The Jewish Defense League, a violent radical Zionist group, was angry with AFP’s coverage of current events in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and present-day Israel.
One of the mob said the demonstration was part of their support for Israel and “our war against the Arabs … journalists working for organizations like AFP support the Islamic terrorists and that’s why we have to fight back.”
Video proudly posted on JDL France’s Twitter account shows the mob letting off flares and chanting “Am Yisrael Chai,” or “The people of Israel live” – a Hebrew slogan popular with Israel’s ultra-nationalist right.
The crowd, some of whom were armed and masked, carried Israeli and JDL flags.
David Perrotin, a journalist for the French edition of the news site BuzzFeed, was assaulted after being surrounded by a dozen masked men wielding blunt instruments.
Perrotin Tweeted from the scene: “A demonstrator told me ‘I warned the JDL that you’re here Mr. Perrotin.’”
Perrotin had to flee toward police lines, where he was held for his own protection. BuzzFeed’s French editor-in-chief Cecile Dehesdin later tweeted: “Thank you for your messages, David Perrotin is under security.”
BuzzFeed issued a brief report on the incident Friday.
As the group approached the entrance to the building, opposite the Paris stock exchange in the center of the capital, tear gas was sprayed as skirmishes with riot police broke out.
Founded in the United States, JDL militants were convicted of a string of bombing attacks there, and are thought to be behind the 1985 assassination of Palestinian American civil rights activist Alex Odeh.
The group was listed in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual terrorism report for 2001.
The French JDL – the Ligue de Défense Juive – is probably the most well-organized and violent radical Zionist group outside Israel.
It is notorious for relatively sophisticated street-level attacks against Palestine solidarity campaigners in France.
There have been several calls to outlaw the JDL in France. But talk of a ban by interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who once condemned their actions as “excessive,” has so far come to nothing.
In June last year, two JDL members in Paris were found guilty of placing a bomb under the car of an anti-Zionist journalist. They were given prison sentences, but one absconded to Israel.
Armed members were also involved in a riot in the Bastille area of Paris in summer 2014, as they attacked Palestine solidarity demonstrators during rallies against the Israeli offensive in Gaza.
The French JDL has been involved in attacks on pro-Palestine media commentators and politicians, and has also ransacked Paris bookshops, art exhibitions and events aimed at raising money for Palestinians.
A former member of the group may also have been partly responsible for the death of the father of French journalist Benoît Le Corre in 2014.
Gregory Chelli, a French Jewish extremist now living in present-day Israel, goes by the nickname “Ulcan.” In a prank call to Le Corre’s parents, Chelli allegedly impersonated a police officer and told them that their son had been killed in a car accident.
Two days later, Chelli allegedly called the police again impersonating Le Corre’s father, Thierry Le Corre, and claimed to have just murdered his wife and son.
Armed police raided the home, finding only Le Corre’s terrified parents.
A few days later, Thierry Le Corre suffered a massive heart attack in which, doctors said, the stress of these events was likely a factor. The elder Le Corre died in hospital a few days later.
Benoit Le Corre had reported on Chelli’s hacking attacks targeting Palestine solidarity websites.
In June of this year, a French anti-Zionist Jewish activist was arrested by police after a similar hoax tip-off that he had murdered his wife. Chelli was the suspect once again.
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A smaller group calling itself the Jewish Defence League UK last year invaded the stage at a Palestine literary festival in north London and assaulted organizers.
Roberta Moore, the group’s leader, later had a conviction for two counts of assault and one of possession of an offensive weapon overturned on appeal, but her accomplice Robert De Jonge’s conviction stuck.
Moore once led far-right group the English Defence League’s Jewish Division and was expelled for being too extreme even for them.
She and De Jonge have sought to establish ties with Victor Vancier, once the JDL’s master bomber in the 1970s and 1980s, who spent years in jail for his crimes. The JDL’s founder himself once dubbed Vancier “the most dangerous Jew alive today.”
The JDL is not yet banned in Canada either, even though it has orchestrated violent demonstrations such as a recurring hate march against a Palestinian community center in Vancouver.
The original JDL was founded in 1968 by the notoriously racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose detailed manifestos called for all Palestinians to be expelled by force from what he called the “Land of Israel.”
Kahane later moved to present-day Israel, where he successfully stood as a candidate for the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
Although his party Kach, the Israeli affiliate of the JDL, was eventually banned, his once fringe ideas are now maintream in Israel’s largest political parties.
Today, the distinctive yellow-and-black flag of the JDL is a regular sight at “Death to the Arabs” marches in Israel, as it was in Paris Thursday night outside the offices of AFP.
With reporting by Peter Allen in Paris.