After days of suspense, French president Emmanuel Macron has announced he will not participate in the march against anti-Semitism organised on Sunday, but would be present "in heart and mind". Many representatives of religions are expected, but few Muslims, with several organizations regretting that the march will be held "without a word on Islamophobia".
The presidents of the National Assembly Yaël Braun-Pivet and the Senate Gérard Larcher will lead the procession on Sunday afternoon under the banner "For the Republic, against anti-Semitism".
Security has been reinforced for the event in Paris with more than 3,000 police officers and gendarmes on duty as well as elite units, according to the Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.
"We are declaring to the world that the French Republic does not allow, and will never allow, anti-Semitism to flourish," wrote Braun-Pivet and Larcher in their appeal, launched Tuesday.
Speaking on the sidelines of the 11 November WWI commemorations on Saturday, Macron said he would not attend the march, ending days of speculation.
Instead, he called the initiative a "reason for hope" and said he would be present "in heart and in mind".
Firm on values
"My role is rather to build the unity of the country and to be firm on values", to "make decisions, to say words when they need to be said and to act, otherwise I would be demonstrating every week," he said.
"On anti-Semitism, it's very simple," he stated. "We will concede nothing and nothing justifies it," he stressed, defending a "universalist" approach to anti-Semitism.
The president laid a wreath at the foot of the statue of Georges Clemenceau, "defender of the Jewish captain Alfred Dreyfus" and "father of victory" of the First World War.
Nearly 1,250 anti-Semitic acts have been recorded in the country according to the authorities since the start of the war triggered by the Hamas massacres in Israel on 7 October and the subsequent reprisals in Gaza.
Since then, Macron has kept up a delicate balancing act seeking to reconcile France's support for Israel and its unique relationship to Arab countries.
He also wants to avoid the importation of the conflict into France, where Europe's largest Jewish community and millions of Muslims coexist.
He hardened his tone concerning the violence in Gaza on Friday when he told BBC reporters that while Israel had a right to defend itself, there was "no justification" for the bombing of civilians, saying and the deaths were causing "resentment".
Many representatives of religions will be present at Saturday's march, but several French imams or Muslim bodies affirmed that they would not participate, regretting that it would be held "without a word on Islamophobia".
"The Grand Mosque will not participate in the march planned for next Sunday against anti-Semitism," said the imam of the Grand Mosque of Paris Abdennour Tahraoui on Friday during his sermon to the faithful.
"Can we do the same march for anti-Muslim (acts)?" he asked, deploring "the icy silence of French society, which is our host country and our homeland."
"We are not anti-Semitic, that is the strict truth," he added, before asking: "Why is what we say or do perceived as an aggression, an intrusion or a non- respect for the laws of the Republic, while if another insults or incites hatred of Muslims this suddenly becomes freedom of expression? Are we equal or second-class French citizens?"
Already on Wednesday, the French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM) said that "this march, which has the exclusive objective of denouncing anti-Semitism without a word on Islamophobia, is unfortunately not likely to bring people together".
"If we unreservedly condemn anti-Semitism, we will not march with notorious Islamophobes and unconditional supporters of a colonial state," the Union of French Muslim Democrats also said on X (formerly Twitter) referring to the participation of far-right party leaders.
Despite these remarks, the imam of Drancy (in the Paris region) Hassen Chalghoumi, known for his openness to dialogue with the Jewish community, indicated that he would go to the march "to say loud and clear 'no to hatred and anti-Semitism'".
The event has prompted controversy in political spheres, in particular because of the presence of the National Rally (RN), a party which faces accusations over its history marked by anti-Semitism, notably linked to its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen.
The decision by far-right stalwarts Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour has sparked strong criticism on the left.
Far-left party France Unbowed (LFI) has chosen to boycott the event while the other left-wing parties said they would go under a "republican cordon" banner so as not to mix with the far right.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, whose Jewish father was deported says she will be at the march. Former presidents François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as former prime ministers will also participate.