Over 100,000 people across France took to the streets on Sunday to show solidarity with the country’s Jewish community. The demonstrations condemned a surge in antisemitic acts since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October.
The marches occurred in Paris and other major cities amid growing tensions and attacks targeting French Jews. Leaders from across the political spectrum participated to denounce the uptick in hate crimes.
The rally in Paris drew around 105,000 demonstrators, according to the Interior Ministry. It highlighted the depth of concern over the 1,240+ antisemitic incidents reported in France over the past month.
Rising Antisemitism Since Hamas Attack
Antisemitism has risen sharply in France since Hamas began firing rockets at Israel on October 7. As Israel responded militarily, anti-Jewish sentiment and violence flared up.
Over 500 arrests related to antisemitic acts have been made so far. Both physical assaults and hate speech have surged across the country.
The aggression has largely come from extremist elements in the Muslim community angry over Israel’s actions in Gaza. But it has put France’s over 500,000 Jews on edge.
President Emmanuel Macron condemned the “unbearable resurgence” of antisemitism in an open letter. He stated “a France where our Jewish citizens are afraid is not France.”
Macron Affirms Support for Israel
Macron spoke with Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Sunday to clarify controversial remarks on Israel’s military response. He affirmed France’s support for Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas.
Last week, Macron visited Israel to show solidarity but also pushed for humanitarian aid to Gaza. His balancing act has drawn criticism from both sides of the debate in France.
The French leader has tried to walk a fine line, supporting Israel while avoiding the appearance of backing the killings of Gaza civilians. His comments created tensions with Israel despite France’s overall pro-Israel stance.
Leaders United Against Antisemitism
The protest march in Paris was called for by the heads of the Senate and National Assembly. It took place along a 1.5 mile route through the city.
Former French presidents François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy participated in the rally, along with other senior political figures. Cultural celebrities also joined the demonstration.
The political leaders aimed to show cross-party unity against the rise in antisemitism. They declared that France must stand united in protecting the rights of Jewish citizens.
Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne, whose father survived the Holocaust, said the government is telling Jews “we are at their side, we are mobilized, and we will not let anything pass.”
Far-Right, Far-Left Remain Divisive
However, parties on the far right and far left demonstrated the enduring divisiveness of the issues. Their stances highlight political rifts.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, head of the far-left France Unbowed party, dismissed the marches online. His party refuses to term Hamas a terror group, angering Jews.
The far-right National Rally attended the Paris march, sparking outcry. Some accuse it of sanitizing its image through selective condemnation of antisemitism.
These political fringes remain opposed on issues like Hamas, Israel and immigration. Their presence at the marches showed that unity remains elusive.
Thousands More Protest Nationwide
Beyond Paris, demonstrations against antisemitism occurred in Strasbourg, Marseille, Lyon and other cities. Thousands participated across France.
The march in Lyon drew attention to authorities’ limited success in stopping hate crimes. The city has suffered a threefold increase in antisemitic acts this year so far.
France has been on high alert since a terror attack in Arras on October 14. The government deployed 10,000 security personnel to guard synagogues and Jewish sites.
So far France has avoided major clashes seen on US campuses and elsewhere. But Jewish students report feeling increasingly threatened and targeted at universities.
Macron’s Ban on Pro-Palestinian Marches Overturned
The French government moved to ban pro-Palestinian marches following Hamas’s attack on Israel. However, courts ruled the bans largely unconstitutional.
Some smaller pro-Palestinian rallies proceeded under strict restrictions. But France did not see mass demonstrations on the scale of the 300,000 person protest in London on Saturday.
The limits on marches reduced tensions between pro-Palestinian and Jewish groups. But efforts to stifle pro-Palestinian activism generated criticism of the Macron administration.
Surge in Antisemitic Attacks ‘Terrifying’
Historians describe the over 1,200 documented antisemitic acts since early October as unprecedented. The hostility and violence toward Jews is provoking terror.
Marc Knobel, an expert on antisemitism, said French Jews are currently “scared in their own country.” He called the surge in hate crimes “absolutely terrifying” in its intensity and scale.
The marches aimed to provide reassurance and demonstrate solidarity in the face of antisemitism. But the climate of fear persists among Jews as threats continue.
Rallying in huge numbers, the French public sent a strong message of support. However, the crisis of rising antisemitism will likely require sustained action to resolve.
Macron and lawmakers across the spectrum pledged their commitment to combat hatred. Following these vocal declarations, pressure is on the government to implement effective solutions.
Protections for the Jewish community remain heightened in recognition of the ongoing dangers. As long as safety concerns dominate, questions will persist on the sufficiency of official responses.
France has a long history of antisemitism, from the Dreyfus affair to Vichy collaboration and beyond. The current resurgence of hostility carries echoes of this painful past.
While no simple remedy exists, French society is affirming its rejection of discrimination. The desire for change underpins calls to preserve an inclusive national identity.
Through constructive dialogue and enhanced security, France aims to restore safety and dignity for Jewish citizens. But ushering in a more tolerant era requires exertions yet to fully materialize.
The outspokenness of the recent protests sets a positive tone moving forward. Yet turning outrage into durable progress remains the deeper challenge. For French Jews to feel respected and protected again, there is much difficult work ahead.