Several young Jews were beaten by Arabs during a massive anti-war demonstration in Paris, the lastest attack in a wave of anti-Semitic violence in France over the past two years.
A mob of assailants beat two members of the Hashomer Hatzair youth organization who were standing on the sidelines of the protest Saturday, and two others were treated for bruises at a hospital, according to the Associated Press.
Among the estimated 90,000 people who turned out for the demonstration were tens of thousands of “enraged” Arabs, reported Nidra Poller, a Paris author who was at the event.
Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe spoke out against the attacks yesterday in a statement.
“In the name of Parisians, I want to condemn, as strongly as possible, these unacceptable acts,” he said. “In Paris, everyone must be respected in dignity, no matter what their culture, identity or spiritual faith.”
The wave of attacks in France against Jewish schools, temples and cemeteries has coincided with the Intifada, or uprising in the Holy Land, which began in September 2000. France has Western Europe’s largest Jewish community and one of the continent’s biggest Muslim populations. Jewish leaders have expressed fear that the war on Iraq would increase tensions.
‘There are Jews over there’
The demonstration march Saturday began at the Place de la Republique, marked by France’s symbol of liberty, the statue of Marianne.
Poller said that after a peaceful group went by, which included parents and children, the tone changed to shouts, screams, accusations and threats from contingents wearing keffiyehs and Hamas scarves.
A booming sound truck bore portraits of imprisoned Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan. Huge Palestinian flags snapping in the breeze were accompanied by displays of support for the Intifada and jihad. Algerian, Moroccan, Iraqi and Hezbollah flags also appeared, she said.
American flags had a Nazi swastika in place of the star-spangled field of blue.
The attack began, according to a report by the French news agency Digipresse, when a group carrying sticks – their faces covered with keffiyehs – ran up from the rear of a contingent, shouting “there are Jews over there.”
Three Digipresse journalists who filmed the incident followed the attackers.
They saw a 14-year-old Jewish boy thrown to the ground, beaten and finally rescued. The youth had come with two friends to watch the protest.
At the next corner, the gang turned into rue Saint-Claude and headed for the Centre Bernard Lazare, where the Hashomer Hazair youngsters meet on Saturday afternoons.
As their numbers began to swell, the assailants massed in front of the door of the Jewish center, shouting insults and injuring two more Jewish boys.
Two young women participating in the demonstration attempted in vain to stop the violence, said Poller. A middle-aged woman who tried to help was knocked over, and another who tried to intervene was beaten off.
A demonstrator with a Palestinian flag flying from his shoulders as a cape shouted through a megaphone “We Muslims, we Arabs, can walk with our heads high.”
Pointing to the Jews, he said, “They have to hide. The Quran says ‘what was inflicted upon you, you may inflict … .'”
The incident, according to Digipresse, occurred during the passage of a contingent from the group Coordination d’appels pour une paix juste au Proche-Orient [For a Just Peace in the Middle East], or CAPJPO. Some older members of the group managed to hold back the crowd until law enforcement arrived, but they told journalists that the boys had been “provoked” by members of the Jewish group, who attacked two girls.
Hashomer Hazair monitors denied any provocation and insisted that the incident started when three of their members were insulted and attacked.
The Digipresse journalists said in their report that they not only were shocked by the violence against the Jewish kids but also by the threat of violence against themselves if they continued filming.
Their video report, however, was rejected by news directors of France2 and France3 television, who said they “didn’t have time to treat the subject.”
P. Sebag, a clothing manufacturer whose showroom is next door to the Jewish center, witnessed the incident.
One of the Jewish boys was beaten right in front of his shop window, he told Poller. His call to the police likely averted a far greater disaster, Poller said, because the assailants were trying to break down the door of the center.
Sebag said, according to Poller, he could hardly reconcile himself to the “savagery of the mob and the irresponsibility of a government that allows this rage to develop and flourish.”
The clothier told the Paris author how neighborhood merchants organized a defense 20 years ago. But things seemed to quiet down, and it was easy to slip into a comfortable life. And now, he says, “We don’t defend ourselves.”
Each increment of violence confirms his apprehension.
“I cannot live this way,” he said. “I cannot live in a country where a 14-year-old boy is beaten because he is Jewish.”
Members of Hashomer Hazair interviewed on Jewish radio corroborated Sebag’s version of events and have a video of the attack that enables them to identify the assailants. They’ve filed an official complaint with the organizers of the demonstration, calling on the violent elements to be excluded from future events.
‘Another Sharonian aggression’
CAPJPO does not deny involvement in the incident, but calls it “another Sharonian aggression and provocation” that took place Saturday in Paris, and insists its members were the victims.
According to CAPJPO, its contingent was peacefully marching behind a portrait of the American student “Rachel Corrie, deliberately crushed by an Israeli bulldozer,” and signs protesting the “American-British aggression in Iraq.”
A group of four or five Jewish boys “violently” jostled two young ladies in keffiyehs and shouted racial insults at them, CAPJPO maintained. The women called for help, dozens of young people came, and the assailants ran away. The defenders chased them down a side street where the Jewish youth allegedly met up with about 20 of their friends who were shouting “Israel, Israel.”
The Jews, CAPJPO asserted, were carrying baseball bats and iron bars, the “usual equipment of Jewish extremists such as Betar and the Jewish Defense League.”
A fight ensued, CAPJPO said, in which one of its members “apparently” grabbed “at least one” iron bar from a Jew.
France3 television described it as a “fight between Jewish extremists from the Betar and pro-Palestinian demonstrators.”
CAPJPO’s communiqu? concluded with an analysis of “Zionist support” for the Iraq war and accused the Jewish community of duplicity, alleging that it secretly backs the extremists and the war but currently adopts a low profile because of the overwhelming anti-war sentiment in France.
False and defamatory reports of aggression are circulating on the Internet and on Jewish radio, the group asserted, and, “They’ll get what they deserve.”