France holds huge march against anti-Semitism after Macron’s call for a ceasefire in Gaza

Nicolas Sarkozy (L), his wife, French-Italian model and musician Carla Bruni (C) and President of the French National Assembly Yael Braun-Pivet
At the march, from left: Nicolas Sarkozy, His wife Carla Bruni and Yael Braun-Pivet, president of the French National Assembly - Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images

Emmanuel Macron appeared to backtrack on remarks made about the killing of ‘women and children’ in Gaza, as tens of thousands of people marched against anti-Semitism in Paris.

The French president said “he did not intend to accuse Israel of intentionally harming civilians”, Israel’s president Isaac Herzog’s office said after the two leaders spoke by telephone.

Mr Macron reaffirmed his support for Israel’s right to defend itself, the statement said, after his interview which “caused much pain and upset in Israel”.

In an interview with the BBC on Friday, Mr Macron said: “These babies, these ladies, these old people are bombed and killed. So there is no reason for that and no legitimacy. So we do urge Israel to stop.”

The Elysee Palace had not released its own read-out of the call on Sunday night.

Mr Macron’s attempts to smooth relations with Israel on Sunday came as 105,000 people answered a call to stand against anti-Semitism in Paris.

The march, which started at the Esplanade des Invalides in Paris at 3pm and ended near the Jardin du Luxembourg about 1.5 miles away, was policed by 3,000 officers and gendarmes.

Élisabeth Borne, the prime minister, and most of the government’s ministers were in attendance along with former heads of state Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande. All of them led the procession holding a banner that read “For the Republic, against anti-Semitism.”

March against anti-Semitism in Paris
The banner reads: 'We march against anti-Semitism' - Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images

But conspicuously absent was Mr Macron, despite publishing a letter on Saturday in the Parisien newspaper calling the acts of anti-Semitism in France  “odious” and appealing for national unity.

“This fight against anti-Semitism must never divide us or ever lead to pitting some of our compatriots against others. In our history, anti-Semitism has always been the prelude to other hatreds and racism,” he said.

Over the past few weeks, the number and severity of anti-Semitism crimes have increased in France, which is home to both the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe.

Since the Hamas attack on Oct 7 and Israel’s subsequent siege of Gaza, authorities have registered more than 1,200 incidents of anti-Semitism, already three times higher than all of 2022, and made 500 arrests.

The “great civic march”, organised by speakers of the French parliament Yaël Braun-Pivet and Gérard Larcher, while intended to create national unity, had the effect of exposing political division.

Shortly after the event was announced last week, Marine Le Pen and her far-Right party, the National Rally, founded by her openly anti-Semitic father Jean-Marie Le Pen, were among the first to confirm their attendance, angering both the far-Left party France Unbowed and members of the Jewish community.

Ms Le Pen was ‘unwelcome’

In an interview with news channel LCI last week, Yonathan Arfi, president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, sent a clear message to Ms Le Pen, saying she was unwelcome.

“We do not want people who are heirs to a party founded by former collaborators to be present,” Mr Arfi said.

Gad Weil, co-president of the group Judaism in Movement, told The Telegraph that it was a strange and uncomfortable development that the group that was once an enemy of France’s Jewish community was now one of its strongest supporters.

“It’s a really incredible situation,” he said. “The founder of the Front National was totally anti-Semitic. And now, two generations later, they’ve become the biggest supporters of Israel and Jews in France.”

Some protesters reacted angrily to Ms Le Pen’s presence on the march and clashed with police, shouting at the party to “get lost” and waving signs calling her a fascist and that “Jews don’t want you”.

Government spokesman Olivier Véran also called the National Rally’s presence indecent and out of place. The far-Left party France Unbowed cited it as the reason why it didn’t attend.

Instead, its members joined an anti-Semitism rally organised by youth organisations in another part of Paris.

Ms Le Pen responded to the criticism by saying it’s “exactly where we need to be” and that politicians should “take a break for a few hours and stop the political bickering”.