President Emmanuel Macron has rejected an appeal from Francis Kalifat, the president of the council of Jewish institutions in France (Crif), to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel when the French leader visits the Jewish state this spring.
US president Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December and intends to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May.
“I told Donald Trump when he unilaterally announced recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital that I didn’t think he was helping to resolve the conflict,” Mr Macron told 1,000 guests at the Crif’s 33rd annual dinner on Wednesday night.
The dinner was held facing the Louvre pyramid where Mr Macron made his victory speech last May. Guests included the former president and prime minister, François Hollande and Manuel Valls, 15 cabinet ministers and 20 ambassadors.
A real error
“I don’t even think that [Mr Trump’s announcement] helped improve the security situation,” Mr Macron continued. “I think it’s a real error in this context. Recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel and of Palestine will happen, but it must be at the right moment, through balanced talks that go forward. The president of the French republic would not be doing his duty, including towards you, if he just tried to make you happy for an evening.”
On every other issue, however, Mr Macron told the French Jewish community what they wanted to hear. He spoke at length of anti-Semitism, saying the French had been wrong to believe it had disappeared for good.
“Reality is there, and it is incontestable. We have realised to our horror that anti-Semitism is still alive, and our response must be implacable. We must never weaken . . . anti-Semitism is the contrary of the Republic. It is the dishonour of France.”
Mr Macron promised the highest level of security will be maintained at Jewish places of worship, schools and creches for the remainder of his five-year term.
A report on racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic and anti-Christian acts in 2017, published at the end of January by the interior ministry, said that one in three racist acts in France is directed against Jews, who represent 1 per cent of the population.
Alluding to the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign organised by opponents of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Mr Macron noted that “these actions are prohibited by our law. I consider them unworthy. I condemn them with the greatest firmness. They will always be scrupulously followed up and punished”.
Mr Kalifat announced that the Crif was setting up an "observatory of hatred on the internet" to stop expressions of anti-Semitism. The Jewish leader asked that internet providers be held responsible for the publication of hate speech, as publishers of books and newspapers are.
"The internet is a pressure cooker where the worst horrors, the worst prejudices against Jews, develop without any regulation," the historian Marc Knobel, head of research at the Crif, told Le Figaro.
Mr Macron announced the establishment of a commission to fight racism and anti-Semitism on the internet. It will be led by Gil Taieb, vice-president of the Crif, and the Franco-Algerian writer Karim Amellal. "No path will be excluded, including the possibility of legislation," Mr Macron said.
German law, for example, foresees heavy fines for spreading hate speech on the internet, he noted.
Mr Macron made it clear that he would disapprove of the republication of anti-Semitic tracts by the writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline, who died in 1961. France's most prestigious publisher, Gallimard, postponed their publication after an outcry this winter. But the company's publisher, Antoine Gallimard, said on March 4th he has not given up on the idea.