France’s Crackdown on Palestine Solidarity

Since October 7, the French government has attempted to censor and criminalize pro-Palestine speech and protests in the name of combating antisemitism and terrorism. The repression has not stopped demonstrations of solidarity with Palestine.

French riot police detains people demonstrating in support of Palestinians at the Republique Square in Paris, France on October 14, 2023. (Ibrahim Ezzat / Anadolu via Getty Images)

On October 12, as Israel indiscriminately bombed Gaza, the French police fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters gathered in Paris. Days earlier, the country’s interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, had called for local authorities to ban pro-Palestine demonstrations, citing supposed threats to public order.

The Hamas attack on October 7 was treated in France as an equivalent to the Bataclan shootings — a random terrorist atrocity motivated by religious extremism. The space for discussion immediately tightened. Anyone who sought to place the event in the context of escalating violence against Palestinians was accused of supporting terrorism, including members of the left-wing political party La France Insoumise.

This was not the first time civil liberties have been restricted to suppress Palestine solidarity. In 2021, as Israel pummeled Gaza and unleashed violence on Palestinians protesting the clearing of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem, the French state banned pro-Palestine protests.

Over the last few years, France has taken an increasingly authoritarian turn, suppressing the free expression of those deemed undesirable. Those involved in the Yellow Vests movement, pension reform protesters, trade unionists, and alleged participants in the Nahel riots have all faced police violence or suspensions of the basic protocols of justice.

Such suppression has continued apace in recent weeks. When British Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu Sittah, who had witnessed the horrors of the assault on Gaza, landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport, he was turned back because of an EU-wide ban placed on him by Germany. This may have been initiated outside France, but the internal situation is similarly harsh.

La France Insoumise has supported Palestine more forcefully than any other party in the National Assembly. Last month, Rima Hassan, a Franco Palestinian candidate on their EU election list, was summoned by police investigating “terrorism apologia.” At the time of Tribune’s interview with Hassan, she had not been told anything about the summons other than that it related to her posts on the platform Twitter/X. She told Tribune that she wasn’t “summoned at the behest of the prosecutor, but because several complaints had been made by a pro-Israeli lobby group called the Organisation Juive Européen [OJE].”

Hearing of Hassan’s summons, OJE tweeted, “Good news! The complaints we have filed since 9 October are being investigated and often result in convictions.” The group purports to be an organization dedicated to fighting antisemitism in all its forms; however, their definition includes anti-Zionism and the Boycott, Divesment, and Sanctions movement (BDS). The organization’s website hosts eight publications, four of which document instances of antisemitic hate crimes in France, with the remaining four dedicated to accusing Israel’s critics of antisemitism and attempting to discredit claims that Israel is an apartheid state.

“OJE has mobilized forty lawyers to track pro-Palestinian voices,” says Hassan. “It is similar to the methods of AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] in the US. They have done this because I am a French Palestinian political candidate, and they are attempting to silence me.’

On October 7, the La France Insoumise parliamentary group released a communiqué that read:

The armed offensive by Palestinian forces led by Hamas comes in a context of intensification of the Israeli occupation policy in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. We deplore the Israeli and Palestinian deaths. Our thoughts are with all the victims. The current escalation risks leading to a cycle of hellish violence.

Likewise, when a prominent trade unionist and spokesperson for the political group Revolution Permanente was summoned, the French Jewish Youth Association stated, “This is just the beginning Anasse Kazib, we keep our promises.” That these summonses have hit influential politicians and activists and that they have been celebrated by the complainant organizations suggests that a campaign of lawfare is being waged against advocates of Palestine by organizations linked to Israel.

Prior to the summons, Jean Luc Mélenchon and Hassan were due to host a conference with the organization Libre Palestine at Lille University on April 18. The event was canceled under pressure from Macronists and the far right. They then attempted to host the conference at a private venue in the city, but the meeting was banned by the local administration.

“It’s a form of repression instigated by Macronists,” says Hassan. “It’s clear that the question of Palestine strikes fear in them.” While Macronists ally themselves with the far right to ban freedom of assembly, the Left, says Hassan, is the rampart against such attacks on civil liberties.

Moral Panics

Student protesters have also faced repression. Police violently cleared protest camps at Sciences Po, the Sorbonne, and other universities. Ismaeel Yaqoob, one of the students protesting at Sciences Po, told Tribune that the dominant media narrative was “that Sciences Po has capitulated to Islamo-leftism.”

Islamo-leftism, a supposed unholy alliance between the far left and radical Islam, was the subject of an intense moral panic in Emmanuel Macron’s first term, particularly targeting universities. The specter is now being raised again. Far-right politician Éric Zemmour recently declared France’s main divide to be between the real people and Mélenchon and his supporters who have only defended Palestine because they want to “Islamise” France. He similarly denounced the student protests, calling them an “Islamo-leftist autonomous zone.” The cranky views of one far-right politician might mean little were it not for the fact that centrist politicians have repeatedly adopted far-right rhetoric when they have felt under threat.

According to Yaqoob, students were threatened with suspensions. The investigative outlet Blast revealed a Sciences Po WhatsApp group that acts as a “virtual staff room,” in which a culture of fear was fostered by “reactionary professors.” A source told Blast that “[s]everal members of the Palestine Committee are very visible. Hearing the speeches of some, I fear that this will have real repercussions in the classroom and that they will be sidelined or even penalised.”

Responding to the protests, Île-de-France regional president Valérie Pécresse decided to withdraw funding to the university. Yaqoob told Tribune, “It’s a political gesture. They want to silence the pro-Palestinian movement.”

Similarly, in March, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal waded into a scandal at Sciences Po over claims that students weren’t being allowed into certain events because they were Jews. It later turned out that these claims were based on unconfirmed hearsay that the pro-Palestine student unions deny. Attal also recently defended quashing student protests with police. Yaqoob told Tribune, “That a government has this much involvement in a school is not normal.”

As activists, politicians, trade unionists, students, and journalists face police repression, censure, and surveillance, it seems that Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité does not apply if you are vocal in supporting Palestine. The French establishment believes support for Palestine is an American import, a trend for students to jump on carried across the Atlantic by social media, and a cynical move for calculating Islamo-leftist politicians to exploit. What they miss is that it is the genocide in Gaza that is pushing people to action. France’s pro-Palestine dissidents will continue to protest and occupy for as long as Palestinian people continue to be slaughtered by Israel.