French Anti-War Protests Lead to Anti-Jewish Violence

By Eva Cahen | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Paris ( - Daily anti-war demonstrations by high school and college students in France have brought about increased tensions between the country's estimated 5 million Muslims and French Jews.

Last Saturday, a small group of Jewish students taking part in a peace demonstration in Paris were attacked and beaten by young Muslims also marching against U.S. intervention in Iraq.

The incident was videotaped by Digipresse, a small French news agency, but France's two state television stations, France 2 and France 3, refused to broadcast it on their evening news shows, saying time constraints prevented them from showing the violence.

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe condemned the incident on Monday but reaction from the national government did not come until Tuesday.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told the National Assembly that the "government is shocked at the inadmissible and scandalous aggression that a number of young people were victims to due to the sole fact that they are Jewish."

The video was finally shown on an evening newscast on Tuesday, three days after the incident occurred.

According to Philippe Duprat, a reporter-cameraman for Digipresse who witnessed the violence, the events happened very quickly and frighteningly spiraled out of control through the spread of rumors.

"Somebody said, 'there are Jews,'" said Duprat, "and a few seconds later, individual groups of Arabs left the march to follow the anti-Jewish call. They chased and hit the Jewish students and pushed down an older woman who tried to intervene."

After the incident, some of the aggressors defended their actions, saying it was because the Jewish students had insulted Muslim girls. Police said they found no evidence to back up that claim.

With up to 90 percent of the population supporting President Jacques Chirac in his opposition to the war in Iraq, the French government has found itself for the first time sharing common ground with the country's largely disenfranchised Muslim youth, who often live in housing projects where drugs, violence and unemployment are rampant.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin held a meeting with more than a dozen official representatives to make plans for the integration of young Arabs, often children of immigrants, and "unite the community of citizens around a shared project."

What is extraordinary," said Jean-Louis Borloo, the minister for cities, "is that the whole immigrant community completely supports France's position. There has never been such national solidarity."

But for many of these young people of Arab descent, Saddam Hussein's position as a victim of American aggression has become associated with the Palestinian cause -- and consequently, anti-Israeli sentiment.

Some of the anti-war demonstrators have also been seen sporting Osama bin Laden T-shirts and the tone of the demonstrations has been strongly anti-Bush and anti-American.

There have been complaints from Jewish university student groups that there are more pro-Palestinian banners in some of the campus demonstrations than anti-war ones.

Hachomer Hatzair, the Jewish organization whose members were attacked on Saturday, has asked organizers of the anti-war demonstrations, who include major political parties such as the Socialists and Communists, to post notices saying, "Anti-Semites, there is no room for you in our marches."

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