Feature: Jews fear Iraq difficulties could boost anti-Semitism
Some 5,000 security personnel joined thousands at Saturday's anti-war rally in Paris. But unlike the security at other marches around the world, the French police were there to prevent anti-Semitic acts similar to those at previous rallies in the country.
Some 5,000 policemen and security personnel accompanied the tens of thousands of people participating in an anti-war protest in Paris on Saturday. But unlike the security at other anti-war rallies around the world, which aimed to prevent attacks against United States targets, the French policemen were there to prevent anti-Semitic acts similiar to those that had taken place at previous anti-war rallies in France.
Anti-war rallies around the world, including those in Europe and the U.S., often link the U.S.-led attack in Iraq to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, although in France the connection is especially emphasized. It seems that the anti-war movement in France has become anti-Israel in nature, and the anti-war protests serve as an opportunity for Muslims in France to attack Israel and Jews.
At a rally last week, pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Paris attacked members of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. The youths, one of whom was wearing a yarmulke, required medical attention after they were beaten with metal bars. Prominent at other rallies were placards with Stars of David intertwined with swastikas.
On Saturday, police officers tried to discourage similar visuals. One police officer confiscated a sticker with an equal sign between a swastika and Star of David. Another police officer took away a U.S. flag that had swastikas in place of the fifty stars. Some of the protestors aided the police officers by hanging a banner near the U.S. embassy that stated, "No to racism and anti-Semitism."
But despite these efforts, some of the protestors at the Paris rally displayed anti-Semitic behavior. Opposite the banner denouncing anti-Semitism, people hung another banner, which read, "Hitler, Bush, Sharon kill in the name of God." French teenagers of North African descent, aged 14-15, shouted anti-war slogans and denounced the deaths of Iraqi and Palestinian martyrs.
"We are all Palestinians, we are all Iraqis, we are all suicide bombers," they chanted, and condemned Israel. Other youths shouted, "We are all martyrs! Allah Akbar [God is Great]! Allah is stronger than the U.S." A man of Moroccan descent trampled an Israeli flag, and another Frenchman of Arab descent pointed at a group of Jewish Student Union protestors and yelled, "They are the targets. They aren't wanted here because of what they are doing to our Palestinian brothers."
Similar occurrences at previous rallies, and especially the attack of the two youths last Saturday, led to condemnation by French officials and demonstration organizers. "In the name of Parisian residents, I want to harshly condemn this unacceptable behavior," said Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe in a statement released last Monday. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy warned the Muslim youths not to use the war in Iraq to escalate tensions. Paris police chief Jean-Paul Proust announced that a special police unit would be established to deal with crimes of a racist or anti-Semitic nature, and he stressed that the "Jewish community needs to know that it has someone to turn to."
The French government, which feared such incidents, warned rally organizers several weeks ago "not to import" the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to refrain from incitement that could lead to offenses against Jews.
Since last weekend, following the attack that took place at the demonstration, rally organizers decided to place uniformed guards at each rally, to prevent the occurrence of anti-Semitic acts.
Last year, a sharp increase in anti-Semitic acts was marked in France, in light of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the preparations for the war in Iraq. Fearing that anti-Semitism was on the rise, the French government embarked on a special project in schools last month, to halt the rise of anti-Semitism.
The phenomenon is not limited to France. In protests that took place across the United States, organizers have continuously linked the war in Iraq to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At a protest held in New York last week, protestors chanted "Occupation is a crime" and "Free Iraq and Palestine."
National director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman, said last week that if complications in the war in Iraq arise, Jews may be used as a scapegoat. Last Wednesday, the Anti-Defamation League published statistics on anti-Semitism in the U.S. in the previous year, according to which there was an eight percent increase in anti-Semitic acts across the U.S.
Similar fears have been raised in London. Security officials in the Jewish community state that at present, there is no evidence of a significant shift from anti-war rhetoric to anti-Jewish acts. Yet the sources are aware that such a shift could take place, if the number of civilian casualties in Iraq rises. Fears in Scotland Yard have led to preventative measures being taken to avert attacks, especially in Jewish neighborhoods.
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