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France

An ‘explosion of violence’: French press reacts to Gaza protests

© Photo: AFP / Pierre Andrieu | A French riot police officer looks at the burning barricades along the tramway line in Sarcelles

Text by Sam BALL

Latest update : 2014-07-21

The French press has reacted with a mixture of alarm and condemnation over the descent into violence of two pro-Palestinian demonstrations in the country over the weekend.

Protests against Israel’s assault on Gaza turned ugly in the Barbès area of north Paris on Saturday and again in Sarcelles, a suburb of the capital, on Sunday. Both protests had been banned by French authorities after trouble at a previous demonstration that saw scuffles outside two synagogues in the centre of Paris.

Right-wing daily Le Figaro described both an “explosion” and “contagion” of violence hitting the country.

It made particular mention of the apparent targeting of Jewish people and businesses by some of the protesters.

“Jewish stores … were ransacked with cries of ‘Death to Israel’,” it said of the Barbès protest.

In Sarcelles, where there is a large Jewish community, the protest turned into a “sort of face-to-face confrontation” between Jewish residents and the protesters “with police in the middle”.

‘Each camp has its extremists’

Left-leaning Libération focused on the way the conflict between Israel and Gaza was being echoed in the divisions between communities in France – home to Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim populations.

“Gaza: war over there, a powder keg here”, its headline read.

The demonstrations had “shown the extreme sensitivity of French society to an increasingly deadly conflict,” said the newspaper.

In an editorial, the newspaper’s managing editor Laurent Joffrin accused actors on both sides of seeking to deepen divisions.

“It is the hatred of Jews that drives the perpetrators of these acts of violence, who want to turn a political protest into a war between communities,” he said, while stressing that it was only a minority that were guilty of such acts.

At the same time, leaders of France’s Jewish community must “take their share” of responsibility.

“They are quite wrong to so often align their discourse with that of the Netanyahu government, including its settlement policy, while the Jewish community is much more diverse,” he said.

They should also condemn the actions of Jewish militant groups, such as the Jewish Defence League, he said, adding: “Each camp has its extremists.”

Le Monde also warned of the “risk of contagion” to France of the Israel-Gaza conflict, noting the “extreme inflammability of tensions” between France’s Jewish and Muslim communities.

Government ban ‘a confession of impotence’

Criticism of the French government’s decision to ban the protests was also a common theme among the country’s media.

Many noted that demonstrations in other parts of France that had not been banned by authorities had passed without any notable trouble.

The decision to ban the protests was “an admission of impotence on the part of government,” said Le Monde. ”It recognised that it does not have the means to prevent trouble.”

Furthermore, it reinforced the idea that President François Hollande was favouring Israel, it said.

“Instead of soothing them, it has fanned tensions,” said the newspaper.

Writing in the financial paper, Les Echos, columnist Cecile Cornudet also questioned whether the ban had acted as a “provocation that fed the violence”, while noting that another protest, scheduled to take place in Paris on Wednesday, has been given the go-ahead by police.

Others claimed the government had infringed on people’s civil liberties by forbidding the protests.

“The French government has singled itself out by prohibiting its citizens from expressing their rejection of the killings in Gaza,” said Jean-Paul Pierot in an editorial for the far-left newspaper L'Humanité.

“Attempting to discredit men, women, young people and families who came to demonstrate for peace and justice in Palestine by accusing them of importing the conflict in the Middle East to France is unworthy of a government that claims to be of the left.”

Date created : 2014-07-21

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