France’s socialist government provoked outrage on Friday by banning protests against Israeli action in Palestine. It is the only government in the western world to enact such a restriction and one of the few in the world to stop public outcries of support for the cause.
In what is viewed as an outrageous attack on democracy, Socialist Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said mass demonstrations planned for the weekend should be halted.
Cazeneuve said there was a “threat to public order”, while opponents said he was “criminalising” popular support for the Palestinian people.
Thousands were set to march against the ongoing slaughter in Gaza, calling for an immediate end to hostilities in which civilians including many children have been killed.
But Cazeneuve said that he feared that there might be a repeat of the fights between “ultra” Jewish vigilantes and pro-Palestinians, which broke out after a demonstration last Sunday.
Referring to the main Paris march, Cazeneuve said: “I consider that the conditions are not right to guarantee security.”
He welcomed a legal procedure instigated by the Paris police to ban the march, despite it already being widely advertised.
Cazeneuve also advised other prefects across France to examine planned marches on a “case by case” basis, and to ban “if appropriate”.
But Michele Sibony, of the Jewish Union for Peace, said: “By outlawing free speech by pro-Palestinian demonstrators, France puts itself in a unique position in the world and Europe.”
And Youssef Boussoumah, of the Party of the Indigenous of the Republic (PIR) said: “France is criminalising any show of solidarity with the Palestinian people.
“This is an absolute outrage, it is a continuation of attempts to muzzle the Palestinian people and to get them and their supporters in France to surrender absolutely to Israel’s oppression.”
Sylvie Perrot, another pro-Palestine activist from Paris, said: “Fascist states stop people demonstrating against wars – it is beyond belief that French Socialists are following their example.”
There has been a similar reaction on Twitter, where people expressed their anger with the decision.
Translation: “I am under shock demonstrating for Palestine in France is forbidden !!!!!! Where are we? Where is democracy????”
Translation: “@BCazeneuve ( Minister of the Interior) fell under the pressure of the lobby! To forbid to protest for peace in @Gaza @Palestine in @France is OUTRAGEOUS Shame on our leaders”
Anyone who turns up for what will amount to an illegal demonstration faces up to a year in prison, and a 15,000 euro fine.
If they hide their faces to avoid being identified, this sentence can be increased to three years, and a 45,000 fine.
Even those who publish details of an illegal rally on social media face up to a year in prison, and a 15,000 euro fine. This can be increased to seven years and a 100,000 fine if the postings lead to violence.
On Friday night lawyers for a number of groups hoping to campaign on behalf of Palestine on Saturday lodged an appeal against the ban in a Paris court.
There were false claims made last week that synagogues in Paris had been targeted by pro-Palestinian demonstrators, with worshipers trapped inside by the protesters. However, videos subsequently came to light showing armed vigilantes from a group called the Jewish Defence League (LDJ) baiting demonstrators into fights.
No LDJ members were arrests, despite evidence emerging that they were fighting and smashing up property in full view of the police.
Six pro-Palestine protestors were arrested for a variety of public order offences, although controversy has marred the arrests as the protesters insist they were nowhere near the Paris synagogues in question.
A judicial enquiry is set to be launched into the false allegations made about the synagogue attacks. The synagogues were undamaged in the clashes.