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If France is to lead the European Union, its antisemitism warrants attention

Seventy-seven years after the liberation of Auschwitz, antisemitism remains alive and well, including in America. 

Recently, Jews were held hostage in a Texas synagogue; Union Station was vandalized in Washington, D.C., with dozens of swastikas; neo-Nazis rallied in Florida; a synagogue in Chicago was vandalized; an individual in New Jersey posted a video of himself plowing snow onto Orthodox Jews; and a Jewish Community Center in Tucson received not one, but two bomb threats.

We know, of course, that such hatred is not unique to the United States. A recent study found that an average of more than 10 antisemitic incidents occurred every day last year around the world, nearly half of them in Europe. The United States ranked a close second, with 30 percent of the incidents.

France, home to Europe’s largest Jewish community, recently assumed the six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union. France is no stranger to this hatred; antisemitic incidents in that nation increased by 75 percent in 2021. Therefore, the French government — specifically during its time as a leader of the European Union — must prioritize the fight against antisemitism. 

To do so, however, France first must recognize antisemitism as a unique form of bigotry and acknowledge that, despite the instinct to link antisemitism to other forms of hatred, none of them should be conflated. A failure to recognize their differences — both phenomena are uniquely complex — weakens any ability to combat them.

In the United States, diversity contributes to its unique character. It is understood that each group experiences bigotry differently, in part because it manifests in distinct ways. The history of slavery in the United States, for example, has multifaceted impacts on many Americans today.

By contrast, in the eyes of the French government, all citizens are French, first and foremost, as opposed to being distinctly migrant, Jew, Muslim or African. These groups’ experiences of hatred are also viewed similarly; in France, hate is hate, and the conventional — but false — wisdom is that it must be confronted the same way, in all cases. 

The French view is somewhat naïve. One must consider historical nuances to effectively battle hatred, in all its forms. Antisemitism, one of the world’s oldest and most pervasive forms of bigotry, cuts across all social classes, political affiliations and even levels of education. Individuals and organizations, from both the extreme right and the far left, even from places where there are few or no Jews, often have come together to designate the Jew as the common enemy. 

Further, when Jews defend themselves in the face of antisemitism, they are far too often accused of avoiding criticism, manipulating opinion or “playing the victim card.” Some antisemites even deny the Holocaust, which has the dubious honor of being the best-documented genocide. They also will claim that the Jews initiated World War II to obtain financial reparations and create the State of Israel. Claims such as these are blatantly revisionist and antisemitic, stemming from the conspiracy myth that Jews control the world. 

Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, should be proud that the State Department has created the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, to lead efforts to protect Jews within U.S. borders and around the globe. This office exemplifies the America’s bipartisan commitment to the security and rights of Jewish communities around the globe, while recognizing that antisemitism, like all forms of hatred, is distinct and unique.

President Biden has nominated a particularly qualified individual to lead the office, Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, who has demonstrated courage in confronting Holocaust deniers and antisemites from across the political spectrum; perhaps most famously, she defeated Holocaust denier David Irving when he sued her for libel.

Other countries, including France, would be well-advised to appoint their own envoys and coordinators specifically to combat antisemitism.

Late last month, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we commemorated the memory of 6 million Jews and millions of others whom the Nazis murdered systematically. This day is for remembering these unimaginable horrors and for countering any distortion, or any relativization, of the Holocaust. This history, unique to Europe’s story, teaches us that the danger of antisemitism goes well beyond the Jewish people: It endangers democracy and justice worldwide.

In 2019, France experienced a wave of antisemitic attacks that led President Emmanuel Macron to pledge strong action against antisemitism. Since then, some progress has been made, including the French National Assembly’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism. 

But the past two years also brought an uptick in antisemitism, spurred by the coronavirus pandemic and other factors. The Jewish people once again have been scapegoated and we must take specific measures to fight antisemitism as a distinct evil. President Macron must honor his commitment and lead the fight against antisemitism in all its forms, in France and across Europe.   

Maram Stern is the executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress. He resides in Brussels.

Tags Antisemitism in Europe Emmanuel Macron European Union France Joe Biden New antisemitism The Holocaust

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