French President Emmanuel Macron announced last week he would introduce new legislation to combat anti-Semitism, and, in the same breath, identified anti-Zionism as a modern form of anti-Semitism. In doing so, Macron peddled an incorrect and dangerous equivalence that has been stubbornly promoted by both liberals and the far-right in the West.
Addressing the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), Macron promised the French government would adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. This politicized definition obscures the distinction between anti-Jewish racism and criticism of Israel’s racist structures. It delineates as anti-Semitic, for example, the claim that “the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
“Behind the negation of Israel’s existence, what is hiding [in anti-Zionism] is the hatred of Jews,” the French president claimed, adding that anti-Semitism was based on “radical Islamism” which he claimed is rampant in poor and multiethnic neighborhoods in France. Macron’s rhetoric is in line with a tactic employed by the European right to redefine anti-Semitism as a Muslim and/or Arab phenomenon imported to Europe.
His move also represents yet another instance of gradual suppression of movements in favor of Palestinian rights. Equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism limits free speech for anyone in France who questions Israel’s racist structures, adding to the already-existing targeting of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in the country.
In achieving all this, Marcon’s new policy condemns the many Jews who do not support Zionism and/or oppose the state of Israel. Zionism, as expressed by the state of Israel, is a modern political ideology that emerged from within the context of European nationalism and colonialism. Equating all Jews, or Judaism itself, with Zionism is factually erroneous and akin to old Christian, European anti-Semitic tropes that proclaimed all Jews as belonging to one political ideology inherently connected to a unitary religious and/or ethnic background. It is thus Macron, who is dictating, defining, and limiting the individual ideology and political participation of a heterogenous, global Jewish community – not those who oppose the Zionist state.
Paradoxically, it is, in fact, the Israeli government that is openly courting anti-Semitism and shamelessly collaborating with anti-Semites. Indeed, just as Macron made his policy announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosted several EU right-wing leaders known for their anti-Semitic remarks. As Haaretz reported, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party said in the prime minister’s defense: “They might be anti-Semites, but they’re on our side.”
Rather than combatting anti-Semitism, then, Macron’s new policy is likely to further obscure discrimination against Jews perpetuated in the name of furthering Zionism.