Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across France on Sunday to call out a sharp rise in antisemitic acts since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.
In Paris, an estimated 105,000 demonstrators joined the march, making it the largest mobilization against antisemitism since the protest against the desecration of the Jewish cemetery in Carpentras in 1990, according to CNN affiliate BFM TV.
Protesters were joined in the French capital by political figures including Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and former presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy. Together they held a banner with the words, “For the Republic, against antisemitism.”
Demonstrators came out in smaller numbers in cities including Nice, Lyon and Marseille, according to BFM TV. More than 182,000 people took part in marches across the country, BFM TV reported, citing the interior ministry.
Tensions have been rising in France, and particularly in the capital, over the Israel-Hamas war, resulting in a surge in antisemitic incidents, according to French President Emmanual Macron.
In a letter published in French newspaper Le Parisien on Saturday, Macron condemned “the unbearable resurgence of unbridled antisemitism.”
He said more than 1,000 antisemitic acts were committed in France in one month alone – three times more than over the course of the entire previous year.
Macron did not join the Sunday march but said in a social media post that “a France where our Jewish fellow citizens are afraid is not France.”
“A France where French people are afraid because of their religion or their origin is not France,” he wrote. “No tolerance for the intolerable.”
Later Sunday, Macron reiterated France’s solidarity with Israel, after he was criticized by prominent figures in Israel over comments he made in an earlier interview with the BBC.
On Friday, Macron told the BBC that a ceasefire is “the only solution” to the situation in Gaza. “We share the pain and we do share a willingness to get rid of terrorism. We know what terrorism means in France. But I think there is no justification to attack civilians,” Macron said.
In a phone call with Israeli President Issac Herzog Sunday, Macron said Israel has the right to defend itself “‘in compliance with international humanitarian law.”
“The threat of terrorist groups in Gaza had to be eliminated,” Macron said, according to a statement from the Elysee Palace.
“This fight must be conducted in compliance with international humanitarian law and taking into account the protection of civilian populations.”
Macron’s calls for a ceasefire resonated as far as Australia, where Foreign Minister Penny Wong noted his comments and said, “We all want to take the next steps towards a ceasefire.”
But she added that it cannot be one-sided, pointing out that Palestinian militant group Hamas, who attacked Israel on October 7, still holds Israeli hostages.
Pro-Palestinian rallies in Europe
The marches against antisemitism in France came as pro-Palestinian demonstrators also rallied in multiple European capitals over the weekend.
Around 300,000 people in London turned out for a large pro-Palestinian rally on Saturday, according to police, marching through the streets of the British capital calling for a ceasefire.
There was a heavy police presence in central London’s Hyde Park Corner as protesters chanted “free, free Palestine” and the more controversial refrain “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”
Police said they had “faced aggression from counter-protesters” who stormed the area “in significant numbers” as the rally was building up.
Officers intercepted a group of 150 people who were launching fireworks towards the end of the march, police Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist said in a statement issued later Saturday. Arrests were made after some of the fireworks struck officers in the face, the statement read.
A pro-Palestinian demonstration also took place in Germany’s financial capital Frankfurt on Sunday, as well as in Barcelona and Brussels on Saturday.