The runner-up of the Miss France 2021 competition has been subjected to a torrent of anti-Semitic abuse on social media, promoting outrage and a police investigation.
April Benayoum, 21, was awarded second place in the pageant during a televised ceremony on Saturday. She revealed her Israeli origins in an interview at the event, leading to anti-Semitic attacks on Twitter, the tweets were widely condemned by French politicians and Jewish groups. In an interview with the Var-Martin newspaper, Ms Benayoum said she heard about the anti-Jewish insults from her relatives. “It is sad to witness such behaviour in 2020,” said Ms Benayoum, who represented the south-eastern region of Provence in the contest. “I obviously condemn these comments, but it does not affect me at all.”
France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said he was “deeply shocked by the rain of anti-Semitic insults” against Ms Benayoum. “We must not let anything go,” he wrote in a tweet, adding that police were looking into the abusive tweets.
The organisers of the competition denounced the “hate speech” against Ms Benayoum, saying it was “totally contrary to the values of the channel, the production and the show”. Miss France 2021 was celebrated as the centenary edition of the pageant, which was founded in 1920 by the journalist Maurice de Waleffe. Amandine Petit, or Miss Normandy, was crowned this year’s winner, beating a field of 29 contestants to win a cash prize, use of a Paris apartment and a monthly salary for one year. She told France’s BFM TV the “inappropriate remarks” were “extremely disappointing” to see. Politicians expressed solidarity too. Minister of citizenship Marlene Schappia tweeted that the beauty competition was “not a contest of anti-Semitism”.
Renaud Muselier, a former French member of the European Parliament from the Provence region, “called the attack an “abomination”. He emphasised that Ms Benayoum was “French, of Italian and Israeli origin, from Provence, from the south”, which means she “perfectly represents our region and our country”. There was a strong reaction from Jewish groups as well. The International League Against Racism and Anti Semitism (Licra) said the Miss France competition had “turned Twitter into an anti-Semitic cesspool against Miss Provence”.
France, which has Europe’s biggest Jewish population of around half a million, has seen a number of anti-Semitic attacks in recent years, the French government has faced pressure to respond to violence against and harassment of Jews in the country. One survey of EU countries in 2018 found that 95% of French Jews see anti-Semitism as either a fairly or very big problem. In the same year, former French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said there had been a 69% increase in anti-Semitic incidents.