Speaking at a dinner attended by Jewish leaders on Wednesday, Macron said a surge in anti-Semitic attacks in France was unprecedented since World War Two and promised a crackdown including a new law to tackle hate speech on the internet.
France will adopt the definition of anti-Semitism set by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), he said, adding: “Anti-Zionism is one of the modern forms of anti-Semitism.”
The IHRA definition does not use the phrase “anti-Zionism” but does say denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination “e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour,” is anti-Semitic.
Some critics of Israel, its occupation of territory internationally recognised as Palestinian, and its isolation of the Gaza Strip, say they risk being unfairly branded anti-Semitic, although the IHRA definition says: “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country” is not.
Welcoming Macron’s actions, the World Jewish Congress said: “This is just the beginning of a long road ahead. Adopting this definition of anti-Semitism must be followed by concrete steps to encode into law and ensure that this is enforced.”
The IHRA definition is not legally binding but does serve as an international guideline.
Germany and Britain adopted the definition in texts in 2016, though the European Union in 2018 adopted a softer tone, calling the IHRA definition a “guidance tool” amid concern from some member states that it could make criticism of Israeli policy, particularly with regards to Palestinians, difficult.
Macron said France would not change its laws relating to anti-Semitism and that recognising the IHRA’s definition must not be seen as a means of preventing people from criticising the Israeli government.
Jewish leaders in France have expressed growing alarm over anti-Semitism driven by fringe Islamist preachers, alongside that more commonly associated with Nazi ideology and the far right and a rise in anti-Zionism on the hard-left.
On Tuesday, Macron visited a Jewish cemetery where dozens of headstones were desecrated with swastikas.
Macron said he had ordered the interior ministry to dismantle three neo-Nazi groups – Bastion Social, Blood and Honour Hexagone and Combat 18 – which he said fuelled hate and promoted violence.