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21 Feb, 2019 04:32

Anti-Zionism equals Anti-Semitism? Macron fuels debate on how to define anti-Jewish hate

Anti-Zionism equals Anti-Semitism? Macron fuels debate on how to define anti-Jewish hate

Addressing a rise in hate crimes against the Jewish diaspora in France, President Emmanuel Macron has supported the expansion of the definition of anti-Semitism to outlaw anti-Zionism as well, fueling public debate over the terms.

“Anti-Semitism is hiding itself behind anti-Zionism,” Macron said Wednesday, speaking at the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (Crif) and announcing that France seeks to define “anti-Zionism as a modern-day form of anti-Semitism.”

The rise of hate crime incidents in France, including the verbal abuse of philosopher Alain Finkielkraut at a Yellow Vest rally last weekend and the desecration of a Jewish cemetery near Strasbourg, has prompted the French government to seek new means to fight growing animosity towards their Jewish population, the largest in Europe.

While Macron believes the new definition falls in line with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) interpretation, the organization's own terminology does not contain any reference to Zionism at all.

“Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews...[and which] might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity,” the IHRA said, making clear that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”

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Just a day earlier the French leader had said he opposes criminalizing criticism of the state of Israel, after French lawmakers proposed a bill on Monday that would make anti-Zionism a punishable offense. Yet it seems Macron somewhat changed his mind a day after thousands of demonstrators gathered across France to condemn the rise of anti-Semitic attacks, a 74 percent increase last year, with 541 reported cases.

While the Office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to endorse the new proposed definition, it fueled the long raging debate challenging the assertion that being anti-Zionist automatically equates to being an anti-Semite.

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Historically, different forms of anti-Semitism have existed across the world for centuries. Anti-Zionism, however, is a relatively new phenomenon which was born in the late 19th century to oppose the Zionist political movement that was founded by Theodore Herzl and advocated the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, at that time ruled by the British.

“It is crucial to say that what is forbidden is to deny the existence of Israel. That has to be made a criminal offense,” Sylvain Maillard, an MP with Macron’s political party The Republic on the Move (LREM), told RFI. “However, you obviously have the right to say you do not agree with the policy of the Israeli government. That is normal in a democracy.”

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“If we consider opposition to Theodore Herzl's theory as anti-Semitic, then we’re saying that the millions of Jews who do not wish to live in Palestine and the occupied territories are anti-Semites,” French journalist Dominique Vidal, told FRANCE 24. “It's historical illiteracy, or worse, stupidity.”

The concepts of Zionism and anti-Zionism completely changed since the founding of Israel in 1948. Now anti-Zionism is largely associated with public anger towards the policies of the state of Israel, and not necessarily against Jewish ethnicity. It is most clearly defined in the worldwide Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) which the French president vowed to tackle on Wednesday, and criminalizing anti-Zionism could in theory allow him to do just that.

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