Two days after treating President Trump to a Bastille Day parade, Emmanuel Macron welcomed yet another world leader to Paris for a symbolic summit.
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose hardline politics have earned him few friends across the French ideological spectrum, arrived here for talks on Sunday, the French president condemned anti-Zionism as the new form of anti-Semitism.
The backdrop for their meeting was the 75th anniversary of an infamous Paris Holocaust roundup, and Macron used the occasion to reiterate his declaration that the French state bore the responsibility for the arrest and deportation of approximately 13,000 Jews in 1942.
“We will never surrender to the messages of hate,” Macron said, standing on the site where French police, on the night of July 16, 1942, detained thousands of French and foreign-born Jews before facilitating their transports to Nazi concentration camps across Eastern Europe. “We will not surrender to anti-Zionism, because it is a reinvention of anti-Semitism.”
Following a string of devastating terror attacks in recent years, thousands of French Jews left France for Israel, encouraged in 2015 by Netanyahu himself. But as Macron vowed Sunday to fight anti-Semitism in all its forms, the Israeli leader changed his tone and spoke of solidarity with France.
“Your struggle is our struggle,” Netanyahu said, referring to Friday’s attack in Jersualem, when Arab Israeli gunmen shot and killed two Israeli police officers. “The zealots of militant Islam, who seek to destroy you, seek to destroy us as well.”
The wartime roundup – known in France as the Vel d’Hiv massacre, for the now-demolished indoor stadium where Jews were temporarily held – featured prominently in France’s recent presidential election, in which historical revisionism and denial were constant themes.
In one of the campaign’s most controversial moments, Marine Le Pen, Macron’s far-right opponent and the daughter of the convicted Holocaust denier Jean-Marie Le Pen, insisted that the French state had not been responsible. Along the same lines, a French journalist reported that Le Pen’s principal deputy denied the use of the poison gas Zyklon B. in the Nazi gas chambers.
In repudiating these assertions, Macron joined ranks with several of his recent predecessors.
After decades of government silence, Jacques Chirac, in 1995, became the first sitting French president to acknowledge the country’s complicity and collaboration in the Holocaust, during which 76,000 Jews were deported from France altogether.
In his own remarks at the site of the Vel d’Hiv, Chirac, in 1995, put it this way: “France, on that day, committed the irreparable. Breaking its word, it handed those who were under its protection over to their executioners.”
Macron echoed those remarks on Sunday. “I say it again here,” he said. “It was indeed France that organized the roundup, the deportation, and thus, for almost all, death.”
Macron’s remarks come after a years-long wave of anti-Semitism – and a subsequent surge in the number of French Jews who have moved to Israel.
In 2012, terrorists attacked a Jewish day school in Toulouse, killing four – including three children. In 2014, the Franco-Cameroonian comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala likened Jews to “slave drivers” and promoted a version of the Nazi salute. In January 2015, an attack on a kosher supermarket on the outskirts of Paris left four Jewish customers dead.
Sunday was Netanyahu’s first visit to France since his appearance in January 2015 at Paris’s Grand Synagogue, immediately following the attack on the supermarket, when he delivered a controversial speech urging Jews to consider leaving France.
About 8,000 French Jews left for Israel in 2015, out of an estimated Jewish population of about 600,000. The number has since fallen. In 2016, 5,000 Jews left France, according to statistics released by the Jewish Agency of Israel to Agence France-Presse, and analysts expect a similar number in 2017. In general, critics also caution that the figures do not necessarily represent an “exodus,” as each individual case cannot easily be attributed to anti-Semitism. Some French Jews have also since returned to France.
In any case, the perception of France as an inhospitable place for Jews has persisted, and it was this that Macron appeared to adress in his remarks. Netanyahu pointedly did not repeat his previous remark encouraging immigration.
Some French Jewish leaders vehemently opposed the presence of the Israeli leader at an event they said should otherwise have remained apolitical. In the words of Elie Barnavi, France’s former ambassador to Israel, the Vel d’Hiv massacre had “nothing to do with Israel.” But others welcomed Macron’s remarks about the realities of contemporary anti-Semitism.
“He understands what it is today, not just what it was in the past,” said Yonatan Arfi, the vice president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Organizations (CRIF), France’s largest Jewish advocacy organization, in an interview.
“It’s at once from the extreme right, but also present on the extreme left and among radical Islamists,” he said. “Anti-Zionism has definitely become part of anti-Semitism today, and it’s a real satisfaction to find someone before us who speaks the same language.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · James Mcauley