Pontoise (France) (AFP) – French Jewish groups and Israeli officials protested Tuesday after the mayor of a Paris suburb renamed a street to honour the thousands of Palestinians forced from their homes during Israel’s creation in 1948.
Dominique Lesparre, the Communist mayor of Bezons, on Monday officially renamed a street near city hall “Allee de la Nakba” (Nakba Lane) to commemorate the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, when more than 760,000 Palestinians were expelled by Israeli forces or fled 70 years ago.
Plaques in French and Arabic read: “In memory of the expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians and the destruction of 532 villages in 1948 by the war criminal David Ben Gurion for the creation of the state of Israel,” referring to the country’s first prime minister.
Police sources told AFP the plaques had been covered with graffiti by Tuesday morning.
The city later removed the plaques after a request by the top central government official for the Val-d’Oise region, who said they could “seriously disrupt public order”.
The CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish associations had also demanded the plaques be taken down, saying they “encourage the current acts of anti-Semitic violence by trying to give them historic justification.”
“The first Hamas city hall in France,” Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, posted in French on Twitter, in reference to the Islamist party governing Gaza.
It was not the first time Bezons has courted controversy with its support of the Palestinian cause.
In 2014 the town was ordered to remove a commemorative plaque for Majdi al-Rimawi, a Palestinian sentenced to 80 years in prison for the 2001 killing of an Israeli government minister at a Jerusalem hotel.
In a statement, Israel’s ambassador to France Aliza Bin-Noun accused the mayor of supporting “Palestinian terrorism and inciting hate”.
“These provocations are unacceptable given that Israel and France share a strong and sincere friendship, cemented by shared democratic values,” the embassy said.
France has been rocked by a number of attacks on Jews in recent years, pointing to the emergence of a virulent strain of anti-Semitism in some neighbourhoods with predominantly Muslim immigrants.