French Parliament Adopts anti-Semitism Definition That Includes anti-Zionism

Despite protest by prominent Jewish and Israeli scholars, parliament passes resolution which states that some criticism of Israel could be anti-Semitic

France's lower house of parliament, the Assemblee Nationale, in session, October 7, 2019
Thibault Camus,AP

The French parliament passed on Tuesday a resolution to combat anti-Semitism that adopts a definition of the term which also includes anti-Zionism.

The resolution, which passed with 154 votes for and 72 against, was tabled by Sylvain Maillard, a Paris lawmaker from Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique en Marche centrist party. It proposes to adopt the definition issued by the International Holocaust Rememberance Alliance (IHRA), which states that some criticism of Israel could be anti-Semitic.

“For several years now, France, the whole of Europe, but also nearly all Western democracies, are facing a resurgence of antisemitism, probably unprecedented since the Second World War,” the introduction to the short resolution says.

“Anti-Zionist acts can sometimes obscure anti-Semitic realities. Criticizing the very existence of Israel as a collective composed of Jewish citizens is tantamount to hatred towards the Jewish community as a whole; just like collectively holding Jews accountable for the policies of the Israeli authorities is an expression of antisemitism,” the introduction continues.

“Such abuses increasingly make anti-Zionism 'one of the contemporary forms of antisemitism' in the words of the President of the Republic,” it goes on to say, quoting Emmanuel Macron, speaking in front of France's foremost Jewish body, the CRIF, a few days after a February attack on Jewish French philosopher Alain Finkelkraut on the sidelines of a yellow vest protest in Paris.

Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan applauded the resolution's passage. "Under cover of 'political criticism' of the State of Israel, anti-Semitic content is disseminated, poisoning discourse and denouncing Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state," he said. "I commend the French Parliament on its important decision that will aid in the fight against anti-Semitism that is rising in France and in Europe as a whole." 

Erdan added, "We expect, of course, to see practical steps from the French government against BDS figures and anti-Semitic activists who disseminate hate in France against Israel and Jews."  

France, which is home to the world’s third largest Jewish community, has seen a meteoric 74% rise in anti-Semitic incidents year-on-year in 2018, in line with similar trends in Europe and the U.S.

The future of the proposal is uncertain, with only a third of the majority party signing onto it. And even though the resolution, like the IHRA definition, is careful to state that “pointing out such abuses in no way prevents otherwise free criticism of the Israeli government’s policies and positions,” this is not enough for its critics, which include France's own governmental human rights watchdog, the Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme.

This week, a group of 129 Jewish and Israeli scholars signed a petition calling on the French National Assembly not to support the resolution. The signatories criticize the proposal for reducing Israel to a “collective composed of Jewish citizens,” thereby obliterating the Palestinians citizens of the country, as well as those Jews who hold anti-Zionist opinions. They also argue that it reduces the Palestinian experience.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Wednesday, April 11, 2018.
AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov

“For Palestinians, Zionism means dispossession, displacement, occupation and structural inequality. It is cynical and insensitive to stigmatize them as anti-Semites for opposing Zionism,” the letter says. “They oppose Zionism not because they hate Jews, but because they experience Zionism as an oppressive political movement.”

The resolution espouses an agenda promoted by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, the academics argue, to label opposition to its policies as anti-Semitic in order to curb dissenting voices. The letter, published in French daily Le Monde among others, takes the fact that Sylvain Maillard attended an event with Israeli settler leader Yossi Dagan a few days after proposing the resolution as an example of the fact that efforts by the Israeli government to use anti—Semitism as a way to shield itself from criticism "are getting a political tailwind, also in France."

“Anti-Semitism needs to be fought on universal grounds, along other forms of racism and bigotry, to counter hate,” the letter concludes. “Abandoning this universal approach will lead to further polarization in France, which would also harm the fight against anti-Semitism.”

The United States, Germany, United Kingdom and many other countries have adopted the IHRA definition. In December 2018, the European Union issued a declaration on its fight against anti-Semitism, adopting a softer tone than the IHRA definition, to the disappointment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The IHRA is an intergovernmental organization founded 20 years ago to "strengthen, advance, and promote Holocaust education." Its definition of antisemitism, which has been promoted by Benjamin Netanyahu, is broad but complemented by specific examples, which sometimes equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, such as “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” or applying double standards to Israel not demanded of any other nation