July 14, 2024

More than 180,000 people across France, including tens of thousands in Paris, have joined marches to condemn a surge in anti-Semitism amid Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas in Gaza.

As of Saturday, the interior minister said there had been 1,247 anti-Semitic acts since the war began on October 7, nearly three times as many as in the whole of 2022.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, former Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Holland, representatives of several parties on the left, and conservatives and centrists from President Emmanuel Macron’s party attended Sunday’s march in the French capital amid tight security.

Macron did not attend but expressed his support for the protest and called on citizens to rise up against “the unbearable resurgence of unbridled antisemitism”.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of the far-left France Unbowed party, also stayed away, saying that the march would be a meeting of “friends of unconditional support for the massacre” in Gaza. He also questioned the attendance of Marine Le Pen given her party’s roots in anti-Semitism. The party was founded by her father who was convicted of Holocaust denial.

Police said 105,000 people had joined the Paris march, while interior ministry figures put the nationwide figure at 182,000. More than 70 events took place across the country, including in major cities Lyon, Nice and Strasbourg.

A large crowd of people marching along a street on Paris
Some 105,000 people joined the rally in Paris, according to the authorities [Sylvie Corbet/AP Photo]

“Our order of the day today is… the total fight against anti-Semitism, which is the opposite of the values of the republic,” said Senate Speaker Gerard Larcher, who organised the rallies with lower house Speaker Yael Braun-Pivet, as the marchers set off.

No major incidents were reported.

‘I feel less alone’

Holding a French flag, Robert Fiel said marching against anti-Semitism was “more than a duty”.

“It’s a march against violence, against anti-Semitism, against all [political extremes] that are infiltrating the society, to show that the silent majority does exist,” the 67-year-old said.

“We had grandparents who escaped being transported to the concentration camps, luckily they aren’t here to see that [anti-Semitism] is back,” said Laura Cohen, a marcher in her 30s.

France has the largest Jewish population in Europe, numbering about 500,000 people.

“Everyone should feel like it’s their business” to combat anti-Jewish feeling, France’s chief rabbi Haim Korsia told broadcaster Radio J.

Tensions had been rising in the French capital – home to large Jewish and Muslim communities – since the war began a month ago when the armed group Hamas launched a shock attack on Israel killing about 1,200 people and taking some 240 people captive.

In response, Israel began a bombardment on the densely-populated Gaza Strip that has so far killed at least 11,000 people.

Senior French politicians including President of the National Assembly Yael Braun-Pivet, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, Senate President Gerard Larcher and former presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy at the front of the march. They are walking behind a banner. Someone behind them is holding up a placard reading 'Stop anti-Semitism and all racism'
Some of France’s most prominent politicians led the rally [Claudia Greco/Reuters]

Family members of some of the 40 French citizens killed in the initial Hamas attack, and of those missing or held captive, also took part in the march.

Patrick Klugman, a lawyer and a member of the “Freethem” committee working to obtain the captives’ release, said the large participation in the march was meaningful and symbolic in reassuring Jewish communities in France.

“I am very proud of my country because of this mobilisation,” Klugman said. “I feel less alone than in the past weeks and days.”

Among the 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 the deportation of Jews to death camps, was widely condemned.

Sunday’s march took place following a number of pro-Palestinian rallies in Paris calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Macron has recently also joined calls for a ceasefire, urging Israel to stop bombing Gaza.

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