French President Emmanuel Macron has announced measures including legislation to combat online hate speech, adding that the scourge of anti-Semitism has grown in recent years.
“Our country, and for that matter all of Europe and most Western democracies, seems to be facing a resurgence of anti-Semitism unseen since World War II,” Macron said on Wednesday.
France, home to Europe’s biggest Jewish community, is reeling after a string of attacks that have made global headlines.
New legislation will be introduced in May to force social media companies to withdraw hate speech posted online and use all available means to identify the authors “as quickly as possible”.
Zionism emerged as a modern settler-colonial, nationalist movement which, in the forms it has been exercised by the Israeli state, is incompatible with universal human rights and international law
Addressing the annual dinner of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), the French leader pledged that he will recognise anti-Zionism as a modern form of anti-Semitism.
“Behind the negation of Israel’s existence, what is hiding is the hatred of Jews,” said Macron.
French president added that anti-Semitism is based on “radical Islamism” as a rampant ideology in France’s multiethnic, poor neighbourhoods.
“Macron’s comments imply a false and dangerous equation of Zionism and Judaism,” said Dr Denijal Jegic, a researcher with Muftah – a Middle East-focused publication.
“Zionism emerged as a modern settler-colonial, nationalist movement which, in the forms it has been exercised by the Israeli state, is incompatible with universal human rights and international law,” he said.
On Tuesday, Macron visited a Jewish graveyard in the Alsace region where 80 gravestones were vandalised and painted with swastikas, the symbol of Nazi Germany, while thousands of people across the country demonstrated against anti-Semitism.
The insults included words like “Zionist!” and “Go back to Tel Aviv!” and “We are France!”
The number of anti-Semitic attacks in France has jumped recently, rising by 74 percent year on year in 2018, to reach 541.
The government will adopt an international organisation’s definition of anti-Semitism drawn up by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), the French president said.
The definition states that anti-Semitism can take the form of “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his appreciation at France’s adoption of the international definition of anti-Semitism, in a phone call with the French leader before the speech, Netanyahu’s office said.
However, since the intergovernmental organisation approved the wording in 2016, some critics of Israel have raised their concerns as it could be used to suppress Palestinian rights activists.
Macron said a similar bill already in force in Germany was efficient and pragmatic.
The German law states that hate speech must be removed from websites within 24 hours of being reported and in certain cases can result in millions of euros in fines.
The French president denounced Twitter, in particular, for waiting days, sometimes weeks, to remove hate content.
He also said he had asked Interior Minister Christophe Castaner to dissolve groups or associations that incite hatred or violence.