Israel Faces Increasing Pressure to Halt Gaza War
A restaurant in Sarcelles, a Paris suburb, was damaged during protests against Israel’s Gaza offensive.Credit Miguel Medina/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
PARIS — The conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza is spilling into the streets of dozens of cities in Europe, as thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters have depicted Israel as the aggressor and sought to isolate it internationally.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered over the past several days in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam and other European cities in mostly peaceful expressions of support for Palestinians in Gaza, where Israel has carried out a 14-day offensive aimed at stopping rocket fire and closing tunnels used to infiltrate fighters into Israel. In addition to the large number of Palestinian casualties, the conflict has also resulted in the deaths of 20 Israelis, almost all of them soldiers.
Some of the demonstrations took on a distinctly anti-Semitic tinge, although the organizers said they were designed solely to protest the Israeli incursion into Gaza that has left 500 Palestinians dead, many of them civilians.
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French Jewish leaders Monday warned against importing the Arab-Israeli conflict to Europe following a weekend in which a radical fringe among pro-Palestinian protesters in the French capital clashed with police, targeting Jewish shops, lighting smoke bombs, and throwing stones and bottles at riot police. Eight synagogues in France have been targeted in the past week, Jewish groups said.
President Obama said Israel has the right to defend itself against attacks from Hamas, but he expressed concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths in the conflict.
France, with some of Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish populations, has become a flash point for anger against Israel, and Jewish community leaders say they fear that criticism of Israeli policy is being seized upon by some to promote anti-Semitism.
Over the weekend, the authorities banned protests in selected areas of Paris, citing security concerns. Several recent pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Paris have boiled over into violence, and earlier this month several hundred protesters sought to storm two synagogues in the French capital during an anti-Israel demonstration in which protesters chanted, “Death to Jews!” and “Hitler was right,” according to Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary general of the European Jewish Congress, a Brussels-based organization representing European Jewry.
In the northern Paris suburb of Sarcelles, dubbed “little Jerusalem” because of its large Jewish community, a peaceful demonstration on Sunday turned violent when clutches of youths lit smoke bombs and firecrackers, Agence France-Presse reported. The Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions said the protesters targeted Jewish shops, including a kosher grocery store and a pharmacy.
Similarly, in Barbès, in northern Paris, a mainly peaceful protest that took place Saturday in breach of a ban turned violent when police blocked a march, prompting some demonstrators to hurl stones. There were 44 people arrested, Le Figaro reported, and 17 police officers were injured. Israeli flags were burned, the paper said, noting that protesters had also unfurled a banner that included the word, “Isra-hell.”
A leader of Germany’s Jewish community said some of the demonstrators in that country had shown an “explosion of evil and violence-prone hatred of Jews.”
Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said Monday that “Never in our lives did we believe it possible that anti-Semitism of the most primitive kind would be heard on the streets of Germany.”
The protests come amid growing concerns about rising anti-Semitism in much of Western Europe, but particularly in France, fanned by the strong performance of the far-right National Front party, and a perceived rise in anti-Semitic violence. In June, a French-born man was accused of gunning down four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in an anti-Semitic attack. Now, Jewish community leaders say they fear events in Gaza could further aggravate tensions.
Laura Nhari, a spokeswoman for the Representative Council of the Jewish Institutions of France, said Monday that the Jewish community in France was shocked and indignant following attacks on synagogues and Jewish businesses. She said it was imperative that both the Jewish and Muslim communities did not import enmities from the conflict in Gaza into France. The Jewish community in France had no plans to organize pro-Israeli protests, she said.
“The conflict in Gaza is happening in the Middle East, while we are the Jews of France, and we do not want to import this conflict into France,” she said. “Anti-Zionism is the new face of anti-Semitism in France.”
The France Palestine Solidarity Association, a 4,500-member group that has been organizing some of the protests against Israel, said Monday that roughly 300 protests in support of the Palestinians had been organized in the past two weeks in 80 cities in France, and that the vast majority had been peaceful.
Didier Fagart, the group’s secretary general, said that the protests were aimed at showing solidarity with the suffering of Palestinians and were in no way motivated by anti-Semitism, which he firmly rejected.
“We want to show the pain of the French people over the massacre underway in Gaza, and to protest against the French government’s scandalous support of Israel,” he said. “We condemn any form of violence and racism, including anti-Semitism.”
He added that those perpetrating violence were part of a tiny fringe, including possibly disenfranchised youths of North African origin. He said his group was determined that its support of the Palestinians not be hijacked by unacceptable violence.
French leaders have spoken out robustly against anti-Semitism in recent weeks, and the controversial ban on the demonstrations has coincided with a government effort to persuade the world that France is not anti-Semitic. “Anti-Semitism is our common enemy,” France’s foreign and interior ministers wrote in a recent opinion piece in The New York Times.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended the protest ban. “What happened again yesterday in Paris — unacceptable unrest — justifies all the more the brave choice by the Interior Ministry to ban a demonstration,” he was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse.
Speaking at an event commemorating the July 1942 roundup of Jews in Paris, he warned of a new type of anti-Semitism he said was “spreading on the Internet, on social media, in our working-class areas, among young people who are often directionless, who have no awareness of history, who hide their hatred of the Jews behind a mask of anti-Zionism and behind the hatred of the Israeli state.”
President François Hollande on Sunday also said that anti-Semitism would not be tolerated.