An estimated 20,000 people took to the streets of Paris, and thousands marched in other cities across France to protest a spate of recent anti-Semitic attacks, including the vandalism of almost 100 graves in a Jewish cemetery in eastern France.
The theme of the Paris event was “C’est Suffit!”—Enough!
It was the second recent case of extensive cemetery desecration in the region. In December, nearly 40 graves as well as a monument to Holocaust victims were vandalized in Herrlisheim, about a half-hour drive from Quatzenheim, cities with a mixed French-German population.
Tackling mounting anti-Semitism has jumped to the top of the political agenda in France, following nationally publicized anti-Jewish outbreaks that triggered outrage and alarm in the country and throughout Jewish communities the world over.
The incidents were underscored by a government announcement that France has seen a 74 percent jump in anti-Jewish offences in 2018 compared with previous years.
“Every time a French person, because he or she is Jewish, is insulted, threatened — or worse, injured or killed — the whole Republic” is attacked, French President Emmanuel Macron said at a news conference in Paris ahead of the rallies.
The Paris rally, in the city’s central Place de la Republique, was the largest of about 70 protests staged nationwide in response to a surge in anti-Semitic hate crimes in France. Eighteen political parties in the French Parliament had joined in urging citizens to participate in the protests against anti-Jewish bigotry, with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and more than half his cabinet attending the rally in Paris.
Two former presidents, the socialist Francois Hollande, and the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy also made an appearance. Parliament suspended its work for several hours to allow parliamentarians to attend the rally, while religious leaders met with the interior minister to affirm their unity.
Speaking on television, Philippe said it was necessary to punish those who “because of ideology, because they think it’s an easy option, or because of ignorance or hostility, call into question what we are — a diverse but proud people.”
Proliferating anti-Semitic attacks have driven whole communities out of French cities, and since 2000, have fueled the emigration of 50,000 French Jews to Israel or the United States.
Macron also promised to crack down on hate crimes when inspecting a cemetery in Quatzenheim in the northeastern Alsace region near Germany, where 96 Jewish tombstones had been spray-painted with blue and yellow swastikas. One grave bore the words “Elsassisches Schwarzen Wolfe” (“Black Alsatian Wolves), a group with links to a neo-Nazi band.
The president’s visit to the cemetery in Quatzenheim came several hours before the rallies. He said he felt shame at the sight of the defaced grave markers.
“We shall act, we shall pass laws, we shall punish,” Macron told Jewish leaders as he toured the cemetery. “Those who did this are not worthy of the Republic.” he said, placing flowers on a tombstone commemorating Jews deported to Germany during World War II.
Almost 80,000 Jews were deported from France during the Holocaust, with French police taking orders from the Nazi-aligned Vichy government who ordered the roundups of Jewish men, women and children.
In a string of atrocities that France has never taken responsibility for, the attacks on the Jewish community took place in a series of mass arrests in the summer of 1942; the tens of thousands of victims were interned for up to two weeks in primitive transit camps in France that lacked the basics for human survival, before being shipped to Auschwitz where they were murdered.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the “shocking” anti-Semitic vandalism, while one of his cabinet colleagues urged French Jews to “come home” to Israel.
Macron Promises France Will Adopt New Definition of Anti-Semitism
Netanyahu spoke with Macron the day following the cross-country marches in France. During the phone call, Macron told Netanyahu that the French government intended to crack down on hate speech and anti-Jewish bigotry. He said France would adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Macron repeated the message to Jewish leaders in France that the government would broaden France’s definition of anti-Semitism to include anti-Zionism, which includes rejecting Israel’s right to exist and calling the state of Israel “a racist endeavor.”
“For several years — and the situation has worsened further in the past few weeks — our country, like Europe as a whole and almost all western democracies, is faced with a resurgence of anti-Semitism not seen since the second world war,” Macron told the annual dinner of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF).
He noted he was not advocating amending current French law or suppressing legitimate criticism of Israeli policies. The plan, he said, was to provide guidance to the police, the courts and the country’s teachers in identifying, behind an act of Israel-bashing, a mindset of “rejection of the Jewish State’s very existence, the most primal form of anti-Jewish hatred.”
Macron also announced that the government would act to dissolve racist and anti-Semitic groups in France, starting with Bastion Social, Blood and Honour Hexagone and Combat 18 — groups he said disseminated hate and discrimination.
The president said that the parliament will in coming months introduce a draft law aimed at combating racism and anti-Semitism on the internet.
“It’s a very important announcement for all the Jews of Europe. We were waiting for this from France,” Raya Kalenova, chief executive of the European Jewish Congress, said after hearing Macron’s promises, noting that other European countries including Germany had already changed their definitions of anti-Semitism. “It was for me a historic speech.”
Toughening Up Laws Against Hate Speech On Social Media
France has been working since early last year to toughen laws on hate speech to ensure social media companies do more to remove racist and anti-Semitic content from the internet. About this time, 28 European Union countries had initiated steps to compel Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Google to be more proactive in filtering hate speech on their platforms.
“These days a newspaper director is criminally responsible if hateful comments are posted on its website but if you run a social network, anything goes,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said in a speech last March. “Nobody is going to convince me that the social networks live in space. What gets published and circulated in France is published and circulated right here in France, and must answer to the laws of the French republic.”
His words highlighted a troubling paradox in Europe where governments appear to demonstrate greater sensitivity to anti-Semitism, while outbreaks of hate in European communities continue to escalate, and—in our electronic age—to prove much harder to control.
Critics blame social media which have facilitated the spread of prejudice and targeting of scapegoats. Pejorative ideas and comments that would find no place in the respectable media or political discourse proliferate exponentially via electronic platforms.
Events in France this week have galvanized French leaders to craft the language for various regulations that would severely penalize social media companies that flout hate speech laws.
French President Macron floated the idea at the above-mentioned annual CRIF that those convicted for crimes of hate speech could be permanently banned from social media networks.
“The European fight must continue, but it is too slow,” Macron said and compared banning those convicted of hate speech from social media to football hooligans being banned from attending football matches.
How the government will enforce the ban remains unclear. Secretary of State for Digital Affairs Mounir Mahjoubi gave some indications about how users would be identified, saying, “the IP address is what Twitter has on each user who publishes a message on its platform. It must, as soon as possible, send it to the justice system to quickly identify the author, and then we can take it from there.”
“It is no longer acceptable today that platforms that have the means to help the police to identify the person who has committed an offense online take several weeks, even months, before giving the information,” the French official said.
While Macron and other politicians have advocated for increasing laws and regulations to combat hate speech and so-called fake news online, the new proposal would mark an escalation from the current penalties of fines to heavier financial punishments as well as prison sentences.
European Jewish Congress Welcomes France’s Resolve To Combat Anti-Semitism
The Brussels-based European Jewish Congress (EJC) has applauded discussions within the French Parliament about how to criminalize anti-Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism.
The parliamentary debate was held by a 30-member cross-party study group on anti-Semitism in the French National Assembly, chaired by Sylvain Maillard, a member of President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party. The group discussed the type of legislation that should be employed to curb the using of anti-Zionism as a pretext to spread hatred of Jews.
Following the debate, EJC president Dr. Moshe Kantor pointed to the distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies and singling out the Jewish people as having no right to exist as a nation in its own land.
He noted that anti-Zionists never claim that any other nation on earth, apart from the Jewish state, should be dismantled or is illegitimate. This meets any standard of “delegitimization, demonization and double-standards,” the so-called “3-D test” that has become a litmus test for identifying hate-Israel rhetoric as a cover for Jew-hatred.
Earlier this week, the EJC, backed by partner organizations in the United States, presented the governments of the European Union with an “action plan” which they feel is needed to turn high-minded rhetoric into tangible change.
The plan calls on EU to actualize its dream of “exporting human rights” by using its diplomatic and commercial muscle to prioritize the safety of Jewish communities, especially those under threat.
Specifically, the plan calls for the EU’s 28 member states, individually and collectively, to spend more money on monitoring and measuring anti-Semitism, on countering it through targeted education programs, and on ensuring the physical security of Jewish communities.
Will Anything Change in France?
In an interview for Arutz Sheva, Dr. Shmuel Trigano, a prominent French political analyst and retired professor at Paris University, drew attention to a paradox at the heart of the current uproar in France over the spike in anti-Semitism.
While the government claims it wants to curb virulent anti-Israel prejudice in France, the Foreign Office’s extreme pro-Arab tilt and its support of Iran serve to actively promote these sentiments, he pointed out.
How can the government bring about significant change when its foreign policy and actions are at odds with its declarations against anti-Zionism, Trigano wondered.
The French-Jewish political scientist predicted that despite the fervent pledges of France’s leaders to crack down on anti-Jewish incitement and hate speech by reining in anti-Zionism, nothing much will change.
“France has always embraced a vigorous pro-Arab policy,” Trigano elaborated, noting the historical roots to this policy go back to the 19th century when France was a colonial power, and that the policy itself is politically self-serving.
“The government tries to increase its clout in the European Union through good relations with the North African countries, where large numbers of French (Muslim) citizens originate. France has a closer relationship with those countries than do Germany and other Northern European states, and tries to leverage this influence within the EU.”
In addition, the Algerian-born political expert said, 6 million Muslims live in France, many of whom have contempt for French values and culture. The political elite, rather than deal with the reality of an alienated and menacing fifth column, supports the Palestinian cause as a means of appeasing and currying favor with French Muslims.
Although President Macron’s ruling party is more favorably disposed toward Israel than previous governments, it is the Foreign Office that determines foreign policy, Trigano said. Its pro-Arab tilt has dictated the country’s hostility toward Israel during the terms of the last three presidents, including President Macron.
He recalled a painful moment for Jews under then President Francois Hollande, when a majority of the parliament declared – with a standing ovation — recognition of ‘the State of Palestine.’
“Nicolas Sarkozy was perhaps a little bit more friendly in his words than socialist Hollande,” Trigano said. “But it made little difference in how France voted in international forums such as the United Nations. France always votes in an unfriendly or hostile way toward Israel.”
“President Emmanuel Macron will not deviate from his predecessors’ policies toward Israel,” reflected Trigano. “Nor, given the realities in France today, can one expect much from him as far as the fight against anti-Semitism is concerned.”
“How Can We Accept that People Are Killed Because They are Jewish?”
Trigano recalled the 2015 terrorist attacks in France, when Muslim radicals massacred people at the Charlie Hebdo editorial offices and at the Hypercacher kosher supermarket.
“If there was any consolation for the Jews of France at that devastating time,” he said, “it came from the words of Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who cried out at a special session of the French parliament, ‘How can we accept that people are killed because they are Jewish? History has taught us that the awakening of anti-Semitism is the symptom of a crisis for democracy and of a crisis for the Republic! That is why we must respond with force.’”
“We are at war,” Valls had declared, “with terrorism, jihadism, and Islamist radicalism.”
This was followed by a huge rally of solidarity in Paris where speakers called for national unity against the “barbarians.”
“But if this is a common threat which the whole nation faces,” asks Prof. Trigano, “how can one explain the fact that it is the Jewish centers and institutions, almost exclusively, that are under the protection of soldiers, and that every synagogue has a minyan of armed guards standing outside of it day and night?”
The French-Jewish author also called out France for its continued political support of Iran “which wants to destroy Israel and exterminate its population.” In addition, he noted, Iran is a major supplier of weapons to countries with extreme violent intentions that destabilize the Mideast.
Despite these lethal menaces, France has fiercely opposed Washington’s decision to withdraw from the international nuclear deal with Iran, and together with Germany, has led Europe in keeping the deeply flawed and dangerous nuclear accord in force. The message to the French public is clear; Israel’s safety and survival is not our concern.
Hostility to Israel Infiltrates French Society
Critics single out France’s semi-government press agency, Agence France Presse, as a major producer of distorted news about Israel that routinely casts the Palestinians as victims and Israelis as “occupiers” and aggressors. The hostility toward Israel and Jews that this engenders infuses all levels of French society, experts say.
It didn’t help that for years, beginning in 2000 when major violence against the Jews broke out in France while the socialist Jospin government was in power, the government hushed up the attacks on the Jewish community.
“More than 500 anti-Semitic attacks by North African immigrants occurred over two years,” notes Trigano. “Yet publicity about the violence was censored.”
During those years, when Jewish leaders protested and tried alert the global Jewish community to the violence being perpetrated on French Jews, they were criticized for blowing isolated incidents out of proportion and needlessly sowing panic.
Years later, then Minister of the Interior rationalized the government’s silence about the attacks and its failure to take steps to protect its Jewish citizens. This was done in order not to throw ‘oil on the fire,’ the French official reportedly said.
In other words, the security of the Jews had to be sacrificed to promote an image in France of ‘social peace’ to make the ruling party look good.
In the face of government indifference to the attacks on Jews, Chief Rabbi of France Rabbi Joseph Sitruk had advised Jews not to wear yarmulkas in the street. That sent a chilling message to the Jews of France about their overall safety and long term future in the country.
“Not surprisingly, tens of thousands of Jews have left the country since then,” noted Trigano who alternates between his Israel and Paris residences.
The government’s strong political stand over the past two weeks offers hope to France’s Jewish community, observers say, but it will take more than promises and political gestures to reverse the marginalization of French Jewry that has been many years in the making.
Inventor of the World Wide Web Signals Its Potential for Evil
The man credited with inventing the worldwide web in 1989, British engineer and computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, called in a public letter last week for powerful internet platforms and social media companies to be regulated, to prevent the internet from being “weaponized” on an unprecedented scale.
Between the lines, the acclaimed inventor seemed to be acknowledging he had created a potential monster, and was groping for ways to keep it under control.
The letter, published on the 29th anniversary of the creation of the web, highlighted the capacity for societal harm posed by unfettered social media, and by the concentration of power in the hands of a few electronic “gatekeepers.”
“We’re seeing how the concentration of power has created a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and heard,” Berners-Lee wrote.
“The problem is that these companies have been built to maximize profit more than to maximize social good,” he said, alluding to the myriad ways in which the internet can and is used for nefarious purposes.
In France and Germany, tough new laws are being crafted to punish social media companies that refuse to weed out hate speech and incitements to violence. The pushback from liberal groups clamoring about the “suppression of freedom of speech” has been fierce.
The inventor of the “worldwide web” used his open letter to lament the capacity of lawless people to abuse the internet, “to magnify our fears and deepen our divisions.”
“In recent years, we’ve seen conspiracy theories trend on social media platforms, fake Twitter and Facebook accounts stoke social tensions, external actors interfere in elections, and criminals steal troves of personal data,” the letter said.
Germany and Britain Report Surge in Anti-Semitic Incidents
France is not the only European country experiencing an uptick in anti-Semitic acts. Signs of resurgent anti-Semitism at a level unseen since before the Holocaust are making news all over Europe, with Germany and Britain reporting sharp increases in violent incidents last year.
In Britain, the incidents reached a record 1,652; in Germany, 1,646, including acts of abuse, desecration and physical attacks.
In December, a European Union study found hundreds of Jews in a dozen member states reported being physically or verbally abused in the past year.
The reasons given by seven British politicians for leaving the Labor opposition focused on the party’s failure, despite persistent demands from members, to tackle blatant anti-Semitism in its ranks.
A British paper dropped a bombshell this week, revealing that one of Labor party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s top aides has long-standing ties to anti-Israel terrorist groups. The aide, Seumas Milne, is considered one of Corbyn’s most influential confidantes.
A weekend expose by The Mail, a British paper, suggested that Milne’s alleged sympathy and support for terrorist groups may have something to do with Corbyn’s undisguised hostility to Israel.
Milne’s links with terrorist groups dedicated to destroying the Jewish state are reportedly decades old. According to The Mail report, Milne in his youth “went to Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank on a Leftist grand tour. There he reportedly met with Fatah members while the group still openly called for Israel’s destruction and the ethnic cleansing of its Jewish population.”
Returning to Oxford where he was a student, Milne co-founded the Oxford Palestine Campaign, an extremist anti-Israel group. The organization disseminated PLO propaganda and denounced the 1978 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, calling for the Palestinians “to escalate armed resistance.”
According to the Mail report, Milne eventually developed links with Hamas and as an aide to Corbyn, led the Labor party leader to the Middle East to meet with leaders of the Islamist terror group.
Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of British intelligence agency MI6, told The Mail that the disclosure of Milne’s ties with Islamic groups that call for Israel’s destruction would disqualify him from the required security checks to see classified information, in the event Corbyn becomes Britain’s prime minister.
“Anyone with his sort of background could not be let anywhere near classified information,” said Dearlove, adding that Corbyn’s past associations are “alarming enough, but Milne’s put him beyond the pale.”