France - Briefing of the Resolution About Antisemitism

December the 3rd 2019

On December the 3rd 2019, a resolution “aiming at fighting against antisemitism” (translation of the title of the resolution) was adopted by the French Parliament.

The text of the resolution contains one article which reads as follow:

The national assembly,
Considering article 34-1 of the Constitution,
Considering article 136 of the Rules the National Assembly,
Considering the European Parliament resolution of 1 June 2017 on fighting antisemitism,
Considering the declaration of the Council of the European Union of 6 December 2018 on the fight against antisemitism and the establishment of a common approach in the area of security in order to better protect the Jewish communities and institutions in Europe,
Considers that the operational definition used by the International Alliance for the Memory of the Holocaust allows to designate as precisely as possible what contemporary antisemitism is;
Considering that it would constitute an effective instrument for combating antisemitism in its modern and renewed form, in that it includes expressions of hatred towards the State of Israel justified by the mere perception of the latter as a Jewish community;
Endorses the operational definition of antisemitism used by the International Alliance for the Memory of the Holocaust, as a useful guiding tool in the fields of education and training and in order to support the judicial and law enforcement authorities in their efforts to detect and prosecute antisemitic attacks more efficiently and effectively;
Invites the Government, for educational purposes, to disseminate it to the educational, law enforcement and judicial services.

What is the meaning of a resolution in the French legal order

“The resolution is to explain. The law is to act ”.

The Constitutional law n° 2008-724 of July 23, 2008 introduced in the Constitution article 34-1 which authorizes the assemblies (the Parliament and the Senate) to vote resolutions.
A resolution is an act by which the Assembly issues an opinion on a specific question. Tabled on behalf of a group by its president or by any member, the motion for a resolution is subject to double checking. Under the terms of article 34-1, paragraph 2, of the Constitution, the Government has the power to declare it inadmissible before its inclusion on the agenda if it considers that its adoption or rejection is likely to engage its responsibility or if it contains injunctions against it. In addition, when it has the same purpose as a previous proposal examined during the same ordinary session, it cannot be placed on the agenda.

The scope of a resolution is also limited. It is not binding. It is mainly used by parliamentarians to formulate a wish, a recommendation. "A resolution is a declaration of principle," sums up Bernard Accoyer, President of the National Assembly. “The resolution is to explain. The law is to act ”.

The controversy triggered by this resolution in France

The debate on this text sharply divided the MPs and in particular the majority (La République en marche, which is the party of the President Emmanuel Macron), although the resolution comes 1 from one of its members. Of its 303 members, 84 voted in favor of the text, less than a third of the Macronist party. 26 voted against when 22 abstained. The vast majority of the group was absent during the vote, many of them not wishing to speak out publicly on this controversial subject. The majority ally, MoDem, mainly abstained on the text. 5 centrist deputies voted for, five others against.

All in all, it was also adopted by a very small number of votes: 154 MPs voted for - of the 577 who sit in the Parliament-, 72 against. Many MPs did not take part in the vote, even though they were nearly 550 present two hours earlier for the final adoption of the Social Security financing bill, a sign of the discomfort caused by this text among the french public opinion and its representatives.

Roughly, it was mostly rejected by the left-wing parties while supported by some of the right-wing MPs.

For its defenders, the clarification brought by the resolution is essential at a time when, according to several MPs, it is "antisemitism which advances under the mask of anti-Zionism". "It is the honor of our National Assembly to speak the truth, to face the facts and to put words on woes" argued MP (from the right-wing party Les Républicains), Constance le Grip. "This definition will help to better define the aggravating circumstances of anti-Semitic crimes" greeted MP François Pupponi, another right-wing MP.

"This text only says one thing, it loudly affirms France's position, it is an unambiguous condemnation of all the words, acts, antisemitic gestures" argued Christophe Castaner, Minister of the Interior. The latter stressed that the terms "Zionist" and "anti-Zionist" do not appear in the heart of the text, taking care not to enter into the debate which was at the heart of the discussions in the Assembly and which paved the whole argument of its initiator, Mr. Maillard.

Indeed, the consensual definition of antisemitism is not at stake in the debate. It is the examples attached to the definition that are at the heart of the debate. However, these examples do not appear in the text of the resolution. But the explanatory statement of the resolution did state that: “To criticize the very existence of Israel in that it constitutes a community made up of Jewish citizens amounts to expressing a hatred towards the Jewish community as a whole.”

As a record, on 26 May 2016, the IHRA Plenary decided to adopt the following non- legally binding working definition of Antisemitism:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

To guide IHRA in its work, the following examples may serve as illustrations:
Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:
• Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
• Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
• Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
• Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
• Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust. • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
• Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor.
• Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
• Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
• Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
• Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Opponents of this definition fear that it will be used to delegitimize criticism of the Israeli government. In a column in the newspaper Le Monde, 127 Jewish intellectuals published before the resolution was passed called to postpone it.

"Ultimately a logic of this type can infringe on a certain number of rights of expression, it will criminalize ideas but does not provide additional tools to fight against antisemitism and against racism" worried the Communist deputy Pierre Dharréville whose group, like all of those on the left, opposed the text.

The 127 Jewish signatories of the column in Le Monde invoked two main reasons for opposing the text:

1. The assimilation between antisemitism and anti-Zionism quoting the explanatory statement of the resolution which stated that: “To criticize the very existence of Israel in that it constitutes a community made up of Jewish citizens amounts to expressing a hatred towards the Jewish community as a whole.”
The signatories reproach the definition of Israel as "a community made up of Jewish citizens". We quote: “About 20% of the population of Israel are Palestinian citizens, most of whom are Muslim or Christian. The chosen designation obscures and denies their existence. We consider this approach to be very problematic, also taking into account your country's commitment to a definition of French citizenship which is not based on ethnicity.”

They further denounce the confusion between antisemitism and anti-zionism, stating that:
“There is no doubt that there are antisemitic people among people who oppose Zionism. But there are also many antisemitic people who support Zionism. It is therefore inappropriate and completely inaccurate to identify broadly anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. By confusing these two phenomena, the National Assembly would jeopardize vital efforts to fight real anti-Semitism, which is multidimensional and comes from different sectors of French society.”

2. The definition lacks precision and is not useful

Lacks precision because “From the examples and the way they are applied, it is enough to criticize Israel in a way perceived as different from what is done for other countries, to be considered antisemitic. It is enough to be in favor of a binational or democratic solution to the IsraeliPalestinian conflict, to be considered antisemitic. The same is true when Israel is blamed for its institutionalized racism. We can certainly disagree with these statements. But these opinions are considered legitimate and protected by freedom of expression in any other political context. Thus, the resolution creates an unjustifiable double standard in favor of Israel and against the Palestinians.”

Not useful because France has already a law to effectively fight and prosecute antisemitism.

The possible future of this resolution

It is very early to assess what could be the reach of this resolution. Its adoption was problematic. It divided the MPs and the public opinion in France. One of the ways we can imagine for it to be implemented in the education and judiciary/police fields would be for the Minister of Education and Minister of Justice to deliver ministerial circulars with guidelines to follow.

Note that at the end of the debate, the chief of Emmanuel Macron’s party, la République en marche, proposed the creation of a parliamentary fact-finding mission on new forms of racism.