Some 200 people gathered in Paris on Saturday to “celebrate Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation and colonization,” a controversial demonstration under heavy police surveillance, AFP reported.
“We are here today to say ‘No to occupation and colonization’ and call for the immediate lifting of the blockade of Gaza,” explained Olivia Zemor, president of the CAPJPO-EuroPalestine organization which organized the rally.
Pro-Palestinian protesters rallied at the Place du Chatelet in central Paris, chanting anti-Israel slogans and waving placards calling “No to collaboration with the Israeli occupier,” according to RT France.
Shortly after the rally began, about a hundred pro-Israeli demonstrators arrived with Israeli flags, shouting slogans and singing the Israeli national anthem.
“It is abnormal that this demonstration, whose slogans are anti-Semitic, is authorized. It is a gathering contrary to the values of France and living together,” said Benjamin, 30 years old.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo had called on Friday for the demonstration to be canceled, warning that it would disturb public order and “could be considered as a public, anti-Semitic act to French Jews,” according to AFP.
“We are not anti-Semitic: we are anti-fascists, anti-Zionists and we are fighting for equal rights while the Palestinian people are deprived of all their fundamental rights,” said Jean-Claude Amara of Droits Devant (Rights First), another organizing group.
A French Jewish member of parliament had also sought to ban the rally — organized by anti-Zionist groups CAPJPO-EuroPalestine and Droits Devant — on the grounds that it would likely call to boycott Israel, a demand that is illegal in France.
In a statement, the groups had said they were calling for the demonstration “to celebrate the Palestinian resistance to the occupation and to the settlements” and urge sanctions against Israel.
“No to blackmail by means of anti-Semitism,” they wrote, implying that criticism of Israel is being unfairly labeled anti-Semitic. “No to the dictates of the Israeli lobby. No to attacks on freedom of expression. No the attacks by the fascist thugs of the Jewish Defense League.”
The protesters wrote that they will “demand sanctions instead of the current collaboration of the French government with Israeli apartheid.”
The International Solidarity Movement — a far-left group that, like CAPJPO, supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel – wrote on its website that the protest was for a “separation of CRIF and state.”
CRIF is the umbrella group of French Jewish communities, which defines itself as Zionist and engages in pro-Israel advocacy as well as lobbying efforts on this issue.
Earlier this week, Francis Kalifat, the president-elect of CRIF, wrote a letter to French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, urging that the event be called off.
Officials in the Jewish community had warned French citizens who planned to pray in the city’s synagogues on Saturday that they might be targeted.