France claims Russian interference over Star of David graffiti in Paris

France’s foreign ministry says it has been the target of a Russian online destabilisation campaign relating to Stars of David graffitied on Paris streets. Russia’s foreign ministry described the accusations as “stupid”.

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Prosecutors are investigating the 250 blue stars, a symbol of Israel and the Jewish faith, spray-painted on walls in Paris and its suburbs last month.

The probe will seek to determine whether the graffiti was anti-Semitic, as the Paris police chief and others initially suspected, and if it was organised from outside France. 

On Tuesday, prosecutors said it could “not be excluded that the painting of Stars of David in the Paris region was carried out at the express request of a person abroad”.

This followed the arrest of a Moldovan-born man and woman seen painting a blue Star of David on a building. A phone conversation with a third party confirmed they’d been paid to do the graffiti.

Police then identified a second pair of Moldavan nationals found painting similar stars while being photographed, and communicating with the same third party.

Bot network

On Thursday, the French foreign ministry cast the blame on Russia after its specialised online disinformation teams discovered a network of some 1,095 bots on social media platform X (formerly Twitter) that published 2,589 posts about the Star of David graffiti.

It said a pro-Russia website known as Recent Reliable News (RRN), also identified as Doppelgänger, was responsible for the bots and amplifying the graffiti online.

It also said RRN had published the photographs on 28 October, 48 hours before any news outlets. 

“This new operation of Russian digital interference against France testifies to the persistence of an opportunistic and irresponsible strategy aimed at exploiting international crises to sow confusion and create tensions in the public debate in France and in Europe,” the statement read.

‘Absolute nonsense’

Russia’s foreign ministry has strongly denied the accusations, describing them as Russophobia.

“This is simply an attempt to come up with a story that someone, in particular Russia, is behind a massive increase in anti-Semitic sentiments,” said ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova on Thursday. “This is stupid, this is absolute nonsense and this is simply unworthy.”

The Russian activity was detected by Viginum, a French state digital watchdog set up in 2021 after hackers targeted President Emmanuel Macron’s successful campaign for the French presidency in 2017.

Viginum’s core mission is to detect and analyse foreign digital efforts to influence online public debate in France.

In June, the foreign ministry said it had discovered a disinformation campaign involving RRN – part of a “doppelgänger operation” revealed last year by non-profit EU DisinfoLab and which related to undermining support for Ukraine in the war against Russia.

While the Star of David could also be seen as a sign of support for Israel, the stencils appeared at a time of rising anti-Semitic sentiment and attacks in France – home to Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim population.

French authorities have counted more than 1,150 anti-Semitic acts since 7 October, when Islamist Palestinian group Hamas attacked Israel. That’s double the number in all of 2022. 

(with newswires) France claims Russian interference over Star of David graffiti in Paris

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