PARIS — While a new temporary truce was in the works between Israel and Hamas, and while the Israel Defense Forces are increasingly internationally criticized, French pro-Israel protesters calmly demonstrated under high security Thursday evening in Paris.
Organized by the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), according to the estimations of the police and CRIF between 4,500 and 6,000 protesters assembled in front of the Israeli embassy in the 8th arrondissement.
This police authorized “unitary gathering of friends of Israel” was the first of its kind in the French capital since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge on July 8. The Israelite Central Consistory of France, the Unified Jewish Social Fund, B’nai Brith, the French Union of Jewish Students, the National Bureau of Vigilance against anti-Semitism, the French Union of Jewish Bosses, the Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees from France and the Israelite Universal Alliance broadly supported the event.
Already last Sunday, between 2,000 and 6,000 people marched in support with Israel in Marseille, southern France. Dozens of pro-Palestinian attempted to disrupt the rally, but no clashes were reported. Similar protests were also held abroad in international cities, including New York, London, Budapest and Toronto.
In light of the tension in Marseille a few days ago and the burst of violence during recent pro-Palestinian rallies in Paris and in Sarcelles, 400 policemen were deployed to the pro-Israel demonstration – two companies of anti-riot police, three squadrons of police and three sections of the directorate of public order and traffic.
Members of the French Jewish Community Protection Service were numerous as well and working hand in hand with the police. All adjacent streets were closed, police roadblocks were set up and the access to the protest was filtered.
A few journalists, including David Perrotin from Metro newspaper and Gaspard Glanz from VICE News website, posted on their Twitter account their difficulties in going through the police barricade and in photographing the event.
Protesters sang the French and the Israeli national anthems – the Marseillaise and Hatikva – several times while waving the two countries’ flags or raising up signs stating, “United to confront terrorism,” “I defend myself therefore I am,” “No human shields” or “More hummus, less Hamas.”
Claude Goasguen, mayor and deputy in the sixteenth arrondissement of Paris and a longtime friend of Israel, attended the event and told The Times of Israel that he came Thursday “to say that Hamas is a totalitarian party – something that everyone knows but nobody says – and that Palestinians need to get rid of these terrorists who use them as human shields to finally get the freedom to which they aspire.”
After being applauded by surrounding demonstrators, Goasguen said the French government is in “total contradiction when fighting terrorists in Mali and accepting that Hamas continues with its horrible policy in Gaza.”
President of the Central Consistory of France Joel Mergui later explained that “unfortunately, a lot of anti-Israel and anti-Jews rallies took place recently. (…) Tonight, in this gathering, there is no hatred toward the Palestinian people, but there is hatred toward a terrorist organization whose goal is to annihilate the Jewish people.”
Around 7 pm, several names of Israeli soldiers who were killed in the current operation were read before a minute’s silence was observed. Haïm Korsia and Michel Guggenheim, the chief rabbis of France and Paris, read prayers for both the Palestinian and the Israeli victims, and for the French Republic and for the State of Israel. Shortly after, protesters sang various Hebrew songs or yelled slogans such as “Hamas and Al Qaeda are the same things” or “Israel has the right to defend itself.”
The organizers asked the demonstrators to disperse around 7:30 pm, only one hour after the rally had officially begun.
In a video published on the Internet a few hours before the rally, Roger Cukierman, CRIF president, declared: “We have compassion for all the victims – it does not matter whether they are Palestinians or Israelis. Nevertheless, we know that Israel lives under the pressure and the threat of Hamas rockets. There are also the tunnels which can let Palestinian terrorists who only want to kidnap and kill cross the border into Israel.
‘We have compassion for all the victims – it does not matter whether they are Palestinians or Israelis’
“[It is for these reasons that we] need to express our total solidarity with the Israeli people who are in danger and [who] need our support. They need to know that all Jews around the world stand with them in the fight for their safety and survival,” said Cukierman.
At 8 pm, though most of the protesters had alreday left the area, slight tensions erupted in an adjacent street where motorists appeared to have insult protesters. Fifty young helmeted and gloved pro-Israeli militants then tried to go after the car, but they were soon restrained by the police and members of the security service.
Half an hour later, there were only a few dozen demonstrators left. While Lubavitchers and Orthodox Jews asked passersby if they had put on their teffilin today, police checked some young men’s identities.
Also Thursday evening in south-eastern France at the Lyon Great Synagogue, nearly a thousand people prayed for the protection of the Jewish state and its population.
At the same time dozens of pro-Palestinian activists gathered on Place de la Rotonde, north of Paris, after the EuroPalestine organization called for a protest. Several of their signs stated anti-Jewish Defense League slogans, the organization known for its violent practices that has been implicated in clashes with pro-Palestinian demonstrators over the last few weeks.
Pro-Palestinian activists plan to protest Saturday in Paris for the fourth weekend in a row.