PARIS (Oct. 8)
French Jewish leaders are breathing a sigh of relief after police intervention allowed a pro-Israel demonstration to proceed without violent incident.
Following Saturday’s deadly suicide bombing in Haifa, France’s Union of Jewish Students called a mass rally for Tuesday outside Palestinian Authority offices in Paris.
The student leaders said they intended to pressure the Palestinian leadership to “truly engage in the fight against terrorism” and to condemn P.A. President Yasser Arafat’s “doublespeak.”
The call, made just before Yom Kippur, drew the wholehearted support of the country’s major Jewish organizations, with Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella organization of French Jews, slated as one of the main speakers.
Addressing over 1,000 demonstrators on Tuesday, Cukierman accused Arafat of “never having lifted a finger to stop the terrorist acts of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”
But the calmness of the protest had been in doubt just hours earlier, when a group of 10 pro-Palestinian organizations issued a call for a simultaneous counterdemonstration at the same site.
Calling on their supporters to prevent Israeli Prime Minister Ariel “Sharon’s Parisian emulators” from “laying siege” to the P.A. building, the pro-Palestinian organizations claimed that the Jewish groups “wished to participate in the hunt against a strangulated Palestinian people and its representatives.”
That put the Jewish groups in a difficult position, wanting to avert the possibility of violent clashes while, at the same time, not wanting to capitulate to provocation. In the end, the Jewish groups decided to go ahead with their demonstration while appealing for calm.
The fear of violence was not unreasonable given the attacks on Jews during demonstrations in France against the U.S.-led war in Iraq earlier this year.
During the largest of those demonstrations in March, two Jewish youths were severely beaten after a group of people gathered for a rally by the group Joint Campaign for a Just Peace in the Middle East attacked Jews outside the Paris offices of Hashomer Hatzair, a left-wing Zionist youth movement.
Such fears also were increased by a statement from the League for Human Rights, which incorrectly named the extremist Jewish Defense League as one of the rally’s organizers.
In fact, apart from CRIF and the Jewish students, the organizers were major Jewish organizations, including the Central Consistoire and B’nai B’rith.
The threat of major violence largely dissipated by mid-afternoon, after the Paris police department banned the pro- Palestinian demonstration.
The police did allow for a token protest by the pro-Palestinian groups outside the Israeli Embassy, some two miles away from the Jewish demonstration. That demonstration took place without incident.
A number of pro-Palestinian agitators, led by the Joint Campaign’s president, Olivia Zemor, tried unsuccessfully to break through police barricades to hold their protest opposite the Jewish one.
Jewish student leader Yonathan Arfi, searching for common ground with his opponents, addressed the Palestinian supporters.
“I commit myself to fighting among my own people in order that you should never be physically threatened, and in order that your commitment should be respected,” Arfi said. “But in the same manner, I ask you to make sure that never again should a single Jew or a friend of Israel be threatened for his convictions.”
With riot police pushing the pro-Palestinian demonstrators toward the nearest metro station, Arfi’s call went unanswered.