The Paris Plages (or, “Paris Beach”) is an annual occurrence 13 years running during which, for a week, the banks of the river Seine are transformed into a series of artificial beaches and “themed” in accordance with the beach life of another country. This year, the artificial beaches were to be given an Israeli makeover: On Thursday, the beach culture of Tel Aviv will be featured along the banks of the Seine. But it is not without controversy.
Pro-Palestinian activists and left-leaning French politicians have objected to the city’s decision to feature Israel and have called for the event to be cancelled. They claim that the Tel Aviv theme endorses Israeli injustice in the Occupied Territories and demonstrates a lack of support for the Palestinian state. Danielle Simmonet, a representative of Parti de Gauche, described the decision an “indecency.” According to radio France International, a statement on Simmonet’s website reads:
Just one year after the massacre in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli army, and even as the Israeli government intensifies its policy of settlement construction… Paris City Hall dares to organize “within the framework of its cultural partnerships with the world’s largest cities” a day honoring Tel Aviv.
According to JTA, Simmonet represents Paris’ 20th district, which has a large Arab population. Simmonet believes that the Tel Aviv-themed beach festival sends a “bad message” because it serves as “a nice bit of PR” for the Israeli government.
Paris’ First Deputy Mayor, Bruno Julliard, responded to Simmonet’s criticism on Sunday, choosing not to defend Israel but the city of Tel Aviv. “We refuse any parallels between the brutal colonisation policy of Israel and the city of Tel Aviv, which is a progressist city and a symbol of tolerance,” Julliard said, reported radio France International.
Plans for Thursday’s Israeli makeover were announced on Twitter with the hashtag #TelAvivSurSeine. The hashtag started trending in France, and was eventually co-opted by critics of the decision and proponents of the boycott movement against Israel as a means of voicing their grievances. According to radio France International, many of these tweets were borderline anti-semitic. (These tweets can be seen here but, as a warning, many of them are graphic.)
The overblown controversy surrounding something as seemingly innocuous as the theme of a beach day is perhaps suggestive of a larger problem of anti-Semitism in France. As Tablet columnist Yair Rosenberg reported last month in relation to an attack on a 13-year-old Jewish boy,
Nearly 50% of all racist acts in the country are anti-Semitic, even as Jews constitute only 1% of the overall population. In the past year, Jews have been pepper-sprayed, stabbed and shot, while Jewish cemeteries, synagogues and restaurants were vandalized. And these attacks are rising both in number and virulence. As JTA reported, “Last year, the Jewish community recorded a total of 241 violent attacks on Jews out of a total of 851 anti-Semitic incidents. The previous year, those figures were 105 and 423, respectively.”
In a statement released on its website, The National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism in France condemned the criticism of Simmonet and the BDS proponents, and said that the city should not give into the pressure and cancel the event.
As of Wednesday, the Paris Plage event featuring the Tel Aviv-themed beach is still on schedule.