French anti-war protests shift focus

Demonstrations evolve into rallies against Israel led by French Arab youths

War In Iraq


PARIS - The anti-war movement in France has turned anti-Israeli, as demonstrations against the war in Iraq have evolved into a battleground for French Arab Muslims to attack Israel, Jews and Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.

As tens of thousands of protesters against the U.S.-led war took to the streets in Paris yesterday, 5,000 police officers and a team of marshals were stationed alongside them. Their goal was to prevent a recurrence of an event during a march a week ago where protesters marching with a pro-Palestinian group attacked members of the left-wing Zionist youth group Hachomer Hatzair. The group said that two of its members were beaten with metal bars and treated for injuries at a hospital.

Banners at recent demonstrations have shown the Star of David intertwined with the Nazi swastika.

Some protesters hung a huge banner that read "No to racism and anti-Semitism" on the Place de la Concorde yesterday near the heavily guarded U.S. Embassy. Bumper stickers with the same message were distributed to the crowd.

But young French Arab teen-agers from the poor suburbs chanted slogans pledging war and martyrdom in the name of Palestinians and Iraqis and against Israel.

"We are all Palestinians, we are all Iraqis, we are all kamikazes!" chanted one group, no older than 14 or 15, from the suburb of Gargesles-Gonesses. Others chanted: "We are all martyrs! Allahu akbar! God is more powerful than the United States."

Both boys and girls wore the Palestinian scarf known as the kaffiyeh. One Moroccan-born man stepped on an image of the Israeli flag. Another French Arab pointed to a group of protesters from a Jewish student association and said: "They are targets. They are not welcome here because of what they did to our Palestinian brothers."

Young French Arabs waved Palestinian flags and carried banners that read "Protection for the Palestinians" and "Israel unpunished equals Palestine strangled."

It is easy for the lines to be blurred between protests against Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and anti-Semitism. The center-right French government is extremely sensitive to charges that anti-Semitism lurks in France, and French officials and organizers of the protest quickly condemned last weekend's attack.

"In the name of Parisians, I want to condemn, as strongly as possible, these unacceptable acts," Mayor Bertrand Delanoe said in a statement Monday.

"This is not our war," Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told Parliament on Tuesday. Warning disaffected French Muslim youths not to use the war in Iraq as a pretext for raising tensions at home, he added, "Whether it's the Muslims of France, or the Jews of France, each has the right to pray, believe or live his faith as he sees fit."

The Paris police chief, Jean-Paul Proust, announced plans to set up a special police detective unit in Paris to deal with crimes deemed racist and anti-Semitic.

France has also tightened security at 2,000 Jewish and Muslim buildings across the country.

The increased tension comes as a government watchdog organization released a report Thursday that there had been an "explosion" in anti-Semitic incidents in France in 2002 as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and military preparations for a war in Iraq.

In its annual report on racism in France, the National Consultative Committee on Human Rights said there had been a sixfold increase over 2001 in acts of violence against Jewish property and persons. Of 313 acts of racist violence documented in 2002, 193 were anti-Semitic, it said.

In a second category of racist acts - threats, graffiti and insults - more than 70 percent of the nearly 1,000 incidents were aimed at the Jewish community, while most of the rest were aimed at the North African immigrant community, the report said.

"If the increase in the number of attacks aimed at the immigrant community is significant, the quantity of attacks aimed at the Jewish community has truly exploded," the report said.

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