More than 180,000 people turned out on Sunday to march against antisemitism in France, after a surge in anti-Jewish incidents across the country in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Police said 105,000 people had joined the Paris march, while interior ministry figures put the nationwide figure at 182,000. Thousands of people gathered at more than 70 events across the country, including in major cities Lyon, Nice and Strasbourg.
The same slogan was adopted nationally: “For the Republic, against antisemitism.”
“Our order of the day today is… the total fight against antisemitism which is the opposite of the values of the republic,” Senate speaker Gerard Larcher, who organized the Paris demonstration with lower house speaker Yael Braun-Pivet, told broadcaster LCP before the marchers set off.
Tensions have been rising in the French capital — home to large Jewish and Muslim communities — in the wake of the October 7 massacre by Hamas on Israel, followed by a month of an Israeli ground operation aimed at destroying the terror group.
Sunday’s march packed tens of thousands of people into the setting-off point at Invalides Park, AFP journalists reported, while nearby metro stations and streets were also filled with people.
More than 3,000 police and gendarmes were deployed to maintain security.
At the front of the march were French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, the two speakers and dignitaries including former presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as religious leaders.
Tens of Thousands gathered in Paris today to stand in solidarity with the Jewish community, in the wake of an alarming rise of antisemitism. ????????????????❤️???? pic.twitter.com/Wg8K0xEUBr
— Charles Weber (@CWBOCA) November 12, 2023
Around 500,000 Jewish people live in France, making up Europe’s largest community.
“I never thought I’d have to demonstrate one day against antisemitism,” said Johanna, 46, a medical secretary from Paris suburb Seine-Saint-Denis. She said her reason for coming was “so as not to be afraid to be Jewish.”
Holding a French flag, Robert Fiel said marching against antisemitism is “more than a duty.”
“It’s a march against violence, against antisemitism, against all (political extremes) that are infiltrating the society, to show that the silent majority does exist,” the 67-year-old said.
La France Insoumise’s protest this morning against antisemitism in Paris has been disrupted by a group of people carrying signs saying ‘touche pas au vel d’hiv’ and ‘touche pas à la mémoire ‘ pic.twitter.com/kHIVbAPLl2
— Sunniva Rose (@Sunniva_Rose) November 12, 2023
Family members of some of the 40 French citizens killed in the initial Hamas onslaught, and of those missing or held hostage, also took part in the march.
Patrick Klugman, a lawyer and a member of the “Freethem” committee working to obtain the release of people held by Hamas and other groups in Gaza, said the large participation in the march is meaningful and symbolic in reassuring Jewish communities in France.
“I am very proud of my country because of this mobilization,” Klugman said. “I feel less alone than in the past weeks and days.”
Earlier Sunday, thousands of people gathered in major French cities including Lyon, Nice and Strasbourg behind the same slogan as the Paris march.
“Everyone should feel like it’s their business” to combat anti-Jewish feelings, France’s Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia told broadcaster Radio J.
Terrorists rampaged through southern communities on October 7, brutally murdering some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in their homes and at a music festival, and abducted at least 240 people into the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s intense aerial and ground offensive targeting Hamas infrastructure has killed over 11,000 people, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza. The figure cannot be verified independently and is believed to include members of terror groups and civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets.
France has recorded nearly 1,250 antisemitic acts since the attack.
Massive march against antisemitism in Paris. pic.twitter.com/QXZQoMhqau
— Eleanor Beardsley (@ElBeardsley) November 12, 2023
On the eve of the march, French President Emmanuel Macron — who did not attend Sunday — condemned the “unbearable resurgence of unbridled antisemitism” in the country.
“A France where our Jewish citizens are afraid is not France,” he wrote in a letter published in Saturday’s Le Parisien.
Macron condemned the “confusion” surrounding the rally and said it was being “exploited” by some politicians for their own ends.
Macron said he would attend the rally “in my heart and in spirit,” but not in person. “My role is to build unity of the country and to be firm on values,” Macron said Saturday on the sidelines of Armistice Day commemorations to mark the end of World War I.
The hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party boycotted the event. LFI leader Jean-Luc Melenchon rejected the march as a meeting of “friends of unconditional support for the massacre” of Palestinians in Gaza.
A separate rally against antisemitism that LFI organized in western Paris was disrupted on Sunday morning by counter-demonstrators.
???????????? FLASH | "Le Pen, casse-toi, les Juifs veulent pas de toi !", ont scandé plusieurs manifestants contre la présence du RN et de Marine Le Pen à la #MarcheContreLAntisémitisme.
— Cerfia (@CerfiaFR) November 12, 2023
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen — who also encountered protesters as she arrived — declared the march should also serve to stand against “Islamic fundamentalism,” a pet theme of her anti-immigrant party.
The National Rally (RN) was known for decades as the National Front (FN), led by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen — a convicted Holocaust denier.
Aiming to show the party has changed, “We are exactly where we should be” taking part in the march, Le Pen told reporters shortly before it began, calling any objections “petty political quibbles.”
Communist leader Fabien Roussel said he would “not march alongside” the RN.
Other left-wing parties as well as youth and rights organizations marched behind a common banner separated from the far right.
Prime Minister Borne said Sunday, “There is no place for posturing” at the march, writing on X that “this is a vital battle for national cohesion.”
Borne’s own father survived the Nazi death camp Auschwitz in occupied Poland, only to take his own life when she was 11.
Among the long list of recent antisemitic acts, Paris prosecutors are investigating an incident on October 31, when buildings in the city and suburbs were daubed with dozens of Stars of David.
The graffiti, which brought back memories of the Nazi occupation of Paris during World War II and the deportation of Jews to death camps, was widely condemned.
The march took place a day after several thousand people demonstrated in Paris under the rallying cry “Stop the massacre in Gaza.”
The left-wing organizers called for France to “demand an immediate ceasefire” between Israel and Hamas terrorists.