As pro-Palestinian protests have increasingly ended in violence, the French government banned all demonstrations concerning the Gaza conflict.
Sunday, French media reported that a protest in Sarcelles, a suburb north of Paris, carried on in defiance of the government’s ban, ended in a firebomb being thrown at a local synagogue as well as several cars being lit on fire.
At a memorial service in honor of 13,000 French Jews, deported to Auschwitz at Vel d’Hiv, Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared; “The fight against anti-Semitism is not the problem of Jews, it is the problem of the Republic, of all of France. …It is a national concern.” This came after additional violent demonstrations in Paris in days leading up to the event.
“The government is doing all that they can,” said Levi Matusof, a Paris-based consultant with European institutions. “We see in the French leadership strong solidarity with the Jewish people.” Matusof went on to explain that the chaos caused by these demonstrations has moved the government to its militant approach. “The leadership is realizing this is not issue of Middle-East politics spilling over, but a deep problem in French society.”
For a Western democracy to ban public protest is, obviously, a dramatic step. Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, Director of the Paris offices of the American Jewish Congress, told Hamodia, “In an opinion poll before the ban in a French popular newspaper, 58% of the readers favored a ban. Nevertheless there has been a lot of debate about whether this was the right kind of initiative.”
In addition to the concerted efforts from police, the Jewish community itself has mobilized to ensure its safety. “The Jewish community has organized itself well, in particular via the SPCJ, Jewish Protection Service. It works in complete cooperation with public authorities to ensure that articles in synagogues are protected as well as during large community events. It is also working with schools so as to work on security issues,” said Rodan-Benzaquen.
Despite challenges, the Jewish community continues to function as normally as possible. “People are not afraid to leave their homes,” Matusof told Hamodia. “People are concerned but serene and there is the needed security, but it’s not overdone.” Matusof continued to explain that the recent hostility has brought out a strengthening of Jewish identity among the community. “The Jewish camps are full and the shuls have had more people than before.”
Rodan-Benzaquen drew a less positive picture. “There is a lot of fear and worry among French Jews. Many ask … whether they have a future in France. They worry about their children, about their safety.”
Matusof expressed his relief from the strong support that has been forthcoming from the government and from Europe in general. He noted the lack of condemnations from the European Union on the Gaza campaign. “People are realizing what is happening in France. Social media makes it very hard to hide the mayhem … People support action against it, a big change from what has been in recent years.”