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France Denounces Anti-Semitism, Braces for More Gaza Protests

  • Lisa Bryant

Pro-Palestinian protesters face police during a demonstration against violence in the Gaza strip, which had been banned by police in Paris, July 19, 2014.

Pro-Palestinian protesters face police during a demonstration against violence in the Gaza strip, which had been banned by police in Paris, July 19, 2014.

The foreign ministers of France, Germany and Italy denounced Tuesday rising anti-Semitism in their countries, where thousands have protested in recent days against Israel's strikes in Gaza.

The fallout has been significant in France, which is home to Europe's largest Muslim and Jewish communities.

Like elsewhere in Europe, French have taken to the streets in recent days to demonstrate against Israel's deadly offensive in Gaza that has killed more than 600 people.

Most of the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, but in the Paris area, where protesters defied government bans against the rallies, they have taken a violent turn. Youths have attacked synagogues and Jewish businesses.

Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions President Roger Cukierman said French Jews are anguished and fearful.

"We have had eight synagogues attacked, we have had shops being aggressed, mezuzot [small religious scrolls] being torn out. We have heard crowds shouting death to the Jews, not death to Israel, although they pretend to demonstrate in favor of Hamas and Palestinians and against the state of Israel," said Cukierman.

French political and religious authorities have strongly denounced the violence. France hosts about half a million Jews and 5 million Muslims. The majority of both communities have roots in North Africa, so violence in the Middle East resonates strongly here.

Late Monday, religious leaders gathered for an interfaith service in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, a day after vandals attacked Jewish businesses and a synagogue there.

French Council of the Muslim Faith head Dalil Boubakeur, who attended the ceremony, said the vast majority of French Muslims are not anti-Semitic. How could they be, he told French radio, when they themselves are battling racism?

Beyond events in the Middle East, France remains haunted by its World War II past. The Vichy regime of occupied France deported thousands of Jews to Nazi concentration camps.

Just a few days ago, the country marked the so-called "raid of Vel d'Hiv," when more than 8,000 French Jews were rounded up around Paris in 1942 and deported.

France's leftist government has called for zero tolerance against anti-Semitism. Attending a Vel d'Hiv ceremony in Paris, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the entire country must take up the fight against anti-Semitism.

But recent government bans against the Gaza protests have backfired. The protests took place anyway. So did the violence. More demonstrations are expected this week, and the Jewish community and French authorities are bracing for more violence.

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