A propaganda event in Paris on Thursday was supposed to showcase Tel Aviv as a beacon of fun and tolerance.
Instead, “Tel Aviv sur Seine” (Tel Aviv on the Seine) turned into more of a real life taste of Israeli military occupation and a public relations disaster for its organizers.
The party at a simulated beach on the banks of the River Seine was supposed to celebrate “Israeli nightlife” and carefree living. Instead it was surrounded by hundreds of riot police and only accessible through a checkpoint.
Police violently removed a peaceful sit-in by Palestine solidarity activists outraged at what they saw as the Paris city government’s whitewashing of Israeli crimes.
“Apartheid on Seine”
Several dozen activists kicked off a protest near the entrance to Tel Aviv sur Seine, many wearing t-shirts identifying them with BDS France, a national coalition that backs the Palestinian campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel.
Imen Habib, a BDS France coordinator, told The Electronic Intifada that the activists chanted “Israel is criminal” and “Anne Hidalgo is an accomplice,” a reference to the mayor of Paris, whose office co-sponsored the beach party along with the Tel Aviv municipality.
Habib said that bystanders joined the protest when they saw riot police acting aggressively toward the activists. She said that she was knocked to the ground by one of the police.
As the protest grew, Habib said, the chants also included “Gaza, Gaza, we won’t forget.”
After about 30 minutes, police forced protestors away from the checkpoint, toward the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), kettling and blockading the activists along with journalists.
This video, produced by the independent media outlet Islamotion, shows police violently manhandling the activists.
Hundreds more people protested at an event they called “Gaza beach,” sponsored by about a dozen solidarity organizations at a nearby stretch of river bank. Many waved Palestinian flags under the close watch of riot police, as this video shows:
Meanwhile, members of the activist collective Les Désobéissants (The Disobedient) took to the water in two canoes, carrying a large Palestinian flag within sight of the “Tel Aviv beach.”
According to the group’s Facebook page, three of the activists were questioned about the action at Paris’ 12th district police station.
Violent extremists backed by police
French police allowed members of the extremist Ligue de Défense Juive, including its founder Jean-Claude Nataf, to coordinate and direct security with them.
The national daily Libération reported that LDJ members moved around freely inside the “Tel Aviv beach” enclosure carrying walkie-talkies or wearing ear pieces.
The newspaper said that some of the LDJ members “went as far as following journalists and listening in to their conversations.” Nataf was “at the entrance, regularly speaking with the police.”
According to the news website Les InRocks, police were allowing certain people to pass through the security checkpoint without being searched whenever Nataf vouched for them.
Asked by Libération whether LDJ’s presence was a problem, Paris City Hall said the event was “open to everyone. As long as they don’t hold a demonstration or hand out flyers, they have the right to be there.”
Last year, senior police sources told Libération that the interior ministry was considering banning LDJ under laws that prohibit “provocation of discrimination, hatred or violence for ethnic or religious motives” and that ban “private militias.”
Thursday’s protests were the culmination of growing outrage over Tel Aviv sur Seine in recent weeks that prompted an intervention from the French prime minister.
The Left Party (Parti de Gauche) in the Paris city council called for the cancelation of Tel Aviv sur Seine, while the leader of the racist, anti-immigrant and historically anti-Semitic Front National gave it his full endorsement.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo took to the pages of Le Monde to defend the event, regurgitating common Israeli talking points and pinkwashing.
“Even in the context of the violent Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Tel Aviv remains an open city for all minorities including sexual ones, creative, inclusive – in one word a progressive city,” Hidalgo claimed.
She denied the event had any political motive, all the while ignoring the violence and exclusion Palestinians (including those who engage in same-sex relations), refugees and migrants from African states and others face in Tel Aviv.
France’s hardline pro-Israel Prime Minister Manuel Valls tweeted out Hidalgo’s article, offering his “total support” for Tel Aviv sur Seine.
“You have to be naive, blind or of bad faith to fail to understand that for Israel and its supporters Tel Aviv sur Seine is an eminently political initiative,” the academic and researcher on Palestine Julien Salingue responded in Libération.
“It aims to whitewash Israel and its daily crimes by presenting an ‘open’ and ‘fun’ face for a state whose image is more and more degraded on the international stage,” Salingue added.
“What is this total absence of human feeling for the Palestinian people that compels Ms. Hidalgo not only to exalt the capital of a state that has never respected a single UN resolution, but organizes an illegal blockade of Gaza,” wondered Youssef Boussoumah, a member of the the anti-colonial and anti-racist collective Parti des Indigènes de la République (The Party of the Indigenous People of the Republic), in a recent commentary.
Boussoumah was among many to denounce the mayor’s sponsorship of a propaganda event not only during the first anniversary of Israel’s 51-day attack on Gaza that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians including 551 children, but so soon after the burning alive by Jewish extremists of the baby Ali Dawabsha and his family in the occupied West Bank village of Duma earlier this month.
What Tel Aviv sur Seine demonstrates clearly is that Israel cannot hope to rebrand itself or change the subject from its unaccountable crimes against Palestinians.
Any attempt to do so only brings renewed focus on the very things Israel wants everyone to forget.