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February 20, 2019 6:27 pm

In Major Address to Jewish Community, French President Macron Pledges New Measures to Combat Rising Antisemitism

avatar by Ben Cohen

French President Emmanuel Macron addressing the annual dinner of Jewish organization CRIF in Paris. Photo: Reuters/Ludovic Marin.

In the face of a continuing wave of antisemitic invective and violence, French President Emmanuel Macron offered reassurances to his country’s Jewish community in a major speech on Wednesday night.

As expected, Macron announced several measures to strengthen the response of the French authorities to antisemitic outrages, during a speech to the annual dinner in Paris of CRIF, the representative organization of French Jews. Government figures for 2018 published last week showed a 74 percent rise in the number of antisemitic attacks in France. Several high-profile incidents in the past few days — including the barracking of the French-Jewish writer Alain Finkielkraut by a group of protestors in Paris and the defacing of a Jewish cemetery in eastern France with swastikas and antisemitic slogans — served to heighten the anticipation around Macron’s speech.

The measures announced by Macron included the adoption by France of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which cites the denial of Israel’s right to exist as one of its examples. He also pledged to increase the powers of local magistrates to punish offenders, as well as the creation of specialized teams of police officers to combat antisemitism.

To warm applause, Macron announced that a bill to fight hate on the internet will be tabled at the next session of the French parliament — a key demand made by French Jewish leaders. The proposed legislation would allow for antisemitic content online to be removed immediately, in addition to severely restricting the ability of offenders to hide behind anonymous identities — a practice denounced by Macron as “the mask of cowards.”

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Similar enthusiasm greeted the French leader’s pledge to investigate the phenomenon of Jewish families deserting many of the country’s public schools, out of fear of antisemitism. Macron also warned extremists in the country that “France must draw new red lines and we will do so.”

“That is why I asked the Minister of the Interior for measures to counter organizations promoting discrimination or calling for violence,” Macron said.

The French president reflected that antisemitism had, in the recent past, generated “too much indignation, too many words, not enough results.”

“The time has come for acts,” he said.

In earlier remarks to the audience, CRIF president Francis Kalifat noted that “in 2018 as in previous years, French Jews were insulted, harassed, threatened, robbed, assaulted or beaten because they were Jews.”

“Who are their aggressors?” asked Kalifat. “Too often, young Muslims.”

Macron’s speech condemned the influence of radical Islamists in many French inner city areas, declaring: “We need a republican reconquest of these neighborhoods.” Alongside “traditional antisemitism,” he observed, there was “an antisemitism born of radical Islamism.”

Macron also equated anti-Zionism — opposing Israel’s right to exist — with antisemitism.

“We must name the evil: antisemitism is hiding behind the mask of anti-Zionism,” he said.

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