Anti-Semitism appears to have reached its worst levels since World War II, French President Emmanuel Macron told Jewish community leaders on Wednesday, a day after thousands of people took to the streets to denounce hate crimes.
The scourge has grown “and the situation has got worse in recent weeks,” Macron told the annual dinner of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions.
Macron announced measures including legislation to fight hate speech on the Internet, to be introduced by May.
He said he had asked his interior minister to take steps to ban racist or anti-Semitic groups, singling out “for a start” three far-right groups — Bastion Social, Blood and Honour Hexagone, and Combat 18 — which he said “fuel hatred, promote discrimination or call for violence.”
He also vowed that France would recognize anti-Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism.
Macron earlier balked at a call by a lawmaker in his Republic on the Move party to criminalize anti-Zionist statements, which criticize the movement that established Israel as a home for Jews.
Macron and his government have linked the appearance of anti-Semitic graffiti on artwork, shopfronts and headstones to far-right and far-left elements within the “yellow vest” protest movement.
Also on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by telephone with Macron, Netanyahu’s office said.
The number of anti-Jewish crimes rose 74 percent last year.
Anti-Semitism has a long history in France, where society was deeply split at the end of the 19th century by the Alfred Dreyfus affair over a Jewish army captain wrongly convicted of treason.
During World War II, the French Vichy government collaborated with Germany notably in the deportation of Jews to death camps.
Jews have in the past few years been targeted in several attacks, but the proliferation of anti-Semitic graffiti is seen as a new trend.
In the past few days, the word “Juden” was spray-painted on the window of a Paris bagel bakery and swastikas were daubed on postbox portraits of French Holocaust survivor and women’s rights icon Simone Veil.
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