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Anti-Semitic graffiti appears in Paris once again — similar drawings were previously ordered by the Kremlin

In Paris, a memorial near the local Holocaust Museum was recently desecrated with drawings of red hands, a reference to the Ramallah lynching of 2000, which saw two Israeli reservists killed and their bodies mutilated. In October of last year, Stars of David appeared on buildings across the French capital in a manner similar to the way the Nazis marked Jewish homes in German-controlled areas. It turned out that Russia was behind the graffiti that appeared last fall. After ordering the graffiti, Russian agents then distributed the photos through a network of bots while simultaneously accusing French authorities of rampant anti-Semitism. France's counterintelligence service said the Kremlin was involved in the anti-Semitic actions and that the perpetrators were linked to pro-Russian oligarch Ilan Shor, a former member of the Moldovan parliament who was born in Israel.

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On the night of May 13-14, graffiti in the form of red palm prints appeared on the Wall of the Righteous in Paris. The wall, which lists 3,900 people honored for saving Jews during the Nazi occupation of France in World War II, is located near Mémorial de la Shoah, Paris’s Holocaust museum. According to a report by Le Monde citing police sources that studied surveillance camera footage and data from telephone conversations, immediately after the memorial was tagged with graffiti, three people (two stencilers and a photographer) took a Flixbus from the Bercy bus station to Brussels.

The appearance of the graffiti was quickly commented on by French authorities, including by President Emmanuel Macron, who called the vandals' antics an act of “odious antisemitism,” that “damages the memory” of those who saved Jews during the Holocaust as well as victims of Nazi persecution.

What do the red hands mean?

The graffiti was seen as anti-Semitic not merely due to the location where the red palms were drawn, but by what they were likely meant to symbolize. The red hands symbol refers to the murder of two Israeli soldiers in the Palestinian city of Ramallah in 2000. According to the most popular version of events, the two Israeli reservists mistakenly entered Ramallah simply because they were unfamiliar with the West Bank road system, making several wrong turns at intersections before being arrested by Palestinian Authority (PA) policemen. According to accounts, rumors spread that Israeli undercover agents were being detained at the police station in Ramallah, prompting a large crowd to gather outside, calling for their deaths. The two soldiers were then brutally murdered, and their bodies were dragged to the city’s central square.

The name of Alexandru Cocii was given by Moldovan media after the country's police published his photo without his name. The police also reported that the man was “noticed in destabilization and hooliganism activities under the leadership of the ‘Shor’ criminal group.”

In 2021, Veaceslav Valko ran for Moldovan parliament as an independent candidate. One of his official representatives was the scandalous businessman Veaceslav Platon, previously convicted in a bank fraud case.

In the summer of 2022, Valko tried to organize a performance of Russian singers in Chisinau, including pop artist Philipp Kirkorov and the rapper Morgenstern — and even booked a location in the Great National Assembly Square. It then turned out that an anti-government protest put together by the “Shor” party was to be held there as well. Valko claimed that he “voluntarily” gave the location to the party for “a few hours.” Later, the prosecutor's office reported that it was the “Shor” party that allocated the money for the artists' performance.

Aziz Salha, one of the lynchers, waving his blood-stained hands from the police station window
Aziz Salha, one of the lynchers, waving his blood-stained hands from the police station window

The most famous photo of the incident is a shot of one of the participants looking out of the window with his bloodied hands raised in front of a cheering crowd. The photo quickly became a symbol of violence during the Second Intifada, and the bloody palms have been incorporated into symbols of the Palestinian struggle ever since — often by people unaware of the history of the symbol’s origin. In March of this year, public figures criticized A-list celebrities at the Oscars for wearing red hand pins created by a group called “Artists4Ceasefire.” Billie Eilish, her brother Finneas, Mahershala Ali, Mark Ruffalo, Ava DuVernay, and Ramy Youssef were among the celebrities that wore the pins, in the belief that they symbolized support for a ceasefire in Gaza.

“The pin symbolizes collective support for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, the release of all of the hostages and for the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza,” the group said in a statement.

French writer and Prix Goncourt laureate Philippe Labro wrote in a column for Le Figaro: “This gesture is so appalling that I want to comfort myself with the thought that it comes from foreign services, Russian or otherwise, and not from citizens living in our country.” Labro, notably, is the son of Jean-François Labro, who was honored with the “Righteous Among the Nations” title by the Yad Vashem in 2000.

And the writer may not be far from the truth.

Why Russia may be behind this

A day and a half after the Wall of the Righteous graffiti appeared, the Kremlin's Doppelgänger bot network began circulating photos of the palms on Twitter, accompanied by claims about how Emmanuel Macron was doing nothing about the apparently rising levels of anti-Semitism in his country. They were later deleted, but archived copies survived (1, 2, 3). This fact was noticed by the Bot Blocker project, which monitors the Doppelgänger network’s activities online.

The name of Alexandru Cocii was given by Moldovan media after the country's police published his photo without his name. The police also reported that the man was “noticed in destabilization and hooliganism activities under the leadership of the ‘Shor’ criminal group.”

In 2021, Veaceslav Valko ran for Moldovan parliament as an independent candidate. One of his official representatives was the scandalous businessman Veaceslav Platon, previously convicted in a bank fraud case.

In the summer of 2022, Valko tried to organize a performance of Russian singers in Chisinau, including pop artist Philipp Kirkorov and the rapper Morgenstern — and even booked a location in the Great National Assembly Square. It then turned out that an anti-government protest put together by the “Shor” party was to be held there as well. Valko claimed that he “voluntarily” gave the location to the party for “a few hours.” Later, the prosecutor's office reported that it was the “Shor” party that allocated the money for the artists' performance.

A link was attached to all the posts, leading to an article on artichoc.io that criticizes Macron's allegedly soft policy toward pro-Palestinian activists and migrants, as well as his supposed foreign policy ambitions, analysts at the project explained. The text ends with the words, “It is now becoming critical for Emmanuel Macron to reevaluate his priorities. France needs a leader who is really ready to defend the national interests of the country and its citizens.”

The work of the Kremlin's bot network is evidenced by the way the material was distributed through a chain of redirects — the same links that Doppelgänger has already used in other campaigns to promote pro-Russian narratives. Notably, Facebook parent company Meta Platforms listed artichoc.io as a platform linked to Doppelgänger in 2023.

A third important indication that Russia may be behind the graffiti is that this is not the first operation to introduce anti-Semitism in Western countries through graffiti closely linked to Russian authorities.

Ilan Shor rushes to the rescue

In October 2023 — shortly after the infamous massacre carried out by Hamas in southern Israel on the 7th of the month — graffiti in the shape of a Star of David appeared on buildings in several Paris neighborhoods. The graffiti was seen by many as anti-Semitic. After all, the Nazis had marked Jewish stores with the Star of David as a form of warning preceding pogroms in the 1930s.

As in the case of the bloody palms, the photos soon began to be circulated by bots from the Doppelgänger network, as well as by Kremlin-controlled media including state-run outlet RIA Novosti, which published a video showing a building with a drawing of the Star of David and the caption, “Anti-Semitism is generally on the rise in France.” The Radio Sputnik website followed RIA’s lead with a column headlined “France can't (and won't) fight anti-Semitism.” The author of the column went even further:

“Buildings in the Paris districts and suburbs are painted with six-pointed stars, and for those who remember the country's history, this has become a sign of great misfortune to come. Threats against French people with Jewish blood are the beginning of the ethnic division of society.”

In November, two people suspected of painting these stars were detained in France. It was first reported that a 33-year-old man and a 29-year-old woman from Moldova, who were in France illegally, had been detained. French media also noted that the suspects had been led by “a man from Russia.” Le Monde reported that the actions were allegedly sponsored by Moldovan businessman Anatolii Prizenko, who later confirmed his participation in the act to journalists from JurnalTV. Moldovan media later published the name of another participant: Alexandru Cocii. Moldovan activist Veaceslav Valko also admitted his participation in the drawing of the Star of David graffiti. Valko stated that he photographed the graffiti while it was being created. According to Prizenko’s statement to JurnalTV, Valko was the coordinator of the whole operation — not just a photographer.

The name of Alexandru Cocii was given by Moldovan media after the country's police published his photo without his name. The police also reported that the man was “noticed in destabilization and hooliganism activities under the leadership of the ‘Shor’ criminal group.”

In 2021, Veaceslav Valko ran for Moldovan parliament as an independent candidate. One of his official representatives was the scandalous businessman Veaceslav Platon, previously convicted in a bank fraud case.

In the summer of 2022, Valko tried to organize a performance of Russian singers in Chisinau, including pop artist Philipp Kirkorov and the rapper Morgenstern — and even booked a location in the Great National Assembly Square. It then turned out that an anti-government protest put together by the “Shor” party was to be held there as well. Valko claimed that he “voluntarily” gave the location to the party for “a few hours.” Later, the prosecutor's office reported that it was the “Shor” party that allocated the money for the artists' performance.

At least two of the three — Cocii and Valko — are affiliated with Ilan Shor's pro-Russian Moloovan party. In 2022, The Washington Post called Shor the “leading figure in the Kremlin’s efforts to subvert [Moldova]” in Chisinau, citing intelligence documents and interviews with Moldovan, Ukrainian, and Western officials. The Wall Street Journal claimed that the FSB had allocated tens of millions of dollars from Russia's largest state companies to develop a network of agents among Moldovan politicians in order to reverse the country’s political course back toward Moscow. The Shor party has been banned in Moldova by the country’s Constitutional Court.

Shor, who has actively promoted Russian interests in Moldova for years, was recently granted Russian citizenship. He is actively helping the Kremlin to combat the pro-Western government of incumbent President Maia Sandu in the upcoming presidential elections. Shor is based in Russia and influences Moldovan politics through his “Chance” movement (created after the “Shor” party was banned), which is actively involved in “toppling” Sandu with the help of accomplices on the ground.

Le Monde, citing a French counterintelligence report sent to the Foreign Ministry, writes that the entire Paris graffiti operation featuring Stars of David was led by the FSB’s Fifth Service, which has a mandate to perform intelligence operations abroad.

A perfect trap

As noted by JurnalTV, in the graffiti operation, Russia resorted to using proxy structures — oligarchs and people who wanted to make money and did not think about the nature of the work.

At the same time, such anti-Semitic actions function as an ideal trap for Western politicians, writes Le Monde. After all, at the appearance of the next suspicious graffiti, political leaders will either be outraged, reacting by publicizing the event and thus playing into the hands of the organizers of the action, or they will not react, thereby risking criticism for underplaying the significance of anti-Semitic sentiments in society.

Both options contribute to the destabilization of the political and social situation in France, and are therefore beneficial to Russia. After all, French president Emmanuel Macron remains one of the most outspoken supporters of Ukraine among Western elected leaders.

The name of Alexandru Cocii was given by Moldovan media after the country's police published his photo without his name. The police also reported that the man was “noticed in destabilization and hooliganism activities under the leadership of the ‘Shor’ criminal group.”

In 2021, Veaceslav Valko ran for Moldovan parliament as an independent candidate. One of his official representatives was the scandalous businessman Veaceslav Platon, previously convicted in a bank fraud case.

In the summer of 2022, Valko tried to organize a performance of Russian singers in Chisinau, including pop artist Philipp Kirkorov and the rapper Morgenstern — and even booked a location in the Great National Assembly Square. It then turned out that an anti-government protest put together by the “Shor” party was to be held there as well. Valko claimed that he “voluntarily” gave the location to the party for “a few hours.” Later, the prosecutor's office reported that it was the “Shor” party that allocated the money for the artists' performance.

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