I don't generally comment on Middle East affairs on this blog, but since the war between Israel and Hamas has spilled over into the streets of Paris, I will say a word. As Le Monde's editorial this morning suggests, the government erred by prohibiting yesterday's pro-Hamas demonstration, which degenerated into street violence. Le Monde's reasoning is faulty, however. The paper suggests that because authorized demonstrations elsewhere in France did not degenerate, the same would have been true in Paris.
This is of course a logical non sequitur. There may have been--I believe there were--elements in Paris spoiling for a fight, elements not present elsewhere. Now, whether this urge to en découdre on the part of some pro-Hamas demonstrators was in response to previous alleged "provocations" by the Jewish Defense League is beside the point, and it is of course pointless to raise the "who started it?" question--as pointless as in the Gaza war itself.
And just as the war has revealed certain obvious but ordinarily unspoken truths--that Netanyahu has no interest in a two-state solution and that Hamas has stockpiled thousands of rockets and dug dozens of tunnels to attack Israel when the moment is ripe--so has the violence in Paris revealed, or revived, the equally unspoken reality of widespread hatred and hostility among French Muslims toward French Jews. (See also Pascal Riché's excellent report from the scene.)
I say "hostility toward French Jews" (and not Israel) because, as Riché's report in particular makes clear, while demonstrators may be protesting Israel's policy toward the West Bank and Gaza--which deserves to be protested--they are also motivated by the belief that "the Jews control everything" in France and elsewhere and that it is this occult Jewish power that dictates French policy toward the Middle East. This is a dangerously false belief, and it is almost as depressing to see it aired in the streets of Paris as it is to see demonstrators carrying effigies of the rockets that Hamas has aimed at Israel.
A recent Pew poll showed that anti-Semitic sentiment in France is relatively low and that France is one of the least anti-Semitic countries in Europe. Unfortunately, this has been accompanied by an exacerbation of anti-Semitic sentiment within the Muslim minority in France. There is no doubt that this new polarization has been and will continue to be cynically exploited by politicians wanting to demonstrate a "tough-on-Islam" stance at little or no cost. But what is to be done? The festering of anti-Semitic sentiment in a substantial segment of the population of any country is a most unfortunate development in 21st c. Europe. The only real solution is to end the conflict in the Middle East, but that's like saying that the only real solution is the End of Time. It's enough to make one weep.