The French government will adopt an international organization's definition of anti-Semitism and propose a law to reduce hate speech from being circulated online, French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday as he stressed that anti-Zionism was a form of anti-Semitism.
Macron, speaking at the annual dinner of a Jewish organization, said France and other parts of Europe have seen in recent years "a resurgence of anti-Semitism that is probably unprecedented since World War II."
Macron said applying the working definition of anti-Semitism drawn up by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance would help guide police forces, magistrates and teachers in their daily work.
Since the intergovernmental organization approved the wording in 2016, some critics of Israel have said it could be used suppress Palestinian rights activists. The definition states anti-Semitism can take the form of "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."
Macron said he thinks that view is correct.
"Anti-Zionism is one of the modern forms of anti-Semitism," the French leader said in Paris at the dinner of Jewish umbrella organization CRIF. "Behind the negation of Israel's existence, what is hiding is the hatred of Jews."
Macron mentioned anti-Semitism based on "radical Islamism" as a rampant ideology in France's multi-ethnic, poor neighborhoods.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his appreciation at France's adoption of the international definition of anti-Semitism, in a phone call with the French leader ahead of the speech, Netanyahu's office said.
Macron also said his party would introduce legislation in parliament in May to force social media to withdraw hate speech posted online and use all available means to identify the authors "as quickly as possible."
He especially denounced Twitter as waiting days, sometimes weeks, to remove hate contents and to help authorities so a judicial investigation can be led. At the same time, he praised Facebook's decision last year to allow the presence of French regulators inside the company to help improving practices combating online hate speech.
A day earlier, Macron visited the first cemetery in the village of Quatzenheim, in eastern France, to pay his respects after more than 90 graves were vandalized with swastikas and anti-Semitic abuse.
France 3 television, which broadcast the visit live, said it had been forced to cut short the live feed to its more than 1.3 million Facebook followers after it was inundated with anti-Semitic commentary and abuse.
“We are talking about explicit death threats, comments that were openly anti-Semitic and racist, including “Heil Hitler”, “dirty Jew” or “dirty Jews”, comments that were addressed at Emmanuel Macron and representatives of the Jewish community,” the channel said in a statement explaining its decision.
“Within minutes, the number of vile and illegal comments had gone well beyond our capacity to moderate them,” it explained, adding that it would have taken 10 or 20 staff to handle the onslaught. “We refuse to traffic in hatred.”
Also on Tuesday, Macron observed a moment of silence with parliament leaders at the Holocaust museum in Paris.
On Wednesday, the Paris prosecutor's office said that a man has been arrested over a torrent of hate speech directed at Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut during a Saturday march by yellow vest protesters. The insults included words like "Zionist!" and "Go back to Tel Aviv!" and "We are France!"
The man was taken into custody Tuesday evening after a police inquiry was opened into a suspected public insult based on origin, ethnicity, nation, race or religion.
Separately, two swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans were found painted in red on a monument at a different cemetery near Lyon.
In other incidents this month, swastika graffiti was found on street portraits of Simone Veil, a survivor of Nazi death camps and a European Parliament president who died in 2017, the word "Juden" was painted on the window of a bagel restaurant in Paris and two trees planted at a memorial honoring a young Jewish man tortured to death in 2006 were vandalized.
"That's our failure", Macron said. "The time has come to act."
The French government last week reported a big rise in incidents of anti-Semitism last year: 541 registered incidents, up 74 percent from the 311 registered in 2017.
On Tuesday evening, some 20,000 people, joined by politicians from all parties, gathered at the Place de la Republique in central Paris to denounce anti-Semitism. Similar rallies were held in cities across the country.
While France is home to the largest Jewish population in Europe, with a community of around 550,000 people, there continues to be a steady drip-feed of anti-Semitic attacks. Commentators have blamed incitement not only from the far-right but from the far-left and fringe Islamists.
In 2018, the number of anti-Semitic incidents increased by 74 percent nationwide, figures released last week showed, despite having fallen somewhat in previous years.
Reuters contributed to this report.