Parisian police said Thursday that they are considering a ban on pro-Palestinian protests in the French capital, after similar demonstrations drove tens of thousands to the streets in a nation where young minorities with roots in Muslim-majority countries once colonized by France face rampant discrimination and hate crimes.
“It would be to avoid disrupting public order,” a police spokesman who asked to remain unnamed told Al Jazeera.
The spokesman denied reports in U.S. media that a formal decision had been made to ban marches in favor of Palestinian in Paris and across the country. He said a final decision would be issued Friday.
Protest organizers say the move isn’t about preserving public order but maintaining what they call the long-running political disenfranchisement of the nation's Muslim youth.
“They are afraid of the politicization and mobilization of marginalized young French Muslims,” said Houria Bouteldja, spokeswoman for the anti-racist political movement Les Indigenes de la Republique — The Indigenous of the Republic. The mobilization, she said, threatens to unsettle economically disenfranchised youth against the nation’s powerful and wealthy, as in the global Occupy movement.
The move to ban the protests follows accusations by Jewish community leaders that the demonstrations promote discrimination against France’s Jews, in a country where racist speech is illegal.
“There are many Jewish people who were part of this demonstration. They know that the idea of this demonstration wasn't discriminatory,” said Bouteldja. “This was a demonstration against colonialism. It had a very clear agenda.”
Israel’s ongoing offensive against the illegally occupied territory of Gaza led to a protest by tens of thousands of people in Paris last weekend. Thousands attended similar rallies across the country.
French media reported that Sunday’s protests, which coincided with Bastille Day celebrations, precipitated violent clashes between protesters and police. Law enforcement launched tear gas at demonstrators.
Pro-Palestinian protesters, according to local media, were attacked by members of the far-right group the Jewish Defense League (JDL), which often advocates the use of force against Palestinians and their supporters. The JDL was described as a "right-wing terrorist group" in a report by the FBI from 2000–01.
Various synagogues and Jewish businesses around the city also faced vandalism, victims said, by people associated with the pro-Palestinian demonstrations. Jewish community leaders have, according to local media, called on municipal authorities to ban pro-Hamas rallies, which they have characterized as racist.
Although he has at times criticized Israel’s armed attacks on Palestinian territories, French President François Hollande has called for an end to armed reprisals by Hamas.
After Sunday’s protests, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that France “will not tolerate attempts to — with violence, words or acts — import the Israeli-Palestinian conflict onto its soil.”
The ongoing conflict in Gaza has killed at least 230 Palestinians and one Israeli in 10 days of violence.
France is home to some of Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish populations. Many of France’s Muslims are from Paris’ former colonies in Northern and sub-Saharan Africa. In the 1960s, French police cracked down on protesters calling for the liberation of Algeria, considered a part of France at the time. Although the exact number remains unknown, as many as 200 demonstrators were gunned down in Paris by police after a protest on Oct. 17, 1961. France recognized the killings in 2012.
“This is certainly representative of the past and indicative of the state’s attitude toward this population in the present,” Bouteldja said.