France Suspects Foreign Influence in Star of David Graffiti

French prosecutors are investigating whether a foreign intermediary was behind the painting of more than 200 blue Stars of David on buildings in and around Paris last month amid a surge of antisemitic acts in Europe since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

Investigators suspect that a man and a woman caught on surveillance footage painting some of the graffiti had communicated in Russian with a person who offered them money to spray the stars on buildings, Laure Beccuau, the Paris prosecutor, said in a statement on Tuesday.

The discovery of the stars — more than 60 were found in the 14th arrondissement of Paris on the morning of Oct. 31, while others have appeared in two suburbs of the capital — shocked many in France, where antisemitism is a longstanding concern. French Jews have also been targeted by terrorist attacks in recent years.

The man and the woman stenciled the stars in one sweep overnight and were accompanied by a third person who took photographs of the graffiti, Ms. Beccuau said, adding that the man and woman subsequently left France on Oct. 31.

Ms. Beccuau did not name those two suspects but said that investigators had connected them to another couple, a 33-year-old man and a 28-year-old woman from Moldova, who had been arrested in Paris on Oct. 27 for painting a blue Star of David on a building. The Moldovan pair told investigators that they had acted on the orders of a third party in exchange for payment “as evidenced by a conversation in Russian on their phone,” Ms. Beccuau said. Telephone data led investigators to believe that both couples “were in contact with the same third party,” Ms. Beccuau added.

“It therefore cannot be ruled out that the tagging of the blue Stars of David in the Paris region was carried out at the explicit request of a person living abroad,” she said.

Ms. Beccuau noted that the stars had been stenciled on random buildings and did not appear to have targeted any location specifically, saying that further investigations were needed to determine the “antisemitic intent” of the graffiti in light of the “geopolitical context.”

The statement from the prosecutor did not identify the Russian-speaking intermediary. Olivier Véran, spokesman for the French government, and a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry both declined to comment on Wednesday on possible Russian involvement, citing the continuing investigation.

But at least one other official has suggested that the graffiti might have been a way to sow discord in French society, where tensions are running high after Hamas’s deadly Oct. 7 assault and Israel’s retaliatory strikes against the group in Gaza. France has reported over 1,100 antisemitic acts since Oct. 7. In response, French parliamentary leaders have called for a march in Paris on Sunday against antisemitism.

Laurent Nuñez, the Paris police prefect, told the news channel BFMTV last week that the graffiti case was “atypical” and that it stood out from other antisemitic acts over the past few weeks because it was more widespread and appeared “coordinated.” Mr. Nuñez declined to comment directly on possible Russian involvement but suggested that interference from a foreign actor trying to undermine French social cohesion was possible.

“Do they want to divide us even more, try to shatter national unity even more?” he said. “That isn’t completely ruled out.”

Dimitri Minic, a research fellow specializing in Russia at the French Institute of International Relations, a research organization in Paris, said that Russian involvement in the graffiti was “credible,” if not yet proven.

“Russia has a wealth of experience in trying to undermine Western countries,” Mr. Minic said, including by manipulating antisemitism, which still permeates Russia’s political and military elites. In the late 1950s and early ’60s, for instance, the K.G.B. orchestrated the painting of swastikas and antisemitic slogans in West Germany to spark anti-Jewish sentiment and tarnish the country as neo-Nazi, he said.

Psychological and informational warfare through covert actions is still a central part of Russian military methods, he added, including by manipulating themes that are sensitive in France because of its large Muslim and Jewish populations and because of existing antisemitism on the French far left and far right.

Actions like the graffiti could help Russia distract attention from Ukraine and feed rifts in Western societies by heightening tensions around the Israel-Hamas war, Mr. Minic said, as part of “a longer-term strategy of subversion designed to radically alter the political course of certain Western countries deemed key by Moscow.”

Antibot4navalny, the username of a leader of anonymous volunteers who monitor pro-Russian social media campaigns, said that pro-Kremlin bots and online trolls had used images of the stars painted in Paris to try to inflame tensions in Europe, noting nonetheless that the images did not necessarily mean that Moscow-supporting entities were behind the graffiti.

“There is a campaign to scare the Europeans and Ukrainians with the bitter cold, problems with pensions, inflation,” Antibot4navalny said in response to written questions on the Telegram messaging app. “Stars of David are part of it, too.”

Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting from Tbilisi, Georgia.