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Hundreds of thousands march in France against anti-Semitism

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Hundreds of thousands march in France against anti-Semitism
Protesters gather during a demonstration against anti-Semitism in Marseille on Sunday, one of dozens that took place around France. Photo by CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP

Hundreds of thousands of people took part in marches against anti-Semitism across France on Sunday, amid a surge in attacks on France's Jewish community since October 7th.

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"Our order of the day today is... the total fight against anti-Semitism which is the opposite of the values of the republic," Senate speaker Gerard Larcher, who organised the demonstration with lower house speaker Yael Braun-Pivet, told broadcaster LCP before the marchers set off.

An estimated 100,000 people turned out to March in Paris, but there were also smaller marches in other French cities, while in small towns people gathered at the mairie to show their support. 

At the front of the Paris march were Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, the two speakers and dignitaries including former presidents François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as religious leaders.

President Emmanuel Macron did not attend, but released an open letter to the French people in which he said that: "A France where our Jewish citizens are afraid is not France. A France where the French are afraid because of their religion or their origins is not France.

"No tolerance for the intolerable."

 

Big marches took place in several other towns including Marseille Grenoble, Nice, Bordeaux, Montepellier, Metz and Toulouse.

 

 

Tensions have been rising in France - home to the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe - in the wake of the October 7th attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas on Israel, followed by a month of Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

More than 3,000 police and gendarmes were deployed in Paris to maintain security at the "great civic march", according to Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, and police reported there were no major incidents.

 "I never thought I'd have to demonstrate one day against anti-Semitism," said Johanna, 46, a medical secretary from Paris suburb Seine-Saint-Denis.

Polish-born French writer, artist and human rights activist Marek Halter (4th R) and officials march bearing a banner which reads as "We march against anti-Semitism" in Paris on November 12, 2023. (Photo by Geoffroy Van der Hasselt / AFP)

She said her reason for coming was "so as not to be afraid to be Jewish".

Since the October 7th attacks, more than 1,000 anti-Semitics incidents have been reported in France.

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"Everyone should feel like it's their business" to combat anti-Jewish feeling, France's chief rabbi Haim Korsia told broadcaster Radio J.

Hamas's shock October 7th attack killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in Israel and 239 people taken hostage, according to Israeli officials.

The Israeli air and ground military campaign in response has left more than 11,000 people in Gaza dead, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

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'Confusion'

On the eve of the march, President Emmanuel Macron condemned the "unbearable resurgence of unbridled anti-Semitism" 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 also condemned the "confusion" surrounding the rally and said it was being "exploited" by some politicians for their own ends.

The hard-left La France Insoumise (LFI) party boycotted the event which the far-right Rassemblement National (RN) attended.

LFI leader Jean-Luc Melenchon rejected the march as a meeting of "friends of unconditional support for the massacre" of Palestinians in Gaza.

Protesters holding a placard which reading "Anti-Semitism kills" (C), participate in a march against anti-Semitism in Paris

Protesters shout slogans holding placards reading "With or without a Kippah, same battle!" (C), "When will we be able to say happy as a Jew in France?" (R), as they take part in a march against anti-Semitism in Paris, on November 12, 2023. (Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

A separate rally against anti-Semitism that LFI organised in western Paris was disrupted on Sunday morning by counter-demonstrators.

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 Rassemblement National (RN) was known for decades as the Front National (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 organisations marched behind a common banner separated from the far right.

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READ ALSO OPINION: A march against anti-Semitism is vital for France, but will also reveal hypocrisy

'No posturing'

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Sunday that "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 anti-Semitic acts, Paris prosecutors are investigating an incident on October 31st, 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 deportation of Jews to death camps, was widely condemned.

The march also comes a day after several thousand people demonstrated in Paris under the rallying cry "Stop the massacre in Gaza".

The left-wing organisers called for France to "demand an immediate ceasefire" between Israel and Hamas militants.

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