France to criminalize anti-Zionism

French President Emmanuel Macron arrives at the annual dinner in Paris of CRIF, a major Jewish communal and Israel lobby group, on 20 February. In a speech welcomed by Israel, Macron announced a crackdown on anti-Zionism.

Liewig Christian SIPA

France is to criminalize opposition to Israel’s racist state ideology Zionism, a decision welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

President Emmanuel Macron announced the measure Wednesday at a dinner hosted by CRIF, France’s main Jewish communal organization and Israel lobby group.

Macron reiterated that “anti-Zionism is one of the modern forms of anti-Semitism” and pledged that France would formally adopt the so-called IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

Supported by the Israel lobby, the definition deliberately conflates criticism of Israel and Zionism on the one hand, with hatred of Jews, on the other.

Macron said that France’s penal code would not be amended, but rather instructions would be issued to police, judges and teachers “to permit them to better combat those who hide behind the rejection of Israel and even the negation of its existence.”

The president claimed that the new measures would not “hamper those who want to criticize” Israel, but pledged that “there will be no complacency with regard to boycott and BDS, which have been repeatedly condemned in France and will be again.”

Successive French governments have repressed free speech and prosecuted citizens for protests and activism in support of Palestinian rights – especially supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

“Dark day”

The campaign group Association France Palestine Solidarité said that Macron’s “lamentable” speech had “dashed all hopes for an authentic citizen’s movement against anti-Semitism.”

The group accused Macron of giving in to Israeli pressure and seeking to create division by conflating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and denouncing the nonviolent BDS movement.

“Between a sincere and unified struggle against all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, on the one hand, and instrumentalization [of anti-Semitism] in the service of a criminal state, Macron knowingly chose the second option,” AFPS added, calling it a “dark day for our republic.”

“Subjected to ferocious repression and a continuous process of dispossession, the Palestinian people need more than ever the support of the French people to achieve their elementary rights,” AFPS stated, pledging “we will give it to them in the greatest unity and with respect for our principles which reject any form of racism and anti-Semitism.”

Stoking Islamophobia and hate

The divisiveness in Macron’s speech to CRIF was also evident in how he gave fuel to racism and Islamophobia targeting poorer communities with ancestry in France’s former colonies in Africa.

“Yes, unfortunately, next to traditional anti-Semitism, there is an anti-Semitism founded on radical Islamism,” the president claimed.

Using colonial language that likens humans deemed inferior to disease, Macron spoke of “gangrene” in France’s quartiers – a term for neighborhoods that conjures up pejorative images of poverty, racialized minorities and immigration.

He called for a “republican reconquest” of these neighborhoods, a clear echo of Ferdinand and Isabella’s Reconquista – the so-called Catholic “reconquest” of Spain entailing the murder and expulsion of the Iberian Peninsula’s Muslim and Jewish populations who had lived and prospered there in a golden age for centuries.

Macron may be stoking fear of minorities in a classic demagogic ploy to distract from the ongoing Gilets Jaunes – Yellow Vest – protests against his neoliberal economic agenda, and criticism of his human rights violations as he attempts to suppress them.

How Zionism is racism

Zionism is the belief that Jews should have a state of their own in historic Palestine.

However since Palestine’s indigenous Muslim and Christian population was – and still is when Palestinian refugees living in forced exile are taken into account – overwhelmingly non-Jewish, Zionism is inherently discriminatory.

Zionist militias could only establish Israel as a Jewish state in 1948 by perpetrating the Nakba, the expulsion of some 800,000 Palestinians and the destruction of hundreds of cities, towns and villages.

Israel has only been able to maintain its violently gerrymandered Jewish majority by preventing the return of Palestinian refugees, in violation of international law, solely and exclusively because they are not Jews.

Israel relentlessly pursues the Zionist goal of a Jewish-majority state through blatantly racist policies ranging from apartheid laws discriminating against Palestinians to regular massacres in the Gaza Strip.

Opposition to Zionism is therefore a fundamentally anti-racist position, and Palestinians of all political backgrounds have made it abundantly clear that they have no quarrel with Jews as Jews, but with Israel and its violent racist policies.

Zionism is moreover opposed by a significant number of Jews. While many secular Jews may oppose it on political grounds – motivating them to join such anti-Zionist organizations as Jewish Voice for Peace – large numbers of religious Jews reject Zionism on theological grounds.

The Satmars, for example, the world’s largest Orthodox Jewish community, strongly oppose Zionism as a heresy.

Any effort to equate Jews and Judaism, on the one hand, with Israel and Zionism, on the other, is inherently anti-Semitic. Ironically, it is anti-Semites and Israel’s most fervent supporters who insist on this equation.

Silencing calls for equality

Yet as global support for Palestinian rights continues to grow, Israel, its lobby and their allies are escalating their campaign to muddy the waters between anti-Semitism, racism or hatred against Jews, on the one hand, and rejection of Israel’s anti-Palestinian Zionist state ideology, on the other.

France is pushing this campaign a step further with Macron’s announcement of a crackdown on anti-Zionism.

Macron’s move fits in directly with Israel’s agenda. While ignoring the resurgence of real and virulent anti-Semitism from right-wing European governments and political movements with which Israel is closely allied, Israel is instead claiming that “anti-Zionism is now the most popular form of anti-Semitism.”

Macron’s crackdown has unsurprisingly been welcomed by Israel and its lobby. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that he spoke to Macron on Wednesday evening.

Netanyahu wrote that the French president “informed me that he would adopt the definition that states that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. An important decision!”

Daniel Schwammenthal, director of the AJC Transatlantic Institute, the European branch of the American Jewish Committee, said Thursday that the IHRA definition “is a useful tool to determine when people legitimately criticize Israeli policies or when people deny the Jewish people, of all people in the world, to have a state.”

That serves as confirmation that the whole exercise has little to do with the necessary and legitimate goal of protecting Jews from discrimination, and everything to do with shielding Israel from calls to end its apartheid system and accept full and equal rights for everyone living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

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