President Emmanuel Macron on Monday hosted religious leaders for talks on combatting anti-Semitism in France, a day after a Paris march rallied tens of thousands to express anxiety over an upsurge in acts against Jews.
The talks were a “continuation of the appeal for national unity and brotherhood” Macron, who did not attend Sunday’s rally, said in a letter published on Saturday in daily Le Parisien, his Elysee Palace office said.
The country has seen an upsurge in anti-Semitic acts since Hamas’s bloody October 7 attack on Israel killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and Israel’s response in the Gaza Strip, which the Hamas-run health ministry says has claimed more than 11,000 lives, mostly civilians and many of them children.
Macron wrote that “a France where our Jewish fellow citizens are afraid is not France”, calling on people to rally around the country’s “values” and “universalism”.
While the presidency did not specify who had been invited to Monday’s meeting, France’s chief rabbi Haim Korsia, Catholic bishops’ conference head Eric de Moulins-Beaufort and rector of the Paris Grand Mosque Chems-Eddine Hafiz were all present.
Leaders from other faiths including the Orthodox church, Buddhism and Protestantism were also in attendance.
Over 180,000 people turned out across France on Sunday according to police figures, 105,000 of them in Paris, to join marches “for the republic and against anti-Semitism”.
Macron himself has been criticised for staying away from the march.
Jordan Bardella, head of the far-right National Rally (RN) — which controversially joined the column — told broadcaster RTL Monday that the president had “missed a rendez-vous with history”.
Sylvain Maillard, leader of Macron’s party in the National Assembly lower house, defended the president, telling Sud Radio that “a president’s place isn’t at a demonstration”.
Macron has also been rebuked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after criticising in a weekend interview with the BBC Israel’s extensive bombing campaign in Gaza.
“Civilians are bombed… these babies, these ladies, these old people are bombed and killed… there is no reason for that and no legitimacy. So we do urge Israel to stop,” he said.
The French leader’s office said late Sunday that he had spoken with Israeli President Isaac Herzog by phone in an apparent bid to calm the waters.
Macron “again expressed his solidarity with Israel in the face of the horror of the terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas” and “reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself and repeated France’s solidarity with Israel,” the Elysee said.