PARIS (AP) — France’s main Jewish students union has plastered walls around Paris with posters bearing the faces of French citizens believed to be held hostage by Hamas in their war with Israel. The word “Kidnapped” is inscribed on a red banner at the top of each photograph.
Very little is known about the hostages locked away in the Gaza Strip or whether some of those captured during the Oct. 7 surprise attack on Israel have been killed in the Jewish state’s brutal counter-offensive. An Israeli military spokesman on Monday upped the number of hostages to 199, but did not specify whether that number includes foreigners.
Some households in France, which has the largest Jewish population in western Europe, have taken a direct hit from the Israel-Hamas war. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said Sunday during a visit to Israel that 19 French citizens are known to have been killed and 13 others are missing.
The students’ action in Paris follows a similar campaign by Jews in London, where hundreds of volunteers recently posted fliers around the city bearing images of British citizens believed to have been taken hostage.
The images, featuring children, were placed widely to publicize the details of the atrocity beyond the Jewish community, organizers told Jewish News, an online newspaper. In a sign of growing contention over the war, two robed women were seen in videos posted online last weekend angrily ripping the posters down.
The French Jewish students union, known as UEJF, says that people are flirting with danger if the plight of Jews in France — and elsewhere — is not shared by all.
“This isn’t about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s a question of a terror organization that is attacking a free and democratic state,” said Samuel Lejoyeux, president of the UEJF, glancing at the more than 50 posters on the walls near the Institute of Medicine on the Left Bank.
The union has mainly targeted universities, where debate over the war has been heated — with one professor recently disciplined for expressing support of Hamas.
Sylvie Retailleau, France’s minister for higher education, has taken aim at professors and others in university circles for straying from France’s pro-Israel position in the war.
Two days after Hamas militants attacked Israel, Retailleau pinned a letter on the platform X addressed to university presidents telling them to take disciplinary — and legal — measures against those who break French law, including taking cases to prosecutors.
“It’s not a Jewish question. Everyone needs to act and be with us,” Lejoyeux, the student union leader, said. He claimed that a minority of people see expressions of solidarity for Israel as “an act of Zionism.”
“It isn’t simply the Jews who are targeted, it is the values of democracy and freedom that France has in common with Israel,” Lejoyeux said.
Danika Kirka in London and Nicola Garriga in Paris contributed to this report.