France's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve promised on Monday to crack down on anti-Semitism after violence marred pro-Palestinian rallies staged in and around Paris protesting Israel's military operation in Gaza.
"It is unacceptable to target synagogues or shops simply because they are managed by Jews," Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters during a visit to the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, where protesters looted shops and clashed with riot police on Sunday.
"Nothing can justify anti-Semitism, noting can justify that kind of violence. This will be fought and sanctioned," Cazeneuve said.
The demonstration in the Paris suburb is the third to have deteriorated into violence in the space of eight days, in a country that contains the largest Muslim population in Western Europe and the third largest Jewish community in the world, after Israel and the United States.
In Sarcelles, which has a large community of Sephardic Jews, a banned but orderly demonstration of several hundred descended into chaos when dozens of youth - some masked - set fire to bins and lit firecrackers and smoke bombs.
Looters then began raiding shops, wrecking a funeral home and destroying its front window. Others raided a pharmacy which caught fire. AFP reported that young women were seen grabbing baby milk inside, while another shouted, "We're going to get the cash register!"
Security forces then fired rubber bullets in the direction of the looters.
Not far away, riot police blocked access to the local synagogue, where a group of young men stood guard armed with clubs and iron bars, one of them flying an Israeli flag.
Deep divides in France exposed
The deadly bombing of Gaza has exposed deep divides within French society: a Jewish community increasingly concerned over anti-Semitism, a growing radical Islamic fringe, and far-left activists with strong opposition to Israeli policies in the Palestinian Territories.
The violence in Sarcelles closely mirrored that of a rally Saturday in the northern 18th arrondissement of Paris, which began peacefully but was hijacked by troublemakers and quickly grew violent. Cars were set alight and rioters hurled rocks and other objects at the security forces. The police responded with force; firing tear gas and arresting protestors.
Both rallies had been banned out of fear of unrest and amid concern that the Jewish community would be targeted after protesters last weekend attempted to enter two synagogues in the French capital.
Recent attacks on Jewish targets have fuelled an increasing exodus to Israel, with 2,200 Jews leaving France in the first six months of the year compared with fewer than 600 a year ago.
The decision to ban the protests sparked fury as they took place anyway and turned violent, while authorised ones elsewhere in the country, as well as in other cities across Europe, were peaceful.
Though patrolled by police, few incidents were reported in those demonstrations.
London saw both pro- and anti-Israel rallies on Sunday, but police kept demonstrators at a distance and no arrests were made. Some 11,000 marched in central Vienna on Sunday. In Amsterdam, there were some 3,000 marchers. In Stockholm about 1,000 people protested.
"We're not anti-Semites; we're here for the people. We call on Europeans and Americans to finally do something," organisers of the march in Vienna said.
Government defends Paris protest ban
France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended the decision to stop the Paris protest, saying the violence that unfolded "justifies all the more the brave choice by the interior ministry to ban a demonstration."
Speaking as he commemorated the anniversary of the mass roundup of Jews in Paris on July 16 and 17, 1942, Valls warned of "a new form of anti-Semitism".
He said it was spreading "on the Internet, on networks, in working class areas, among young people who are often aimless, who have no awareness of history, who hide their 'hatred of the Jews' behind the facade of anti-Zionism and behind hatred of the Israeli state."
President François Hollande also hit out at anti-Semitism and racism Sunday, saying it would not be tolerated.
"The Republic is about being able to live together, to look at our history and at the same time to always be ready to defend democratic values, not to be influenced by arguments that are too far away from here to be imported, not to be swept away by global shock waves," he said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-07-21