France’s conflation of anti-Semitism & anti-Zionism is anti-liberté

by Daphna Whitmore

Last week France passed a law that equates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. It is based on a definition of anti-Semitism that includes criticism of Israel such as: “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,” or “by applying double standards to Israel not demanded of any other nation”.

How do Palestinians struggle against their second class status within Israel and the continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza now? This law targets the Palestinian resistance and aims to delegitimise any challenge to Zionism.

Similar laws are evident in other parts of Europe and in the US. The US has 27 states that oppose the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, on the premise that the campaign is anti-Semitic.

The wording of the French legislation includes a definition of Israel “as a collective composed of Jewish citizens.” This gives credence to the Nation-State Law in Israel which enshrines the second class status of Palestinians and other non-Jews in Israel.

As Haaretz writer Gideon Levy asks ” If Israel is a collective of Jewish citizens, what are the Palestinian citizens? And what are the subjects living under occupation?”

While some opponents of Zionism may be anti-Semitic, they are not a significant number. The majority of the critics of Israel and Zionism are supporters of democratic rights.

There are also a significant number of Jews who are not Zionist. This includes ultra-orthodox Jews who oppose the modern Jewish state and believe the return of the Jews to Zion and the establishment of a state will be the work of the Messiah in the days to come. Reform Judaism in nineteenth-century Germany held that there is no Jewish people only a community of faith and were also anti-Zionist. There are also leftwing Jews who are anti-Zionist and support the transformation of Israel into a secular democratic state.

Ultra orthodox Jews protesting the state of Israel

Many Jews also oppose the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. James Cohen, a professor at the Sorbonne, is among 127 Jewish intellectuals (including around one third from Israel) who signed a petition against the legislation. He said “Some of the people out there who oppose the policies of the state of Israel, who may even oppose the existence of the state of Israel, might also be anti-Semitic […] but that should not delegitimise the legitimate act of criticising the policies of the state of Israel. And when it comes to the existence of the state of Israel, there are questions that need to be asked whether a one-state solution or a two-state solution could be viable. Why should this discussion not be open?”

Journalist Carolina Landsman writing in Haaretz argues the new definition “doesn’t have anything to do with the fight against anti-Semitism. Don’t let them fool you. This is a crude attempt to harness the battle against anti-Semitism for the benefit of making the occupation and settlement enterprise kosher, and politically silencing the opponents of the occupation by criminalizing the battle to end it. [T]his new definition is a manipulation, and you have to be a European consumed by guilt or an American consumed by political correctness to accept it.”

The legislation banning anti-Zionism is fundamentally an attack on free speech. Abandoning the principle of free speech is regressive and will have perverse outcomes. This legislation, as Gideon Levy points out, means “(e)ven every Jew and every Israeli who supports a solution of one democratic and egalitarian state, precisely in the spirit of the French revolution, is an anti-Semite.”


  1. I made these comments elsewhere:

    Have the initiators and supporters of this proposal thought it all through? France has quite strong laws against ‘hate speech’: the Wikipedia page starts: ‘Those laws protect individuals and groups from being defamed or insulted because they belong or do not belong, in fact or in fancy, to an ethnicity, a nation, a race, a religion, a sex, a sexual orientation, or a gender identity or because they have a handicap. The laws forbid any communication which is intended to incite discrimination against, hatred of, or harm to, anyone because of his belonging or not belonging, in fact or in fancy, to an ethnicity, a nation, a race, a religion, a sex, a sexual orientation, or a gender identity, or because he or she has a handicap.’

    If, as this latest ruling states, anti-Zionism is considered as synonymous with anti-Semitism, then criticising a political philosophy — Zionism — and the actions of a nation-state — Israel — is liable to be considered in law an act of racial hatred towards the nationality or ethnic group associated with that philosophy and nation-state — that is, Jews. Therefore those making statements, issuing publications or organising activities that present a criticism of Zionism or of actions of the state of Israel are by so doing liable to be considered as contravening the ‘hate speech’ laws, and, if found guilty, they will be punished according to those laws. This sets up a significant precedent, by which political philosophies and public institutions are directly equated with a nationality or ethnicity, and are thereby protected by legislation that protects people on the grounds of nationality or ethnicity.

    If anti-Zionism is legally synonymous with anti-Semitism — that is, a political viewpoint is legally synonymous with a form of racial hatred — then criticism of Zionism and of actions of the state of Israel is in the eyes of the law ipso facto motivated by racial hatred of people associated with that philosophy and nation-state. Racial hatred on the part of the critic is thus assumed: the burden of guilt now falls upon the critic, who has to show that his criticisms of a particular political philosophy and actions of a nation-state are not motivated by racial hatred of the people associated with that philosophy and nation-state, rather than an accuser of the critic having to prove that the critic is thus motivated. This also sets up a significant precedent.

    Other things follow. Either this legislation means that criticism of Zionism and the state of Israel is to be treated in law in a different manner than any criticism of any other political philosophy and nation-state, or, if one is to avoid the unique treatment of Zionism and the state of Israel, the principle must be extended to cover all nationalist philosophies and nation-states. Either way, another significant precedent will have been set.

    However, if the second proposal is implemented and the precedent set by this new law is extended to all nationalist philosophies and nation-states, then politics becomes essentially impossible: anyone can assert that criticism of this or that nationalist agenda or policy of a nation-state is motivated by racial hatred and have the force of the law brought down upon the critic. (I can’t help thinking that some people have already been thinking along these lines: Modi’s supporters here are busy implementing this second proposal, condemning Corbyn as ‘anti-Indian’ because of Labour’s opposition to the Indian government’s nationalist policies in Kashmir; others will no doubt follow…) The only political philosophies that will be allowed to be criticised without the speaker or writer being likely to be up before the beak on racial ‘hate speech’ charges are ones that are not associated with any particular nationality or ethnicity.

  2. Entonces, Francia considera a los palestinos como ciudadanos de segunda clase hasta en su propio país y prohíbe las criticas a su trato inhumano y el genocidio. Cómo no es eso un crimen de odio racial?

    • That’s a great point Maria: that France considers the Palestinians second-class citizens even in their own country and prohibits criticism of their inhuman treatment and genocide. How is that not a crime of racial hatred?

      It does show a complete disregard for the rights of Palestinians.

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