France's Macron: Old anti-Semitism Is Back, Can’t Be Blamed on Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

French president tells Jewish community leaders that the French will not make the ‘error’ of recognizing Jerusalem as Israeli capital

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Macron in Paris on January 30, 2018.
Macron in Paris on January 30, 2018. Credit: CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON/AFP
Shirli Sitbon.
Shirli Sitbon

PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron warned French Jews on Wednesday that “the old anti-Semitism” has returned to France, and the battle to combat it will be long.

Speaking at the annual dinner of Crif, France’s umbrella of Jewish communities, Macron said: “There is no tolerance for anti-Semitism under any form. Bringing security to citizens is the state’s first mission. And although the figures have decreased since 2014, there are still 300 threats and attacks every year. No one can be satisfied with that.

“We must turn the sinister page of the 2000s,” he continued. “Before then, in the 1980s and ’90s, the level of violence was much lower – and this proves nothing is impossible.”

Macron acknowledged that Jews have been forced to leave certain areas due to the problem.

“I’m saddened when I hear that children had to leave public schools because of insecurity,” he said. “This isn’t the Republic anymore when certain people are banned from certain neighborhoods.”

When Crif leader Francis Kalifat said that police officers reportedly told threatened families that they should move away from areas because “they’ve been detected,” Macron replied: “I’m ashamed to hear anyone could give that kind of advice.”

The French president noted that some attackers use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a pretext to commit “the worst actions,” adding that the situation has worsened in recent years.

“Anti-Semitic attacks can’t be limited to a reaction against the conflict – the phenomenon goes far beyond the conflict,” he said. “Those who commit these crimes are attacking Jews for what they are. The old anti-Semitism has resurfaced.”

There was a 26 percent rise in anti-Semitic violent attacks in France last year, according to official data, with criminal damage to Jewish sites up 22 percent on 2016. However, the figures were still below 2015 figures, which the French government attributed to security measures. And despite the rise in anti-Semitism, there was a 26 percent drop in the number of French Jews making aliyah to Israel in 2017.

Macron also promised to fight anti-Semitism online, noting that France and the United Kingdom are working on a European plan to fight incitement. “We’re following Germany’s lead, after it passed a law forcing social platforms to take incitement messages down in less than a day or face hefty fines,” he said.

A new biannual plan to fight anti-Semitism and racism online is due to be released later this month. 

Macron said that he would like France to strengthen its ties with Israel, but he won’t follow in the footsteps of U.S. President Donald Trump and recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“The consequences would be bad for everyone, including Israel. If we recognise Jerusalem, then we would lose our ‘honest broker’ status – and that’s what’s most useful for everyone,” said Macron.

“A French president wouldn’t be doing his duty if he made that kind of promise on such a topic, just to please you at dinner,” he said, after Kalifat had asked him to recognize the Israeli capital. Macron called Trump’s move an “error” that hurt peace efforts.

Jewish community leaders at the gala also criticized the reprinting of anti-Semitic pamphlets from 20th-century French author Louis-Ferdinand Céline, saying they incite hatred.

Gallimard, one of the largest, most influential and most prestigious French publishing houses, said last December it planned to republish – for the first time since World War II – a series of three fiercely anti-Semitic lampoons written by Celine between 1937 and 1941. Cric called on Gallimard to abandon the project.

The writer, who was convicted of being a wartime collaborator with France’s Nazi occupiers before being granted amnesty, opposed reprinting the tracts before his death, in 1961.

“Reprinting these heinous pamphlets would only legitimise them. It would only encourage those who incite and attack Jews today,” said World War II historian and Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld, who received the Crif award for 2018 with his wife and son.

But Macron said he wouldn’t take an official stand. “In France, there is no historic morality police that would allow me to ban the publication of those texts,” the president said. “We shouldn’t hide the dark pages of our history. Concealing their texts brings them more weight.”

With reporting by The Associated Press

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