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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Over 100,000 march in France against antisemitism

The demonstrations, called by the leaders of both chambers of the French Parliament, came amid a rise in tensions over the Israel-Gaza War and a surge in antisemitic incidents.

By Catherine Porter and Liz Alderman

More than 100,000 demonstrators in Paris and cities across France took to the streets on Sunday to show their solidarity with the country’s Jews and to deplore antisemitic acts that have multiplied across the nation since Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

The marches were called by the leaders of both houses of the French parliament, the Senate and the National Assembly, and unfolded under gray skies mostly without incident, with 3,000 police officers in Paris patrolling the route. The marches in France came a day after a huge pro-Palestinian protest in London that police said involved about 300,000 people.

Tensions have been rising in France and particularly in Paris, home to large Jewish and Muslim communities, after Hamas’ attack and during Israel’s subsequent military campaign in the Gaza Strip. In the past month, more than 1,240 antisemitic acts have been reported in France. Police had made 539 arrests as of Nov. 10.

President Emmanuel Macron condemned “the unbearable resurgence of unbridled antisemitism” in France in an open letter published in Le Parisien newspaper Saturday, and said there would be “no tolerance for the intolerable.”

He added: “A France where our Jewish citizens are afraid is not France.”

French presidents typically do not participate in such marches, and Macron said that while he would not be present, he would be there “in my heart and in my thoughts.”

Macron also called President Isaac Herzog of Israel on Sunday to clarify remarks he made to the BBC on Friday in which he said there was “no justification” for bombing civilians who were not tied to Hamas and called on Israel to stop the killing in Gaza.

Macron said “he does not and did not intend to accuse Israel of intentionally harming innocent civilians in the campaign against the terrorist organization Hamas,” the Élysée Palace said in a statement. Macron told Herzog that “he unequivocally supports Israel’s right and duty to self-defense, and expressed his support for Israel’s war against Hamas,” the statement said.

Senate President Gérard Larcher and National Assembly leader Yaël Braun-Pivet said the march was not intended to be a political statement about the war, over which political parties in France have clashed in recent weeks.

Instead, Braun-Pivet, who has been the target of antisemitic threats and is under police protection, said the march was an appeal for French citizens to show one another and the world “what France is today.”

The fact so many people participated in a march organized only six days ago — according to the Interior Ministry, more than 182,000 people marched across France, including 105,000 in Paris — showed that the French were “capable of assembling rapidly, reuniting around our values, our history, and what I’m sure will be our future,” she said.

Several former presidents joined the march in Paris, including François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as five former French prime ministers. Cultural figures attending included actresses Natalie Portman and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Kathleen Lemire, 70, joined the throngs in Paris, many waving French flags or handing out posters with photographs of the hostages taken by Hamas. Lemire wore a yellow paper star pinned to her pink winter jacket, and a note that said, “Never Forget, Never Forgive.” Her mother had hidden Jewish children during World War II, she said, and her father was an American Marine who landed at Utah Beach during D-Day.

“My mother told me what she saw,” she said. “It was Oct. 7, but on a bigger scale. I feel this is just the beginning.”

Lisa Cohen, 31, just returned to Paris from a trip to Tel Aviv, Israel, to support her friends and family there after the attack. “I felt better there,” she said walking in the crowd. Many of her non-Jewish friends had become distant she said, as they supported the Palestinian cause and could not find common ground.

“Some have been minimizing the antisemitic attacks, saying Islamophobia is worse and that Jews have had too much attention,” said Cohen, a project manager at a tech startup.

While the calls for Sunday’s marches were aimed at unity, they also fanned a political uproar.

Macron traveled to Israel last month to declare support for the country, while also working toward humanitarian support for Gaza.

But Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the far-left France Unbowed party, dismissed Sunday’s marches on social media as a meeting for “friends of unconditional support for the massacre.” France Unbowed has refused to call Hamas a terrorist organization.

However, the new leader of the far-right National Rally, Jordan Bardella, announced that members of his party would be attending the march. He and Marine Le Pen, the former party leader, were greeted by angry shouts from the crowd, with people accusing them of trying to sanitize the party’s image, while a Jewish group called Collectif Golem loudly denounced them as “fascists.”

Party officials appeared unfazed. “A lot of people are happy to see us,” said Wallerand de Saint-Just, a National Rally regional counselor. “Antisemitism today is from Islamic radicals. That’s clear. People know, at all levels of society, that we are the first to denounce this danger.” He added, “We are the rampart against the real enemy.

Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne, whose father was a Holocaust survivor, was at the front of the march and said that the government was “telling our Jewish citizens that we are at their side, we are mobilized, and we will not let anything pass.”

The march Sunday took place under heavy security along a 1 1/2-mile route on Paris’ Left Bank to the Place Edmond Rostand, a square named after a French playwright who was an outspoken supporter of Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish army officer wrongly accused of spying at the turn of the 20th century.

Demonstrations in the cities of Strasbourg, Marseille and Lyon were joined by thousands. In Lyon, which has recorded 50 antisemitic acts in the past month, three times the total in all of 2022, Richard Zelmati, regional president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France, denounced “the impotence of public authorities against the surge of hatred.”

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