PARIS (AP) — French authorities are forbidding pro-Palestinian protests in some cities after violence marred a recent march against the violence in Gaza, as Jewish-Muslim tensions in France have reached their highest level in years.
Moderates on both sides called Wednesday for calm, and for a halt to fighting in the Mideast. France has Western Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish populations, and Israeli-Palestinian unrest often translates into anger between the communities.
After several thousand pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched peacefully Sunday through Paris, clashes broke out among small groups, including some who attacked synagogues, Jewish stores and neighborhoods.
Militants from the Jewish Defense League were also involved in violence against pro-Palestinian demonstrators, according to Roger Cukierman, head of France’s leading Jewish organization, CRIF.
Speaking Wednesday to the Associated Press, he denounced the league’s violent methods and lamented that its actions Sunday — including provoking pro-Palestinian protesters — could further inflame anger.
Several demonstrations have been held in recent days calling for an end to Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.
A march was planned for Paris on Saturday. A police official said Wednesday said it would be banned because of “the serious risk of disruption of public order that such a protest could engender, in a context of heightened tension.” The official, who wasn’t authorized to be publicly named, spoke on condition of anonymity.
Authorities have also banned protests in Nice and Lille.
The French government is pushing for a cease-fire in Gaza and to calm tensions at home.
French authorities are struggling to stem the flow of young Muslim radicals, facing dim job prospects and discrimination in France, from heading to Syria to fight with extremists. Meanwhile French Jews are emigrating in record numbers for Israel.
“The Jewish population is worried because they are finding themselves cornered on the one hand by the right, the extreme right, which is gaining electoral support, and is still anti-Semitic in its ideology and in its ranks, and on the other hand, by pro-Palestinian forces, by the extreme left, by disaffected youth from suburban housing projects, and by the Muslim population in general,” renowned Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld said Wednesday at a memorial service in remembrance of Jews deported during World War II.
“History tells us that when there is an anti-Jewish movement we cannot control, the best thing to do is to move to another country,” he said.
Cukierman described the current tensions as the worst in decades.
During other intifadas in recent years, when anger mounted in France, he said, “We heard death to Israelis. Now we hear death to Jews.” He said anti-Arab discrimination in France feeds the anger.
He called for calm, and acknowledged that forbidding protests can be “delicate, because there is freedom of expression.”
Sofiane Benzaroual, a 22-year-old student protesting Wednesday in Paris against Israeli attacks in Gaza, said the violence against synagogues Sunday “tarnished the Palestinian flag, because the majority of Palestinians want peace, they don’t want violence.”
At the same protest stood Serge Grossvak, a member of the Parisian Jewish community. He carried a poster reading: “I am Jewish and I am here with my friends for peace.”
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press