French Anti-racism Groups Clash Over Mayor’s Support for Jailed Palestinian Leader Marwan Barghouti

Human Rights League accuses National Bureau for Vigilance Agaisnt Anti-Semitism of behaving like 'a spokesperson of the Israeli government' for complaint against mayor.

Jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti attends a deliberation at Jerusalem Magistrate's court, in this January 25, 2012 file photo.
Ammar Awad, Reuters

Two French organizations devoted to fighting anti-Semitism clashed publicly over one group’s complaint to police on incitement against a mayor who launched a campaign in support of a Palestinian convicted of murder.

France’s Human Rights League, a nonprofit founded in 1898 to protest the racially motivated conviction for espionage of the French Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus, criticized the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, in a statement last week.

The league’s statement said BNVCA behaved like “a spokesperson of the Israeli government” when it filed the complaint against the Communist mayor of the Paris suburb of Stains, Azzédine Tabi, for his refusal to remove from city hall a banner calling for the release of Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life sentences in Israel for acts of terrorism in which dozens of civilians were murdered.

“Stains is taking action for peace, free Marwan Barghouti, the Palestinian Mandela,” the banner read, comparing Barghouti to the late South African president and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela.

A French judge in March instructed Tabi to remove the banner or face sanctions, citing previous precedents including the Administrative Court of Montreuil’s injunction in July, which nullified the honorary resident status conferred on Barghouti by another Paris suburb, Aubervilliers. The court said such actions exceed the duties and responsibilities of municipal governments.

But Tabi refused to comply, prompting BNVCA to file criminal charges against him. According to BNVCA, celebrating Palestinians who murdered Jews in France risks legitimizing acts of violence against Jews in France, where Islamists have killed eight Jews in two shooting attacks since 2012. The perpetrators of both attacks said they were acting to avenge Palestinians. BNVCA vowed to continue legal efforts to counter the celebration of terrorists in France.

But the league said BNVCA’s complaint against Tabi ”does nothing to combat anti-Semitism” and that BNVCA “constantly conflates any criticism of Israel and any support for its Palestinian opponents with anti-Semitism, thereby compromising the fight against anti-Semitism in favor of support for a policy that is condemned internationally.”

Separately, BNVCA on Monday honored during its annual gala in the Paris region four laureates of its “Tree of Life” award for their efforts to curb anti-Semitism. The recipients were Publicis President Maurice Levy, Nazi hunters Beate and Serge Klarsfeld and the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director for international relations, Shimon Samuels.