PARIS – The tension was palpable along the Seine River on Thursday, where at least 500 policemen were deployed to protect an Israeli beach festival.
Part of the river was dedicated – for one day – to the Tel Aviv-Sur-Seine (Tel Aviv on the Seine) happening. But after weeks of protests on social media and among politicians, the event was accompanied by a raucous anti-Israel demonstration.
Some 200 pro-Palestinian supporters gathered alongside the festival, flying a Palestinian flag and wearing green T-shirts reading “Free Palestine” and “Boycott Israel.”
“This [festival] is part of the Israeli propaganda to show an Israel that is different from the bombs, soldiers, checkpoints, etc. And the ‘cool,’ ‘fun,’ ‘gay friendly’ Tel Aviv is fully part of the Israeli communication system,” said Nicolas Shahshahani, vice president of the CAPJPO EuroPalestine Association.
Police scuffle with protesters at pro-Palestinian beach demo in Paris
Due to hostility, the police authorized people to cross from “Tel Aviv beach” to “Gaza beach” but not from vice versa.
Mayor Anne Hidalgo resisted calls to cancel the day’s activities – which included themed DJ sets and food stalls – saying that the annual monthlong Paris-Plages initiative is about celebrating dialogue between cultures.
But the packed crowds at Thursday’s Israel event didn’t hesitate to make their opinions on the brouhaha known.
“It is ridiculous,” a young Spanish journalist, who preferred to remain anonymous, said as she crossed the high-security border between the opposing zones.
Brigitte, originally from Switzerland, said she was “shocked” that “in the heart of Paris, Jews have to be protected like in a zoo.”
Katia, a Russian tourist who visited Tel Aviv a few days ago, proudly wore a white T-shirt bearing the words “Tel Aviv non stop city.”
On the sand, young boys played matkot (paddle ball) in front of giant photographs of the Tel Aviv coast, inscribed with “Tel Aviv-sur-Seine.” Revelers enjoyed ice cream as they danced to Israeli music played by the DJs.
“I came to ‘kiss’ Tel Aviv,” said Nanou, an older woman adorned with an Israeli flag.
Nicolas Woloszko, the treasurer of the French Jewish students organization UEJF, called on “all those friends who are in the city in August to gather here.”
“I am sorry to see that such a convivial event is boycotted by those who reject the culture of the other,” he said. “The pro-Tibetans didn’t call to boycott the Chinese New Year.”
Tel Aviv-sur-Seine is the joint brainchild of Hidalgo and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, thought up during a trip members of the Paris city government took to Israel in May.
Simon Allemann Francis, a gay Jewish man from Paris, said he admired Hidalgo who “faced, with courage, her own Left.” He also said he admires Tel Aviv, where he attended the most recent gay pride parade.
“It is a city of tolerance and of joie de vivre,” he told The Jerusalem Post
. “Like there, here I feel secure and I can walk around wearing my [Israeli] T-shirt without hearing the shouts: Dirty Jew... or dirty gay.”