Concerns over anti-semitism infiltrating French demos against health pass

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Thousands of people demonstrated in the streets of France on Saturday for the sixth weekend in a row to protest against the coronavirus health pass. This comes amid concern from rights groups about anti-Semitic sentiment within the movement. The interior ministry has already launched several investigations.

Saturday's protests in cities across France were called for the sixth weekend in a row to denounce a new health pass system announced by President Emmanuel Macron that they see as unfairly restricting the rights of the "unvaccinated".

Under the system, introduced progressively since mid-July, anyone wishing to enter a restaurant, theatre, cinema, long-distance train, or large shopping centre must show proof of vaccination or a negative test.

Around 200,000 people have marched in previous weekends, according to interior ministry figures, while organisers claim the real number is nearly double that.

At the head of the Paris march in the early afternoon, a few hundred people held up flags and banners with the word "Liberty" on them while shouting "Macron! We don't want your pass!"

The government insists the pass is necessary to encourage vaccination uptake and avoid a fourth national lockdown, with the unjabbed making up eight or nine out of every 10 Covid-19 patients admitted to hospital.

The protest movement has brought together conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, former members of the "Yellow Vest" anti-government movement, as well as people concerned that the system unfairly creates a two-tier society.

Far-right leader Florian Philippot, who has accused Macron of turning France into a dictatorship and likened the health pass to apartheid, was at the Paris rally on Saturday.

Anti-Semitism worry

The anti-health pass movement has been marked from the beginning by slogans and symbols that have been denounced by Jewish groups and anti-racism campaigners.

Some protesters have worn yellow stars similar to the ones that the Nazi regime forced Jews to display during World War II, leading to condemnation from Holocaust survivors for the offensive comparison.

Others have been photographed holding up signs with the word "Qui?" (meaning "Who?"), a coded reference to Jews who are accused of spreading Covid propaganda through the media and profiting from vaccination campaigns.

The Interior minister Gérald Darmanin said he was nevertheless concerned about the appearance in these demonstrations of some anti-Semitic signs, "fuelled by conspiracy theories, calls to racial hatred" that are the subject of several judicial investigations.

"I will not let it pass and I have given instructions to the prefects so that there will be no more absolutely unacceptable antisemitic demonstrations".

"As long as the demonstrations are held with respect for the police, the gendarmes and the public good, people have the right to demonstrate, whether there are 100,000 or 300,000 of them," added Darmanin.

'Don't touch my children'

Opponents of the health pass - which they see as "a disguised vaccination obligation", a "disproportionate" or "discriminatory" measure - are also up in arms against the possible extension of vaccination to under-12s, with the slogan "Don't touch my children".

This measure is "not topical" in France, Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said on Thursday.

The 12-17 year old have been able to be vaccinated since mid-June and 55% of them have already received a dose.

Another watchword, relayed by far-right leader Philippot is the support for Professor Didier Raoult, promoter of a controversial treatment for Covid-19 patients, after the director of the Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Marseille, said it was time to find him a successor at the head of the IHU Méditerranée Infection.

While Raoult has stated his support for the "systematic vaccination of healthworkers", one of his recent videos appeared to cast doubt on the efficacy of vaccination as a weapon to fight the pandemic.

Many of his supporters were among the marchers on Saturday.

(with AFP)

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