Why Some Jews Actually Oppose New Legislation Against Antisemitism

France just passed some of the strongest legislation against antisemitism anywhere. And many Jews aren’t happy

By Tsvi Sadan | | Topics: Antisemitism, France
Photo: EPA-EFE

French lawmakers last month (Nov. 3) adopted a bill stating that “anti-Zionist acts can at times hide antisemitic realities. Hate toward Israel due to its perception as a Jewish collective is akin to hatred toward the entire Jewish community.” The bill was approved by a vote of 154-72.

While that might sound impressive, one must consider that there are 577 legislators (known as députés) in the French National Assembly. In the previous parliamentary sessions, a full 550 of them turned out to vote on the social security budget. The low attendance for the vote on the antisemitism bill can mean that most députés either didn’t have an opinion on the matter, or stayed away as a sign of protest. 

Either ways, the bill passed, and in France today those who hate Israel because of what it is – a Jewish state – are officially considered antisemites. 

This bill coincides with President Emmanuel Macron’s position stated earlier this year in the context of Jewish philosopher Alain Finkelkraut being attacked by participants in the “yellow vest” anti-government protests, who called him a “dirty Zionist,” among other things. Macron said then that anti-Zionism represents “one of the current forms of antisemitism.”

The French bill corresponds also to the definition of antisemitism proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Antisemitism, it says, “is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” Though neither Israel nor Zionism are mentioned in this controversial definition, the IHRA has explained that it means that “any unfair treatment of the State of Israel, demanding behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” is regarded as unacceptable.

The equation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism means that anyone who opposes the existence of the Jewish state is an antisemite. Whether the French bill meant to or not, it also implicitly labels anti-Zionist Jews as antisemites. In so doing, therefore, France has gone far beyond what Israel considers to be antisemitism. If Israel were to accept France’s definition, it would have to outlaw any political party or organization that seeks to turn Israel into a non-Jewish state. These include all the Arab parties, at least one Jewish ultra-Orthodox party, and myriad local NGOs.

As was to be expected, liberal Jews were the first to oppose this bill. In a December 3 interview on France 24 TV, James Cohen, a professor at Sorbonne University who, along with 126 other Jewish intellectuals, signed a petition against this bill, said that the basis for his objection stems from the understanding that it has broadened the definition of antisemitism to include criticism of Israel, which is not what the bill actually says, but never mind. On the other side, French Jewish lawmaker Meyer Habib, while he supports the bill, has nonetheless stated that “the French policy to fight antisemitism is a failure.” Important as it is, it is not yet clear what effect this bill will have on France’s policies regarding Israel.

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