French Mayor Hangs Israel Flag After Backing Ban on Pro-Palestinian Rallies

The mayor of Nice, France unveiled Israel's flag at city hall after supporting a ban on pro-Palestinian demonstrations amid rising tensions between Israel and the Palestinians.

"Faced with Hamas' terrorism, all our thoughts and our support to Israel," Mayor Christian Estrosi tweeted on Saturday, along with a photo of Israeli and French flags standing on the building's balcony.

"And all our thoughts to the #Palestinians who are only hostages of a small terrorist group, #Hamas," Estrosi said in a follow-up tweet.

Face au terrorisme du Hamas, toutes nos pensées et notre soutien à Israël 🇮🇱

— Christian Estrosi (@cestrosi) May 15, 2021

Estrosi had previously thanked the prefect of the Alpes-Maritimes department—where Nice is located—for banning a pro-Palestinian rally planned in the city last Saturday. The prefecture's press release cited the possibility of violent clashes and "the gravity of the terrorist threat" in France, among other concerns.

Estrosi also praised French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin for banning pro-Palestinian protests in Paris. The mayor further requested the French government to "take sanctions without the slightest concession" against protesters who defied the bans last weekend.

"No one can consider these demonstrations as pro-Palestinian, they are pro-Hamas and therefore complicit in a terrorist movement itself partner to those who, with the Islamic State, sowed hatred and barbarism among us and in the world," he tweeted.

The mayor has also accused "#fakenews" of disseminating "malicious information" against Israel.

In an interview with Radio Chalom Nitsan on Friday, Estrosi said that "only Hamas bears responsibility" for casualties amid the hostilities, inferring Palestinian casualties are a result of the Islamist faction placing civilians in "strategic places where they fire their rockets."

Estrosi—a motorcycle racer turned politician who had been Nice's mayor since 2008—once banned the "ostentatious use" of foreign flags in the city. The ban, enacted during the 2014 World Cup, was widely perceived as targeting Algerian soccer fans as they celebrated the North African country's team making it to the finals. It was implemented just before Algeria faced off with Germany, a match the latter eventually won.

Following complaints by rights groups, the ban was suspended by Nice's Administrative Court, a decision Estrosi rejected.

Until earlier this month, Estrosi was a member of center-right political party Les Republicains. Before his departure, the party introduced an amendment to France's controversial anti-separatism bill allowing mayors to ban foreign flags during city hall ceremonies such as weddings. The French Senate approved the amendment in March.

While it is unclear whether Estrosi supported the amendment, the mayor has advocated for President Emmanuel Macron's anti-separatism efforts, billed as eradicating radicalization on French soil but heavily criticized as targeting the country's Muslim community.

Estrosi has previously campaigned against "Islamo-leftism," a term coined by right-wing activists to refer to perceived collusion between leftist academia and Islamist movements.

"Some say that all religions can pose a problem from one moment to another—no, that's not true," he said during a 2015 appearance on France 5 television. "The Christians don't pose a problem. The Jewish religion doesn't pose a problem. There is a real problem posed by Islam."

"It is time we stop being scared of being called Islamophobic and racist," he continued, after stating he did not seek to create a "scapegoat."

"I ask [France's Muslim community] to take their share of the responsibility."

Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi speaks at gathering
Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi speaks as police officers gather in Nice, on June 11, 2020, to protest against the French Interior Minister's latests announcements following demonstrations against police violence. VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images