French president Emmanuel Macron has announced plans to tackle antisemitism following a recent surge in anti-Jewish attacks.
Mr Macron told Jewish leaders that the government would adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, which includes “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” and calling the state of Israel “a racist endeavour”. He also said his government would ban three neo-Nazi and extreme-right groups and frame a new law against hate speech on the internet.
“For several years – and the situation has worsened further in the past few weeks – our country, like Europe as a whole and almost all western democracies, is faced with a resurgence of antisemitism not seen since the second world war,” Mr Macron told the annual dinner of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (Crif).
But he noted that the change did not mean amending French law or stifling criticism of Israeli policies. The idea, he said, was to guide the police, the courts and the country’s teachers so that they could counter “those who conceal, behind their criticism of Israel, the rejection of the very existence of Israel – the most primal form of anti-Jewish hatred”.
Mr Macron also announced that the government would act to dissolve racist and anti-Semitic groups in France, starting with Bastion Social, Blood and Honour Hexagone and Combat 18 – groups he said fuelled hate and discrimination.
The president said that Laëtitia Avia, a member of parliament for his governing La République en Marche party, will in May introduce a draft law aimed at combating racism and antisemitism on the internet.
“It’s a very important announcement for all the Jews of Europe. We were waiting for this from France,” Raya Kalenova, Executive Vice-President of the European Jewish Congress, said after hearing Mr Macron, noting that other European countries including Germany had already adopted the IHRA definition. “It was for me a historic speech.”
Antisemitism has jumped to the top of the political agenda in France in recent days after marchers in an anti-government “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests) demonstration in Paris were seen insulting and taunting the writer Alain Finkielkraut as a “big Zionist shit” shouting at him to “go back to Tel Aviv”.
At least some of the perpetrators appeared to be Islamists – media reports said one of the abusers was a Salafist known to the police – but Jewish leaders say there is rising antisemitism across the political spectrum, from the far-right to the far-left.
Mr Macron visited the Holocaust Memorial in Paris and a Jewish cemetery in eastern France, where swastikas and slogans in German were found daubed on more than 80 tombstones.
That evening, an estimated 20,000 people, led by Edouard Philippe, the prime minister, and former French presidents and politicians, gathered in the Place de la République in Paris in a demonstration against antisemitism.
The European Jewish Congress said this week that it supported discussions in the French parliament about the possibility of criminalising anti-Zionism as a form of antisemitism – although Mr Macron himself has said he does not favour legislation.
Moshe Kantor, EJC president, said it was clear that “the overwhelming majority of those who claim to be anti-Zionist use it merely as a cover for their antisemitism”.