France looks to address rising anti-Semitism
Last month French pro-Israeli philosopher Alain Finkielkraut faced insults like “dirty Zionist” during a yellow-vest protest in Paris and was told to “go back to Tel Aviv”, raising questions about French anti-Semitism.
The number of anti-Jewish offences reported to the French police rose to 541 in 2018 from 311 in 2017, after falling for two years.
President Emmanuel Macron tweeted: “The anti-Semitic insults [Finkielkraut] has been subjected to are the absolute negation of who we are and what makes us a great nation. We will not tolerate them.”
France is home to Europe’s biggest Jewish community.
Former prime minister Manuel Valls said: “The right wing, the left wing, Islamism, the hatred of Israel, indifference, relativism unleashed anti-Semitic passion. We must persevere, condemn, prohibit.”
Swastikas have been daubed on front doors and a Holocaust survivor was murdered in an attack thought to be motivated in part by anti-Semitism.
On February 19, a Jewish cemetery was defaced with swastikas in the village of Quatzenheim.
That day, former presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, the current prime minister, Edouard Philippe, and many other politicians joined a rally in solidarity with French Jews.
Now Macron is considering legislation to designate anti-Zionism as “one of the modern forms of anti-Semitism”.
Macron has regularly compared anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
“We will not give in to anti-Zionism because it is the reinvented form of anti-Semitism,” the centrist president said.
The potential law raises issues of whether someone criticising Israel could be prosecuted for racist, anti-Semitism. France has a long history of anti-Semitism but also progress.
Within two years of the French Revolution in 1791, France became the first country in modern Europe to emancipate its Jewish community, granting equal rights under the law.
Historian Marie-Anne Matard-Bonucci said: “The revolutionary period was a period of questioning the elites of the former regime and the powers of the church. All the supporters of the old regime and the most conservative Catholics blamed the Jews.”
The term Judeo-Masonic began to be used at this time, pointing to an alleged secret coalition between Jews and Freemasons.
“Since Jews benefited from the revolution, we soon saw them being blamed for it, with people imagining they were connected to secret societies,” she said.
During the Second World War the French Vichy puppet administration collaborated with Germany, notably in the deportation of Jews to death camps.
With northern France occupied by Germany, the respected First World War commander Marshal Philippe Petain led the Vichy France in the center and south of the country.