The lower house of France’s parliament on Tuesday approved a draft resolution that calls hate of Israel a form of anti-Semitism, drawing praise from Jerusalem and Jewish groups.
The 577 members of the National Assembly voted on the draft, which also calls on the government to join other European nations in adopting the definition of anti-Semitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
The resolution was backed by 154 lawmakers while 74 opposed it.
The IHRA definition states that some forms of vitriol against Israel, including comparing it to Nazi Germany, are examples of anti-Semitism, though criticizing Israel’s policies is not.
“The National Assembly… believes that the operational definition used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance allows for the most precise designation of what contemporary anti-Semitism is,” the text of the resolution reads in part. “It considers it an effective instrument for combating anti-Semitism in its modern and renewed form, in that it encompasses manifestations of hatred toward the State of Israel justified solely by the perception of the latter as a Jewish collective.”
Israel hailed the move, with Foreign Minister Israel Katz calling it “an important step in the battle against anti-Semitism” and urging more countries to follow suit.
Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog tweeted: “We, as the representatives of the Jewish people around the world, commend and salute France’s National Assembly and President Emanuel Macron for a historic decision that stands as a moral beacon against manifestations of anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel.”
Crif, France’s main Jewish umbrella group, hailed the decision and called it an important tool to help officials understand anti-Semitism.
“This vote is above all a step forward for France, which joins the group of 20 countries that have adopted the challenge of the IHRA. It is a necessary step to strengthen the fight against this evil which represents more than 50% of the racist acts in our country,” Crif head Francis Kalifat said.
The American Jewish Committee, which together with Crif had been a key proponent of the legislation, also praised the decision.
“The National Assembly’s endorsement of the working definition is a very welcome and significant boost to France’s determination to recognize the dangers to our society of rising anti-Semitism and to more effectively fight hatred of Jews in all its forms,” said AJC Paris Director Anne-Sophie Sebban-Bécache in a statement.
“The urgent need for education on anti-Semitism, to recognize it and mobilize to confront it, is paramount,” she said. “It is essential now that government, civil society, faith and other leaders use the working definition in the fight against anti-Semitism.”
A recent surge in anti-Semitic violence and hate speech has prompted soul-searching for many in France, which has long wrestled with its history of discrimination and prejudice against Jews.
The number of anti-Jewish offenses reported to police rose to 541 last year from 311 in 2017, after falling for two years.
Dozens of Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated, swastikas have been found scrawled on the doors of people’s homes, and anti-Semitic motives have been linked to violent attacks, including at least one murder of a Holocaust survivor.
Lawmaker Sylvain Maillard of President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling LREM centrist party touched off weeks of debates in French media with his draft resolution.
In October, 39 organizations wrote an open letter to National Assembly President Richard Ferrand warning against passing the resolution.
The letter argued against a separate definition of anti-Semitism, as it would “weaken the universalist approach” to combating all forms of racism” and compromise “defense of freedom of expression and assembly for groups and activists that must be allowed to defend the rights of Palestinians and criticize Israel’s policy without being falsely accused of anti-Semitism.”
Among its co-signatories was Malik Salemkour, president of France’s Human Rights League, an organization founded in 1898 to fight the anti-Semitic persecution and show trial of the French-Jewish army captain, Alfred Dreyfus.
Maillard defended the draft, telling La Croix that in France today, saying “dirty Zionist” means “dirty Jew.”
The draft denounces “hate toward Israel justified only by its perception as a Jewish collective.”
JTA contributed to this report.