June 16, 2024

Thousands turned out on Sunday to march against anti-Semitism in Paris, after days of bickering by political parties over who should take part and a surge in anti-Semitic incidents across France.

“Our order of the day today is… the total fight against anti-Semitism which is the opposite of the values of the republic,” Senate speaker Gerard Larcher, who organised the demonstration with lower house speaker Yael Braun-Pivet, told broadcaster LCP before the marchers set off.

Tensions have been rising in the French capital — home to large Jewish and Muslim communities — in the wake of the October 7 attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas on Israel, followed by a month of Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

More than 3,000 police and gendarmes were to be be deployed to maintain security at the “great civic march”, according to Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.

On the eve of the march, President Emmanuel Macron condemned the “unbearable resurgence of unbridled anti-Semitism” in the country.

“A France where our Jewish citizens are afraid is not France. A France where French people are afraid because of their religion or their origin is not France,” he wrote in a letter published Saturday in the daily Le Parisien.

Hamas’s shock October 7 attack killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in Israel, according to Israeli officials, while the military says 240 people were taken hostage.

The Israeli air and ground campaign in response has left more than 11,000 people in Gaza dead, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

France has recorded nearly 1,250 anti-Semitic acts since the attack.

Macron said he would attend the march only “in my heart and in my thoughts”.

He condemned the “confusion” surrounding the rally and said it was being “exploited” by some politicians for their own ends.

– ‘The more people, the better’ –

Earlier Sunday, thousands of people gathered in major French cities including Lyon, Nice and Strasbourg behind the same slogan with which Braun-Pivet and Larcher will lead the Paris march: “For the Republic, against anti-Semitism”.

The hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party said days earlier it would boycott the event which the far-right National Rally (RN) plans to attend.

LFI leader Jean-Luc Melenchon rejected the march as a meeting of “friends of unconditional support for the massacre” of Palestinians in Gaza.

A separate rally against anti-Semitism that LFI organised in western Paris was disrupted on Sunday morning by counter-demonstrators, who were backed in a statement on X (formerly Twitter) by France’s Representative Council of Jewish Institutions (CRIF).

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen has declared the march should also serve to stand against “Islamic fundamentalism” — a pet theme of her anti-immigrant party.

The National Rally (RN) was known for decades as the National Front (FN), led by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen — a convicted Holocaust denier.

Aiming to show the party has changed, “we are exactly where we should be” taking part in the march, Le Pen told reporters shortly before it began, calling any objections “petty political quibbles”.

A group of counter-demonstrators from left-wing Jewish organisation Golem briefly attempted to prevent her from taking part before being sidelined by police.

Communist leader Fabien Roussel said he would “not march alongside” the RN.

He said the far-right party had been founded by people who were “repeatedly condemned for anti-Semitic remarks” and who “collaborated” with Nazi Germany.

Other left-wing parties as well as youth and rights organisations will march behind a common banner separated from the far right.

– ‘No posturing’ –

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said Sunday, “There is no place for posturing” at the march.

“This is a vital battle for national cohesion,” she wrote on X before joining the front of the march alongside prominent figures including former presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy.

Borne’s own father survived the Nazi death camp Auschwitz in occupied Poland, only to take his own life when she was 11.

Among the long list of recent anti-Semitic acts, Paris prosecutors are investigating an incident on October 31, when buildings in the city and suburbs were daubed with dozens of Stars of David.

The graffiti, which brought back memories of the Nazi occupation of Paris during World War II and deportation of Jews to death camps, was condemned across the political spectrum.

The march also comes a day after several thousand people demonstrated in Paris under the rallying cry “Stop the massacre in Gaza”.

The left-wing organisers called for France to “demand an immediate ceasefire” between Israel and Hamas militants.