Tens of thousands of people took part in a march in Paris on Sunday “for the Republic, against anti-Semitism”, AFP noted, after the explosion in the number of acts hostile to Jews in France since the Hamas massacres in Israel on October 7 and the military response that followed in Gaza.
• Read also: The presence of the far right at the big march against anti-Semitism in Paris annoys
“A France where our Jewish fellow citizens are afraid is not France.” In a country which has the largest Jewish community in Europe (around 500,000 people), the head of state, Emmanuel Macron, set the tone before this march, held at the call of the presidents of the National Assembly and of the Senate, Yaël Braun-Pivet and Gérard Larcher.
If he does not take part, the French president said on Saturday that he would be there “in thought”.
“For the Republic, against anti-Semitism”: it is behind this banner that the presidents of the two chambers set off on the route which connects the Assembly to the Senate, alongside Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, whose father Jewish faith was deported, ex-presidents François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy and former heads of government.
“Controversies must not sully this unprecedented initiative,” declared Yaël Braun-Pivet, referring in particular to the presence of leaders of far-right parties, including Marine Le Pen of the National Rally (RN) and Eric Zemmour of Reconquête.
“We are exactly where we need to be,” replied Marine Le Pen. A group of activists from a left-wing Jewish organization, Golem, tried to oppose his participation, which was quickly contained by the police.
“I didn’t think I would have to demonstrate one day against anti-Semitism,” Johanna, 46, a medical secretary in the Paris region, told AFP.
According to the authorities, anti-Semitic acts have exploded in France – more than 1,000, a record – since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.
Part of the French radical left announced that it would boycott the event due to the presence of the far right.
On the eve of the march, Emmanuel Macron deplored “the unbearable resurgence of unbridled anti-Semitism” in a letter to the French published by the daily Le Parisien.
Faced with an “odious” phenomenon, he called for the unity of France “behind its values, its universalism”.
But the march and demonstrations in the provinces – where more than 70 rallies have been announced – are far from reflecting a national unity, their preparation having given rise to a fierce political battle over the presence of the far right.
The participation of Marine Le Pen’s RN, “a political party created by the heirs of Vichy”, is “not unity, but indecency”, judged government spokesperson Olivier Véran in reference to Marshal Pétain’s regime of collaboration with the Nazis.
“Is it so difficult to take a break from the subject that should bring us together?” replied the leader of the RN deputies, Marine Le Pen.
La France insoumise (LFI, radical left) of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, accused of ambivalence on anti-Semitism, does not participate in the demonstration due to the presence of the RN, even if Insoumis took part in other initiatives Sunday.
The case for example in Strasbourg (east), where some of its elected officials marched with several thousand people. Other gatherings in the provinces in the morning brought together 3,000 people in Lyon, as many in Nice.
In the capital, a wreath laying organized by LFI near the site of the former Vel d’Hiv – a gathering place for Jews arrested by the French police before their deportation in 1942 – was disrupted by people brandishing signs “Don’t touch memory” and shouting “collaborators”.
The work of “a dozen excited people”, reacted the head of the LFI deputies, Mathilde Panot.
“More than 3,000 police officers and gendarmes” as well as “mobilized elite units” are deployed in the capital, according to Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.
The left-wing parties Europe Ecologie-Les Verts, Socialist Party and Communist Party as well as associations for the defense of human rights and youth organizations march behind a common banner “against anti-Semitism and all the instigators of hatred and racism”, to physically isolate the extreme right.
Many representatives of religions are also expected, but, in a country which hosts one of the largest Muslim communities in Europe, several Muslim leaders or bodies have declined the call, deploring that it does not include “not a word about Islamophobia” and pointing to “conflations” between Islam and anti-Semitism.