Emmanuel Macron’s Government Has Banned Solidarity With Palestine

France has issued a blanket ban on pro-Palestine rallies in the name of preempting potential antisemitism. In a witch-hunt atmosphere, all who refuse to give unconditional support for Israel’s looming invasion of Gaza are treated as “pro-terrorist.”

French president Emmanuel Macron has banned rallies and marches organized by the country’s network of Palestine solidarity groups. (Ludovic Marin / AFP via Getty Images)

Israeli paper of record Haaretz found little difficulty in identifying the deeper causes of Hamas’s merciless October 7 attack on southern Israel. It cited Benjamin Netanyahu’s responsibility for the war, including the long campaign to strangle Gaza. But faced with the atrocities against Israeli civilians — and despite the dire conditions in a bombarded Gaza now facing a likely ground invasion — this level of nuance is increasingly inaudible in Western Europe. In France, as elsewhere, even politicians who do squarely condemn Hamas’s attack are under scrutiny. Any attempt to invoke context — Israeli raids on the West Bank, occupation, a sixteen-year blockade on Gaza — is cited as an attempt to justify terrorism.

This has been particularly true of France’s leading left-wing force, La France Insoumise (LFI), whose initial statements about the crisis had them accused of providing “apologias” for terrorism. Its leader in the National Assembly, Mathilde Panot, faced particular criticism for referring to Hamas’s attack as “war crimes” and not “terrorism” — a word which, she explained, did not permit a serious “thinking through” of the years of occupation and colonization of Palestine. This statement came days after an LFI press release on October 7 alluded to the attack by Hamas — which the European Union officially designates as a terrorist organization — as an “armed offensive.”

From President Emmanuel Macron to Marine Le Pen, the Israel-Hamas war is an opportunity to attack and delegitimize the left-wing opposition at home. Both ministers and the far-right Rassemblement National have in the past derided LFI as “Islamo-leftist,” and it is again now tarred with this brush. “The positions of France Insoumise are well-known,” Macron’s prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, lamented in an interview on BFM-TV, lambasting an “anti-Zionism” that, she says, often approaches “antisemitism.”

Having accused LFI of being “the moral alibi of Islamist terrorism,” Jordan Bardella, president of the Rassemblement National, speculated on RMC radio that his party “is, I believe, for many French people of Jewish faith, a shield against Islamist ideology.” This expressed Le Pen’s ongoing attempt to rebrand the party beyond the explicit antisemitism of her father, a serial Holocaust denier, and appeal to Jewish voters. The Israel-Palestine question is cast by the Rassemblement National as a “clash of civilizations.”

But LFI’s statements have also set off a storm of criticism from its partners in the Nouvelle Union Populaire Écologique et Sociale (NUPES), a left-wing alliance formed last spring, but now apparently on the brink of collapse. “Something is broken”, said Socialist Party deputy Jérôme Guedj of his partners’ position on the latest crisis. “It begs the question,” Guedj said on Sunday, referring to whether his party would stay in the left-wing alliance. In response to the mounting criticism, the LFI-aligned, independent MP François Ruffin regretted to Le Monde that the party’s words were “not adequate to the situation.”  “[Jean-Luc] Mélenchon has become the problem for the entire left,” this same paper editorialized on October 11, calling for LFI’s Socialist, Communist, and Green allies to “free themselves” from the left-wing leader.

“The LFI has chosen the side of anti-republicanism,” Le Pen trumpeted, rhetoric that is part and parcel of the ongoing campaign to put the left-wing forces beyond the pale. In a publicity stunt, Stéphane Le Rudulier, a senator from the center-right Republicans, has appealed to state prosecutors to file charges against France Insoumise. The fringe far-left party Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA, which has no elected officials and is not a member of the NUPES) is already a target for the justice system. The small party is the object of a formal inquiry for “apologias for terrorism,” a possible precursor to the party’s dissolution — in a press release the NPA announced its “support to Palestinians and the means of struggle that they’ve decided to employ.”

Crushing Solidarity

France’s skirmish over a supposed left-wing flirtation with Hamas isn’t mere political theater, or an argument about what words are appropriate. It is but part of a campaign in which Macron’s government is silencing expressions of solidarity with Palestinians, faced with the total obliteration of Gaza promised by Netanyahu in the wake of the attacks.

While other Western capitals like London and New York have seen rallies, Paris and France more generally have been notable exceptions. Rallies and marches organized by the country’s network of Palestine solidarity groups have been systematically banned. Four people were arrested at  a rally in Lyon on Monday, while a small meeting was also held in Marseille despite the local prefect’s orders forbidding the gathering. The October 12 rally at Paris’s Place de la République was also banned, although three thousand protestors took to the streets, braving police charges and tear gas. Ten were arrested.

Bertrand Heilbronn, director of NGO France Palestine Solidarité, which sponsored the banned Paris rally alongside other collectives, was one of the plaintiffs at the administrative tribunal on October 12 that upheld the prefecture’s ban. “It was not at all convincing,” Heilbronn said of the hearing, “they didn’t even debate their own decree, they just pointed to intelligence-service white papers that claim there would be uncontrollable, radical elements.”

“They have the gall to say that this was at the behest of the Paris prefect, while we know the interior minister is pushing for bans everywhere,” Heilbronn continued. By this he referred to Gérald Darmanin’s blanket no-tolerance for expressions of pro-Palestinian solidarity. “Pro-Palestinian protests, because they are prone to generating disruptions to public, have to be forbidden,” Darmanin wrote, going on to say that any foreign authors of infractions should have residency permits revoked and be immediately deported.

The decree, which Jacobin was able to procure, provides a snapshot of the criminalization of Palestine solidarity. While part of a panoply of movements that are today targets for state suppression, it is the one that receives perhaps the least interest and attention from polite society. The prefecture’s order cites the risk that the rally would provide an occasion for “antisemitic speech,” risk “importing tensions from this foreign conflict,” and threaten “public order.”

In 2021, when Gaza was being bombed during the Sheikh Jarra evictions, Darmanin similarly banned demonstrations and made threats to strip those participating in pro-Palestine demonstrations of their residency permits. Groups were ultimately able to obtain permission for static rallies, however — a luxury that is not being granted this time. “The situation is completely catastrophic in Gaza . . . we’re in an unprecedented situation. And in France,” Heilbronn says, “all they want is to shut us up.”