PARIS—In an address to the annual dinner of Crif, the umbrella representative group of Jewish institutions in France, French President Emmanuel Macron announced Wednesday a series of measures to combat the alarming rise of anti-Semitism in the country.
He responded to calls from leaders of the Jewish community who urged ”concrete measures and not only declarations.”
President Macron told the 1,000 people who attended the dinner, including almost all members of the French government, that France will take steps to define “anti-Zionism as a modern-day form of anti-Semitism” as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
“Behind the negation of Israel’s existence, what is hiding is the hatred of Jews,” he added, mentioning also anti-Semitism based on “radical Islamism” as a rampant ideology in France’s multi-ethnic, poor neighborhoods.
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” the IHRA definition says, adding that “rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism” are directed toward Jewish individuals as well as “their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities”
However, the definition also notes that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic”.
In France, a group of members of the parliament from a parliamentary committee against anti-Semitism on Monday said they wanted to criminalise anti-Zionism.
In his address, President Macron said that “since several years, and the situation has worsened in recent weeks, our country, as indeed all of Europe and almost all Western democracies, is facing a resurgence of anti-Semitism probably unparalleled since the Second World War.” He added that “again, since several years, anti-Semitism kills in France “.
He said France needed to draw “new red lines” against intolerance as he announced plans for a bill to combat online hate speech and called for the dissolution of three extremist right-wing groups.
The French president said he would also urge the Education Minister to look at how Jewish children are “too often” forced to leave public schools for private Jewish schools due to racism and harassment.
France has witnesed a series of anti-Semitic acts in recent weeks, including ay scene over the weekend in which vulgar anti-Semitic slurs were hurled at prominent French Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut by members of the so-called ”yellow vests”, a movement of protesters against the rise of living cost in France that turned to be antisemitic.
Days later, nearly 100 graves were desecrated with swastikas at a Jewish cemetery in eastern France, prompting Macron to vow a crackdown on hate crimes. Macron visited the cemetery in Quatzenheim in the Alsace region near Germany on Tuesday.
Thousands of people turned out for rallies against anti-Semitism in Paris and other cities Tuesday night, with organisers estimating more than 20,000 took part in a demonstration at Place de la République in Paris.
Government figures published last week showed a 74 percent rise in antisemitic incidents in France in 2018.