Demonstrators gather for the rally against antisemitism in the Place de la Republique in Paris. Photo: Reuters / Philippe Wojazer.
More than 20,000 demonstrators filled the Place de la Republique in Paris on Tuesday night in response to a nationwide call for mass rallies against the continuing surge of antisemitism in France.
The show of solidarity with French Jews in the capital was replicated across the country, with rallies against antisemitism being held in more than 60 cities and towns, including Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse and Strasbourg — the city in eastern France near which only on Tuesday morning dozens of graves in a Jewish cemetery were found defaced with swastikas and antisemitic slogans.
The vandalism at the cemetery came following a week of high-profile antisemitic incidents, including the daubing of a Jewish-owned bakery with the slogan “Juden!” and the abuse hurled at the French-Jewish intellectual Alain Finkielkraut last weekend by protesters affiliated with the populist “yellow vest” movement.
Under the floodlit statue of Marianne, the symbol of the French Republic, the demonstrators who gathered at dusk in Paris held signs declaring “Ça suffit!” (“That’s enough!”), as well as the greeting “Shalom, Salaam, Salut.” Many of the signs at the rally highlighted the figure “74%” — the total increase in the number of antisemitic outrages recorded in France during 2018.
At the podium, children from schools in the local district read out speeches against antisemitism, some of them recalling the mass deportation of the Jews of Paris by the Nazis in July 1942.
French rap artist Abd al Malik closed the rally, leading the crowd in a chorus of “La Marseillaise,” the national anthem.
Initiated by the opposition Socialist Party, Tuesday’s rallies against antisemitism were backed by 14 political parties from the far left to the center-right. Political leaders attending the demonstration in Paris included Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and 14 other members of the French cabinet, including Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer and Higher Education Minister Frédérique Vidal.
Minutes before the rally against antisemitism commenced, French President Emmanuel Macron paid a separate visit to the Holocaust memorial in Paris. After laying a memorial wreath, Macron praised the nearby rally without taking further questions from assembled reporters. On Wednesday night, Macron is scheduled to deliver a much-anticipated speech at the annual dinner of CRIF, the French Jewish communal organization.
On arriving at the Holocaust memorial, Macron — who earlier in the day had visited the vandalized Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim — was accosted by a woman who implored him, “Mr. President, I’m French, Jewish, I need to talk to you! I beg you!” Aides in Macron’s office told newspaper Le Figaro that the president engaged in a short conversation with the woman, but did not share details of their discussion.
Tuesday’s rallies around France followed a debate in the French National Assembly around a new legislative proposal to criminalize anti-Zionism — understood as the call for the elimination of the State of Israel — as a form of antisemitism.
Speaking in favor of the motion, French Jewish lawmaker Meyer Habib expressed his fear that the current wave of antisemitism would force Jews to leave the country in large numbers.
Asked during his cemetery visit on Tuesday for his view on the National Assembly debate, President Macron said he opposed making anti-Zionism a criminal offense.
“I do not feel that penalizing anti-Zionism is a good solution,” Macron said. “I do believe that those who want Israel to disappear also want to target Jews, but when you examine the issue of outlawing anti-Zionism, you realize this would cause a number of problems.”
While turnout at Tuesday’s rallies did not exceed the numbers at similar previous events — several thousand marched against antisemitism in 2012 following the terrorist attack at a Jewish school in Toulouse, and did so again last year, following the brutal murder of Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll — French-language social media feeds carried extensive photos and videos of the gatherings in Paris and elsewhere.
Ce n’est pas aux #Juifs de se défendre, c’est à la #République, dit #Macron au cimetière juif de #Quatzenheim au lendemain de la profanation. La réaction est rapide. Les mots sont justes et beaux. La France est debout et l’#antisémitisme demeure la honte de notre nation.1,1564:57 PM – Feb 19, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy491 people are talking about this
Mathilde, 22 ans, militante @SOS_Racisme , intervient dans les collèges et lycées contre le racisme et L’antisemitisme. Elle est place de la #Republique #Paris ce soir pour la #manif pic.twitter.com/TeKUGQiF8o265:35 PM – Feb 19, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy
A #Lyon, plusieurs centaines de personnes sont massées place Bellecour pour protester contre toutes formes d’antisémitisme. (Photos D. Pajonk)226:12 PM – Feb 19, 2019See France 3 Rhône-Alpes’s other Tweets