French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday hosted religious leaders for talks on combating antisemitism in France, a day after marches around the country brought out nearly 200,000 concerned over an upsurge in acts against Jews.
There have been growing tensions in France, home to large Muslim and Jewish communities, as war rages in the Gaza Strip between Palestinian terror group Hamas and Israel.
Macron had urged the religious leaders to make an “educational effort to increase the number of measures addressed to young people,” Catholic bishops’ conference head Eric de Moulins-Beaufort told reporters after the meeting.
“The president’s aim, which of course we will help pass on, is to spread this message,” said Elie Korchia, president of France’s Central Israelite Consistory.
“Many young people no longer necessarily read the press, no longer watch TV, sometimes they’re shut up in a language of their own, without reaching out to others,” he added.
Monday’s talks were a “continuation of the appeal for national unity and brotherhood” Macron had made in a letter published on Saturday in the daily Le Parisien, his Elysee Palace office said ahead of the meeting.
France has seen an upsurge in antisemitic acts since Hamas terrorists rampaged across southern communities on October 7, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in their homes and at a music festival, and abducting at least 240 people to the Gaza Strip.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza alleged that Israel’s intense aerial and ground offensive targeting Hamas since then has killed over 11,000 people. The figure cannot be verified independently and is believed to include members of terror groups and civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets.
Macron wrote that “a France where our Jewish fellow citizens are afraid is not France,” calling on people to rally around the country’s “values” and “universalism.”
‘No victimhood contest’
While the presidency did not release an exact guest list for Monday’s gathering, France’s Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia and rector of the Paris Grand Mosque Chems-Eddine Hafiz were also present alongside leaders representing the Orthodox church, Buddhism, and Protestantism.
Sunday’s march “should have been made into a battle against racism, that was important,” Hafiz said, arguing that as well as “a real increase in antisemitism,” France has seen “an outburst of remarks made against Muslims.”
Nevertheless, “I don’t want to get into a victimhood contest,” he added.
Over 180,000 people turned out across France on Sunday according to police figures, 105,000 of them in Paris, to join marches “for the republic and against antisemitism.”
Macron himself has been criticized for staying away from the march. His office has noted he never attends rallies.
Jordan Bardella, head of the far-right National Rally (RN) — which controversially joined the rally — told broadcaster RTL Monday that the president had “missed a rendezvous with history.”
Sylvain Maillard, leader of Macron’s party in the National Assembly lower house, defended the president, telling Sud Radio that “a president’s place isn’t at a demonstration.”
Macron “will be judged on how effective state action against antisemitism is, rather than his presence at the head of a one-day demonstration,” political commentator Guillaume Tabard wrote in the conservative daily Le Figaro.
‘Urge Israel to stop’
Macron has also been rebuked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after criticizing Israel’s extensive bombing campaign in Gaza in a weekend interview with the BBC.
“Civilians are bombed… these babies, these ladies, these old people are bombed and killed… there is no reason for that and no legitimacy. So we do urge Israel to stop,” he said.
The French leader’s office said late Sunday that he had spoken with President Isaac Herzog by phone in an apparent bid to calm the waters.
Macron “again expressed his solidarity with Israel in the face of the horror of the terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas” and “reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself and repeated France’s solidarity with Israel,” the Elysee said.