'We must mobilise so it stops': Miss France runner-up hit by torrent of online anti-Semitism

Miss Provence April Benayoum takes to the stage during the Miss France 2021 beauty pageant at the Puy-du-Fou in Les Epesses, western France - LOIC VENANCE / AFP
The runner-up in this year's Miss France beauty pageant said it was daunting to see "we're still here in 2020" in response to a spate of anti-Semitic abuse she received online after mentioning her father was Israeli.
Paris prosecutors said Monday they had opened an investigation into "racial slurs and provocative racial hatred" against 21-year-old April Benayoum, who rules Miss Provence and finished second in the national competition on Saturday night.
The offense of posting anti-Semitic statements carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of € 45,000 (£ 41,000).
Among the 40,000 tweets quoting Miss Provence and Israel on Saturday night, one read "Hitler forgot this one" and another "Don't vote for a Jew." The blurring clouded an event that was watched by more than eight million people on TF1, France's largest television network.
When Ms. Benayoum, who studies Marketing at Aix, first responded to the insults, she told the regional newspaper La Provence: "We have to mobilize to make it stop."
"I didn't try to provoke anyone at all. France is a cosmopolitan country. The 'Miss' come from different origins, cultures and regions and that makes this competition nice."
She told Nice-Matin, another regional newspaper, that despite the violence of the insults, they "do not concern me at all".
Ms. Benayoum competes on stage during the Miss France 2021 beauty pageant at the Puy-du-Fou in Les Epesses, western France. - LOIC VENANCE / AFP
During the competition, she informed the judges that her mother was Serbo-Croatian and her father was Israeli-Italian, which sparked a spate of abuse on Twitter.
“Some of these tweets are still online. That is unacceptable, ”said Marlène Schiappa, Minister for Citizenship, who condemned“ the anti-Semitic expressions of outrageous violence all evening ”against Ms. Benayoum.
"The social networks have to take their responsibility," she said.
The Paris anti-delinquency brigade BRDP is taking care of the investigation.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said he had "mobilized the police and gendarmerie" after learning of the abuse, adding that he was "deeply shocked by the spate of extremely violent anti-Semitic slurs".
This year's competition was won by Amandine Petit (23), the reigning Miss Normandy.
Miss France 2021 told Le Parisien she was shocked by the response: “Anti-Semitism has no place in society, much less in a beauty pageant. We were there for a lovely interlude and there is no space. (April) needs support. She is runner-up and rightly so. "
Renaud Muselier, President of Provence, called the abuse an "abomination" and added: "It perfectly represents our region and our country."
This is by no means the first time Miss France has seen racism.
The newly elected Miss France 2021 Miss Normandie Amandine Petit reacts when she is elected Miss France 2021 - AFP
The election of Clémence Botino, Miss Guadeloupe, as Miss France last year sparked a surge of abuse on social media.
Sonia Rolland, Miss France 2000, who has a French father and a Rwandan mother, came under a barrage of abuse, including 2,000 hate mail, and even dumped excrement and spit on her doorstep and wrecked her car.
Following the latest hate speech, she tweeted: “Support April Benayoum. Discrimination has no place in our society. Stop Racism, Stop Anti-Semitism. "
EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, meanwhile, said Twitter and other social media platforms needed to act faster to eradicate hate speech under a new digital services law proposed for the bloc this month.
"We propose to confirm that platforms give themselves the opportunity to react immediately to requests from the authorities if such crimes occur," Breton told BFM television on Sunday in response to the news from Miss France.
France, which has the largest Jewish population in Europe, has seen an increase in anti-Semitic vandalism and hate speech, which President Emmanuel Macron has labeled "unacceptable".
In 2018, the number of anti-Jewish crimes reported to the police rose 74 percent after two years of decline, according to the Interior Ministry.
Miss France was recently forced to defend herself against allegations. The beauty pageant is an "archaic caricature" of gender roles in which women "are objects that are not subjects" by insisting on introducing IQ tests and reducing the bare flesh in the age of #metoo.
In a critical review of the French government in March, the French Higher Council for Gender Equality (HCE) slammed Miss France along with a number of Gaulish reality TV shows to target sexist and misogynist comments in the Encourage social media.
"By judging women on only physical criteria, this type of program opens the door to violent opinions about candidates based on sexist criteria, such as their body, ridicule, denigration and insults," she wrote.
In its defense, TF1 said it "pushed" the program, particularly by reducing skimpy outfits and introducing intelligence tests.

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