Paris – France’s new education minister, Gabriel Attal, may not be halachically Jewish, his father is a Jewish movie producer, his mother an Orthodox Christian, but the 34-year-old rising star of French politics has faced antisemitic attacks at every stage of his career.
When President Emmanuel Macron reshuffled his cabinet last month with his prime minister Elisabeth Borne, they promoted Attal to the education portfolio, replacing Pap Ndiaye, who had struggled with the many crises in French schools and universities, including violence and a shortage of teachers.
The appointment triggered a barrage of hate messages on social media, where Attal was also attacked for being gay and accused of belonging to a secret lobby.
Conservative former minister and MP Philippe de Villiers tweeted: “The nomination of Gabriel Attal to replace Pap Ndiaye is the catastrophe of the summer. We’re moving from woke to LGBT.
“Attal is an activist and a key member of the Bilderberg group, he is in favour of Re-education. Macron did his work for the summer: changing society.”
When public figures criticised the homophobic message, they sparked a wave of antisemitic comments against Attal and those of his backers who are Jewish.
A neo-Nazi website, Dempart, declared of Stéphane Manigold, the owner of several restaurants and a talk show guest: “Even he stopped counting his money for a few seconds to tweet.”
Other messages targeted philosopher Raphael Enthoven and Shannon Seban, a city councillor from Macron’s party: “If you forget she’s Jewish for a second, her nose brutally reminds you.”
The site also hailed the assassination during the Second World War of Jean Zay, a Jewish former education minister who was arrested after escaping to North Africa to try to organise the Resistance. A judicial investigation was opened after a complaint from Seban.
Attal did not react to the messages. Instead, he got down to work, announcing two decrees that would strengthen the fight against bullying in school and online.
Bullying is a growing problem, but schools usually refuse to expel children who have harassed others. Several teenagers have committed suicide after being bullied and the government has declared the fight against bullying a priority.
“At present, children who have been bullied are pushed to leave their schools. This will now change,” Attal told French media.
Many Jewish children bullied and assaulted in their schools have been forced to leave, and their families have moved out of certain areas altogether, including towns on the northern outskirts of Paris. The decree, once it is passed, may be a positive step but experts say much more needs to be done to stamp out violence and antisemitism.
Attal was one of the first people to back Macron when he decided to run for president in 2017. Weeks after Macron took over the presidency, Attal was elected as an MP and, at 29, he became the youngest minister under the Fifth Republic, in charge of youth issues.
He later took on the post of government spokesperson during the Covid crisis, and was then named minister of public accounts, a strategic job previously held by three former presidents.
“My father told me once: ‘You may not be Jewish, son (I am an Orthodox Christian), but you will always feel solidarity with the Jewish people because you will always face antisemitism due to your name’,” Attal told the magazine Gala. “And indeed, I have often faced antisemitism without complaining.”
He added: “So many people suffer from discrimination without getting the same support and protection as I have.” Attal says he gets “bucketloads of vomit” from haters online, but one attack on his father, Yves, was particularly painful. It came from an arch-enemy from high school, Juan Branco, now a lawyer, in a book after Yves Attal died from cancer.
“He wrote that I was relieved when my father died, because according to him I could live my homosexuality more openly,” Attal told the newspaper Liberation.
“My father suffered from a brutal cancer and passed away so quickly. Before he died I told him in hospital that I had met someone. He answered, ‘You’re telling me this now? I always knew. I hope to get out of hospital by Sunday so we’ll invite him for brunch.’ But that brunch never happened.”
Attal is in a civil union with Stéphane Séjourné, a member of the European Parliament for Macron’s party La République en Marche.