar manner, with swastikas added, in Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges.

The defaced gas pump in Romans-sur-Isère, France.
The vandalized public art display in Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, France.

Furthermore, incitement demonizing French Jewish doctors has intensified both online and off over the summer.

The “Qui?” trend comes amid an ongoing rise of antisemitic violence — from both the far-right and far-left, as well as Islamist elements — and neo-Nazi activities in France in recent times.

Two elderly Jewish women — Sarah Halimi and Mireille Knoll — were murdered in their Paris apartments in 2017 and 2018 by antisemitic assailants, and four Jewish shoppers were slain by an Islamist gunman at a kosher supermarket in the French capital in 2015.

Also, in the past three years, the populist “Yellow Vests” protests have featured prejudiced anti-Jewish rhetoric.

Speaking about the “Qui?” movement, Robert Ejnes — executive director of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF) — told The Guardian, “It is worrying not just for Jewish people but for the whole of French society because antisemitism is just the beginning of a process that leads to the expression of hate for the ‘other.’”

“These people are using all the antisemitic prejudices from the worst hours of the history of France and Europe, so of course this worries us,” he added. “What is increasingly worrying is [antisemitism] is considered increasingly normal, increasingly banal, in French society. We are seeing people openly expressing it and claiming it is freedom of speech.”

During times of global tumult like the world is currently experiencing, Jews are often the first targets of conspiratorial bigots seeking scapegoats for complex societal problems. This hatred must be confronted head-on, before it snowballs and endangers Jewish communities everywhere.