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French MPs to tackle ‘modern anti-Zionism’ in response to rise in anti-Semitic acts

media A mailbox in Paris vandalised with a swastika painted over an illustration of former French Health Minister and concentration camp survivor Simone Veil, 12 February 2019. Reuters/Benoit Tessier

A group of French lawmakers will meet on Tuesday to discuss how to penalise anti-Zionism following a recent rise in anti-Semitic incidents, including a verbal assault on philosopher Alain Finkielkraut at a yellow vest demonstration at the weekend.

“Anti-Zionism must be punished the same way that anti-Semitism is punishable,” Sylvain Maillard, an MP with President Emmanuel Macron’s political party The Republic on the Move (LREM), told RFI.

Maillard chairs a 30-member cross-party study group on anti-Semitism in the French National Assembly, which will decide Tuesday what kind of legislation to use to make anti-Zionism an offence.

While anti-Semitism refers to prejudice or discrimination against Jews, anti-Zionism is defined as opposition to Zionism, the ideological basis for the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland in the historic Land of Israel.

Since the nineteenth century, anti-Zionism has referred to opposition to the political movement of Jews to self-determination, and also to opposition to the State of Israel founded in 1948.

Many contemporary debates on anti-Zionism revolve around what distinguishes it from anti-Semitism. One view is that the former has become a cover for the latter, a position that critics say is a tactic to silence scrutiny of Israeli policies.

“It is crucial to say that what is forbidden is to deny the existence of Israel. That has to be made a criminal offence. Just like you do not have the right to deny the existence of France or of Germany,” Maillard said.

“However, you obviously have the right to say you do not agree with the policy of the Israeli government. That is normal in a democracy.”

Finkielkraut incident a ‘perfect example’

Also on Tuesday, fourteen political parties including LREM are planning symbolic gatherings around the country following a 74 percent rise in anti-Semitic acts recorded by the interior ministry last year.

The events also follow a recent series of incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism and graffiti.

And on Saturday, French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut was accosted on the margins of a gilet jaune (yellow vest) protest, by individuals yelling “dirty Zionist” and “France is ours”.

“It’s a perfect example of the text we have been working on for several weeks now,” Maillard said of the incident. “They say ‘dirty Zionist’, which is not punishable under French law.”

In this way, Maillard said, the group’s legislation concerned what he called “modern anti-Zionism”.

“We say that modern anti-Semitism is also anti-Zionism,” Maillard said. “When you say ‘dirty Zionist’ you are also saying ‘dirty Jew’.”

“I know others think in more political terms about what Zionism and anti-Zionism are, in light of the nineteenth-century doctrine. But don’t forget we’re dealing with modern anti-Zionism, which has other means and other methods, and that makes use of this ambiguity to flourish.”

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