Scattered groups of Arab Israelis and Palestinians demonstrated for a second consecutive day Tuesday against what they considered offensive remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron about Islam and depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.
Protests were held near the French embassy in Tel Aviv and other areas, while West Bank Palestinians also demonstrated, joining tens of thousands of Muslims from Bangaldesh to Istanbul who have held large rallies against Macron, often under the slogan “anyone but God’s prophet,” meaning that they consider what they call insults to Mohammad a red line.
Macron said last week that a French teacher beheaded outside his school near Paris earlier this month “was killed because Islamists want our future.”
The teacher, Samuel Paty, was murdered after he showed students cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a class on free speech. Visual depictions of Muhammad are strictly prohibited according to most interpretations of Islamic law.
“We will not give up cartoons,” Macron said, declaring that Islamists “will never have” France’s future.
Macron’s statements triggered a worldwide backlash, with some companies in the Arab and Muslim worlds calling for boycotts of French products.
In Tel Aviv, several dozen Arab Israeli demonstrators protested in front of the French Embassy in Tel Aviv during the afternoon, with protesters chanting “with spirit and blood, we’ll redeem you, oh Muhammad.” Some demonstrators held signs comparing Macron to a medieval crusader.
“We are going before the French Embassy in Tel Aviv to make our voice heard. We hate no one. But we hate those who aggress against our prophet. We will side with no one who [does] that. The prophet did not insult anyone, so why he should be insulted?” said Al-Aqsa Association President Safwat Freij in a video statement.
“God’s prophet lives within us. Our cities teem with activities as we chant our love for the prophet, and that he truly is ‘mercy unto the world,” Freij said, quoting a well-known Qur’anic description of Muhammad.
Palestinians also gathered in al-Manarah Square in Ramallah, holding signs criticizing Macron and even burning photographs of the French president.
Many of the protests inside Israel proper have been organized by the Southern Islamic Movement. The movement, considered more moderate than its banned counterpart in the north, is represented in the Knesset by Mansour Abbas’s United Arab List faction, which is part of the predominantly-Arab Joint List party.
“The Islamic Movement condemns the insult to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and we hold Macron responsible for the spread of the hate speech in France… as well as the rattling of Muslim feelings in France and the world over,” Islamic Movement political chief and former Joint List MK Ibrahim Hegazy said in a statement calling for Macron to apologize.
Hundreds of Arab Israeli demonstrators stood at intersections in cities and towns across the country on Monday night at similar protests.
According to Haaretz reporter Jack Khoury, while most of the demonstrations wound down without incidents, a few black flags bearing the symbol of the extremist Islamic State terror group were raised at a rally of dozens in the northern Arab town of Barta’a.
While the Islamic Movement has repeatedly condemned Macron’s remarks, the political group’s Arabic-language Facebook page did not contain a condemnation of the murder of Paty. In a statement, Hegazy merely condemned all forms of violence without specifically mentioning the teacher’s murder.
“Islam is the wellspring of security and world peace, and rejects violence in all its forms, and holds the French President responsible for hate speech and racism against Muslims,” Hegazy said.
The Gaza-based Hamas terror group also condemned Macron’s remarks.
“Insulting religions and prophets is not a matter of freedom of expression. Rather, it promotes a culture of hatred,” Hamas said in a statement.
But Hamas has been attempting to distance itself from Paty’s murder, as the group allegedly responsible for his killing was named after and inspired by Hamas founder Ahmad Yassin.
“We are not a party to this, our struggle is only against the Zionist Occupation and for freedom and independence,” Hamas said in a statement following the killing.
A larger demonstration is being planned for Thursday in front of the French Embassy in Tel Aviv. The protest will coincide with the Mawlid holiday, which celebrates Muhammad’s birthday.
AFP contributed to this report.