Hundreds of police were out in force in Paris, where a beach event honoring the Israeli city of Tel Aviv sparked controversy and a rival event supporting Gaza.
Along with the beach umbrellas and the sunbathers, politics was on display in downtown Paris.
Women brandishing an Israeli flag danced to Jewish music. People waited patiently in line in front of a truck advertising “peace food” and selling falafel and other Middle Eastern specialties. The city’s annual Paris Beach festival has been devoting every day to a different beach around the world.
Few have attracted so much attention or controversy than this one feting the laid-back Israeli city of Tel Aviv.
For Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, the event is not about politics but about people, a sentiment echoed by math teacher Rolande Remokh, who was among hundreds of Parisians and tourists attending the festival that creates an artificial beach on the Seine River.
“I am Jewish and I wanted to [have] bring some joy. Not always political, just [about] smile. People mix things. They do not think. They just think there is politics. There is religion," said Remokh.
But it is hard to ignore the politics here. Politicians and some leftist groups have sharply criticized the Tel Aviv event, calling it a public relations stunt for the Israeli government.
A few yards away, separated by a line of police, protesters set up a rival “Gaza” beach event, where speakers called for a boycott of Israel and greater support for the Palestinian cause.
The protesters included 24-year-old French-Moroccan Fadoua El Amri who says the city has no right organizing the Tel Aviv day, just one year after the Israeli strikes on Gaza.
“They [French politicians] are making relations with Israel. They were supposed to stop the siege in Gaza. And it was not respected. Nothing has been [resolved] for the reconstruction of Gaza, nothing has been done to help people live normally under normal conditions. We are here to give attention to the Palestinians," said El Amri.
Events in the Middle East resonate strongly in France, which is home to Europe’s largest numbers of Muslims and Jews. So tensions, along with temperatures, have been rising in Paris over what should have been a very ordinary beach day.