PARIS (Reuters) - France’s interior minister promised on Monday to crack down on anti-Semitism after violence marred pro-Palestinian rallies in and around Paris to protest against Israel’s role in the two-week-old Middle East conflict.
France has both the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe and flare-ups of violence in the Middle East often add to tensions between the two communities.
Local media showed the burnt-down front of a kosher grocery shop in the heavily Jewish Parisian suburb of Sarcelles after a non-authorized protest on Sunday. Last weekend pro-Palestinian marchers clashed with riot police outside two Paris synagogues.
“It is unacceptable to target synagogues or shops simply because they are managed by Jews,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters during a visit to Sarcelles, which is also home to large non-Jewish immigrant populations.
“Nothing can justify anti-Semitism, noting can justify that kind of violence. This will be fought and sanctioned,” he said.
Local media said youths in Sarcelles clashed with police and cars were burned amid widespread looting that also hit non-Jewish targets. Clashes had marred another non-authorized protest in Paris on Saturday, while other rallies around France went ahead peacefully with the permission of local authorities.
Some protesters and even ruling Socialist politicians criticized the bans on the Sarcelles and Paris rallies as counter-productive. But Cazeneuve said he would react the same way if mosques or churches were targeted.
In the first three months of 2014 more Jews left France for Israel than at any other time since the Jewish state was created in 1948, citing economic hardships in France’s stagnating economy but also rising anti-Semitism as a factor.
Since fighting in the Middle East started on July 8, the death toll has passed 500, with 484 Palestinians among the casualties as Israeli jets and tanks pound Gaza. The U.N. Security Council has called for an immediate ceasefire.
Some pro-Palestinian protesters have accused France of siding with Israel in the conflict, citing the rally bans and a statement by President Francois Hollande’s office saying Israel was justified in taking action to assure its citizens’ security.
France has rejected any bias and Cazeneuve said decisions on any future rallies would be taken on a case-by-case basis.
Reporting by Ingrid Melander and Marine Pennetier; Editing by Mark John