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In Europe, Middle East Conflict Creates Tensions, Divisions


FILE - Smoke fills the air during a pro-Palestinian rally called against Israel's bombardment of the Palestinian Gaza Strip, in Paris, France, May 15, 2021.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations continued across Europe this past weekend despite a fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. The protests are one result of the Middle East violence that has divided European Union member states and left some fearful of unrest at home.

Thousands joined rallies in Paris and other French cities Saturday — demonstrations echoed in other European capitals in solidarity for the Palestinian cause.

At the Place de le Republique in the French capital, protesters chanted “Palestine will conquer,” and “Israel, assassin” -- voicing outrage at the recent clashes between Israel and Hamas, which mostly killed Palestinians.

Attending the Paris rally, Eric Conquerel, a lawmaker from the far-left France Unbowed party, said he was ashamed of his government for allegedly being soft on Israel. His views reflect a broader political divide here, with many on the French left sympathetic to the Palestinians, and the right supporting Israel.

The European Union’s only permanent member on the United Nations Security Council, France, worked with Egypt and Jordan last week to help push a cease-fire— finally struck between Israel and Hamas on Friday.

FILE - Police officers stand guard during a protest in support of Palestinians following a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Paris, France, May 15, 2021.
FILE - Police officers stand guard during a protest in support of Palestinians following a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Paris, France, May 15, 2021.

But overall, some analysts say, the EU has been marginalized in this latest spike of Middle East violence, partly because of its fractured response. Countries like Germany, Hungary and Austria are strongly supportive of Israel. Others like Belgium, Luxembourg and Sweden are more critical. Still, some analysts note a marked pro-Israel tilt across Europe in recent years.

Interviewed Sunday by French media, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian denied the EU's alleged lack of influence. He called for a policy of small steps to prevent the latest bout of Israeli-Palestinian violence from firing back up.

Internal dynamics are also shaping Europe's fractured response. Countries with large Muslim and Jewish populations are fearful of Middle East tensions playing out at home.

Germany has seen several recent attacks on synagogues, along with anti-Jewish slurs. In France, with Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim communities, the government banned a pro-Palestinian demonstration earlier this month for fears it would spill into violence.

So far, says Francis Kalifat, who heads the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, or CRIF, things have stayed generally under control. But Kalifat notes the surge of anti-Jewish attacks in recent years, including several deadly ones. We’ve experienced this situation before, he said, and we know it can happen again.

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