PARIS: France is considering disbanding a radical Jewish group whose members clashed with pro-Palestinian activists during rallies over Israel’s offensive in Gaza, a source told AFP Thursday.
News of the mooted ban on the Jewish Defense League (LDJ) came just ahead of an evening pro-Israel demonstration outside the Jewish state’s embassy, located near the French prime minister’s office.
The rally by the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF) is in response to weeks of pro-Palestinian protests marred by clashes, arrests and allegations of anti-Semitism in which synagogues were targeted and Israeli flags burnt.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve did not refer to the LDJ but said Thursday that “any group that can pose a problem” or did not abide by the law would be banned.
The CRIF’s head Roger Cukierman distanced his group from the LDJ as news of the possible ban emerged, saying: “We share neither their ideology nor their methods.”
“It’s a tiny organization comprising a few dozen members from what I know,” he said, but expressed surprise that the government was not planning to ban “pro-Palestinian groups which have tried to vandalize eight synagogues in the Paris region.”
The main Jewish students’ union echoed that view. Its head Sacha Reingewirtz said: “I condemn all forms of extremism ... but if the government disbands it [the LDJ], it should also ban all the radical groups behind recent anti-Semitic violence.”
The presence of charged-up LDJ activists on the sidelines of rallies was seen as one of the reasons they turned violent, with clashes outside a synagogue July 13 leading to a ban on subsequent pro-Palestinian protests.
The French LDJ denies breaking laws. It takes inspiration however from the far-right Jewish Defense League, labeled a terrorist organization by the FBI in 2001.
It also uses the emblem of a banned Israeli far-right party, the Kach, a fist inside a black Star of David, set against a yellow background.
The Gaza conflict has stirred up huge passions in France – home to the largest Muslim and Jewish communities in western Europe with around 5 million Muslims and half a million Jews.
While many protests around the country have gone smoothly, some in Paris and the northern suburb town of Sarcelles have descended into chaos and looting in which Jewish businesses were targeted.
French far-left and Muslim leaders have been calling for action against the LDJ, with the French Muslim council branding it “an extremist, racist and violent association.”
The government meanwhile has come under attack for banning some demonstrations on the grounds that it went against the principle of freedom of speech and assembly.