Anti-Semitic comments directed at a Jewish participant of Miss France raises broader questions about racism in the country.
When April Benayoum, 21, thought of running for Miss France 2021, she would not have thought about contending against virulent antisemitism.
Yet Benayoum, the runner-up to Miss France 2021 has had to deal with a deluge of anti-semitic abuse on social media after divulging that her father was Israeli.
France's hardline Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin condemned the attacks claiming to be “deeply shocked” at the incident. Darmanin went on to warn that the police have been mobilised against the perpetrators.
Marseille have explained why they didn't take the knee against Manchester City: “The gesture is an American one and the current situation in France is really different than in the UK. We don't adapt US habit as easily as in the UK.”— FutbolBible (@FutbolBible) December 18, 2020
What are your thoughts? ? pic.twitter.com/ft7RXpQxZp
Some of the abuse warned viewers against voting “for a Jew” while other anti-Semitic slurs suggested that “Hitler forgot this one.”
The tweets were widely condemned by Jewish groups with one calling the torrent of abuse “horrific.”
In an interview following the abuse that overshadowed the competition, Benayoum said she only became aware of the abuse after being told by relatives.
“It is sad to witness such behaviour in 2020,” she said, adding that “I obviously condemn these comments, but it does not affect me at all.”
The French-based organisation, the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, said that the online comments following the Miss France competition had "turned Twitter into an anti-Semitic cesspool.”
The online campaign of abuse directed at Benayoum was not the first time that a woman appearing on French TV has seen abuse and racism hurled at them because of their background.
“There are human rights issues and an issue of racism in France, and at the same time there is a terrorist threat in France. We can’t oppose one to the other.” https://t.co/DfUIK8KNh8— The Intercept (@theintercept) December 14, 2020
When French-Muslim Mennel Ibtissem in 2018 captivated audiences in the reality TV show, The Voice, her hijab became an immediate focus for abuse.
A campaign to get the 22-year-old singer kicked off the show saw hundreds of people call the show asking for her to be removed.
Unlike Benayoum, who has seen government officials come out in support for her, Ibtissem, succumbed to the pressure from the prevailing anti-Muslim sentiment in France and left the show.
An anti-racism activist at the time argued that “In France, we are not accustomed to seeing hijabi women on prime-time television. Their presence still causes shock and anxiety.”
When the hijabi student union leader, Maryam Pougetoux, appeared on television defending students rights, her mere presence “shocked” the then French Interior Minister.
And the then Secretary of State for Equality between Women and Men Marlene Schiappa condemned the student union for allowing someone with a headscarf to represent them as a spokesperson.
The abuse that followed saw Pougetoux’s details, including her phone number being published online.
More recently one of France’s most outspoken anti-racism activists and Washington Post (and in the recent past at TRT World) op-ed contributor, Rokhaya Diallo, was also the subject of racism on a national radio station.
Diallo, a Black French woman of African descent, was described as ungrateful after she spoke out against France’s systemic racism.
"Without France Madame Diallo would be in Africa with 30kg more, 15 kids,” said one of the commentators adding that she would be “waiting for her husband to give her his turn between the four other wives."
The writer and activist called the comments “filthy.” But together, the experiences of strong female voices from ethnic minority backgrounds on French TV is one that French society and politicians have found hard to accept.
The backlash that women of colour, visibly religious women or women from an ethnic minority face for appearing on national television sends a stark warning to other women who want to make their voices heard.
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