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French marches against anti-Semitism rally over 180,000 people

French marches against anti-Semitism rally over 180,000 people

12 November 2023

Paris (AFP) -

More than 180,000 people turned out on Sunday to march against anti-Semitism in France, after a surge in anti-Jewish incidents across the country in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

France has recorded nearly 1,250 anti-Semitic acts in recent weeks and President Emmanuel Macron -- who did not attend Sunday -- condemned the 'unbearable resurgence of unbridled anti-Semitism'.

'A France where our Jewish citizens are afraid is not France,' Macron wrote in a letter published Saturday.

Police said 105,000 people had joined the Paris march, while interior ministry figures put the nationwide figure at 182,000.

Thousands of people gathered at more than 70 events across France, including in major cities Lyon, Nice and Strasbourg.

The same slogan was adopted nationally: 'For the Republic, against anti-Semitism'.

AFP journalists saw tens of thousands packed into the setting-off point at the capital's Invalides park.

More than 3,000 police and gendarmes were to be deployed in Paris to maintain security.

'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 rallies with lower house speaker Yael Braun-Pivet, said before the Paris marchers set off.

'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.

- 'Everyone's business' -

France boasts Europe's largest Jewish community numbering about 500,000 people.

At the front of the Paris march were Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, the two speakers former presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy as well as religious leaders.

'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 October 7 attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas on Israel, followed by a month of Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

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

The Israeli campaign in response has left over 11,100 people in Gaza dead, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Macron had condemned the 'confusion' surrounding the rally and said it was being 'exploited' by some politicians for their own ends.

Yonathan Arfi, head of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), saluted 'the fact that the French have answered the call in a popular way.'

- Hard-left boycott -

The hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party boycotted the event which the far-right National Rally (RN) attended.

A separate rally against anti-Semitism that LFI organised in western Paris was disrupted on Sunday morning by counter-demonstrators.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen -- who also encountered protesters as she arrived -- 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, calling any objections 'petty political quibbles'.

Prime Minister Borne said Sunday, 'There is no place for posturing' at the march, writing on X that 'this is a vital battle for national cohesion'.

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 widely condemned.

The march took place 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.