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article imageFrance vows crackdown against surge in anti-Semitism

By Joseph Schmid (AFP)     Feb 21, 2019 in World

Faced with a worrying surge in attacks on Jews, France plans to introduce tough new legislation governing social media platforms to combat online hate speech and officially recognise anti-Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism.

"France needs to draw new red lines, and we will do so, with concrete measures," President Emmanuel Macron told Jewish leaders Wednesday.

"For years and years we have condemned, announced plans, sometimes even passed laws. But we have not been able to act effectively, it's true," he said.

Just a few hours after his speech, residents in southern Paris woke up to swastikas scrawled on doors and bus stops, and graffiti including "Dirty Jew" written next to the nameplate of a doctor's office.

France, home to Europe's biggest Jewish community, hopes that curbing incendiary hate speech online and an increased focus on educating against racism in schools will help cut down on real-world assaults.

Macron said the government would move to hold social platforms like Facebook responsible for quickly removing hate speech -- most likely within 24 hours -- with a new law to be adopted shortly.

Social networks will also have to make it easier to report offensive content, and they will have to reveal to police the identity of users spreading racist images and comments.

"Every minute this content stays online increases the harm done to victims and to our society," Digital Affairs Minister Mounir Mahjoubi told France Info radio on Thursday.

Germany in 2018 introduced fines of up to 50 million euros ($57 million) if online platforms don't remove flagged hate speech within 24 hours.

But as of last June, no fine had been imposed against Facebook or Twitter during the first six months of the tougher law's introduction.

- Anti-Zionism -

France will also adopt a parliamentary resolution condemning anti-Zionism, which opposes the movement that established Israel but has also encompassed virulent criticism of Israeli policies.

It will join Germany, Britain and other European nations in adopting the definition of anti-Semitism set by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and endorsed by the European Council in December.

"Anti-Zionism is one of the modern forms of anti-Semitism," Macron said on Wednesday.

Jewish leaders had long urged France to penalise anti-Zionism, though government officials said France's penal code would not be changed to specifically include such insults.

But critics say alleged anti-Zionism may prove too vague.

"One poll for example found that 71 percent of French people thought the Israeli government was at fault because no talks were being held with the Palestinians," Adrien Quatennens of the France Unbowed opposition party said on France 2 TV Thursday.

"Are we going to suspect 71 percent of the French of being anti-Semites? It's not serious," he said.

Such claims were rejected by Macron, who said legitimate criticism of Israel would remain protected.

But he said police and judges would now be better able to combat "the fundamental hatred of Jews that hides behind the rejection of Israel, the refusal of its right to exist."

- 'Killing people' -

Macron also vowed to study reports that Jewish parents have "too often" resorted to pulling their children from public schools in some areas because of insults or threats.

"Such departures from our schools say something, at times about what we don't want or cannot see," he said.

Macron also said authorities would move more forcefully to shut down racist groups, beginning with three far-right ones -- Bastion Social, Blood and Honour Hexagone, and Combat 18.

Officials accuse both far-right and far-left extremists of infiltrating the "yellow vest" anti-government protests that started in November.

In recent weeks, the protests have coincided with a spate of anti-Semitic vandalism.

The insults and violence aren't new, however, with the interior ministry announcing this month a 74 percent surge in anti-Semitic offences last year, after two years of declines.

The violence in recent years has included murders such as the brutal killing last year of 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mirielle Knoll.

"Once again... anti-Semitism is killing people in France," Macron warned.

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