PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron pledged Wednesday to fight firmly against anti-Semitism wherever it surfaces, whether in the street or online, and to protect the nation’s Jews amid growing concerns about intolerance.
In a speech to France’s leading Jewish group, he insisted there is no reason for Jews to flee the country, which is home to the world’s largest Jewish population outside Israel and the United States.
“There are hatreds that are rising again, there are the worse kinds of crimes,” Macron said at the annual dinner of the CRIF umbrella organization.
“We have understood, with horror, that anti-Semitism is still alive. And on this issue our response must be unforgiving. France would not be itself if Jewish citizens had to leave because they were afraid,” he said.
He pledged continued protection for Jewish schools and synagogues and other sites as well as a new government plan to fight racism and anti-Semitism online, which is notably spreading among young people.
Macron also called for a Europe-wide effort to force internet platforms to remove content that feeds extremism.
The latest official figures show that anti-Semitic violence increased 26 percent last year in France and that criminal damage to Jewish places of worship and burials increased 22 percent.
Two attacks were particularly deadly. In 2012, three children and a teacher from a Jewish school were killed by Islamic extremist Mohammed Merah in Toulouse. In 2015, four customers of a Paris kosher supermarket were slain by another Islamic extremist, Amedy Coulibaly.
Macron also waded carefully into a heated debate that has split French intellectual circles over whether to publish anti-Semitic pamphlets of a renowned writer.
Gallimard, one of the largest, most influential and most prestigious French publishing houses, said in December it planned to republish for the first time since World War II a series of three fiercely anti-Semitic lampoons written between 1937 and 1941 by noted French writer Louis-Ferdinand Celine.
Celine, who was convicted of being a wartime collaborator with France’s Nazi occupiers before being granted amnesty, opposed reprinting the tracts before his death, which came in 1961.
The writer is best known for “Journey to the End of the Night,” a much-acclaimed 1932 first novel that is still frequently studied by French high school students.
Controversy erupted in literary circles over the publication, between those who advocate total freedom of speech and those who warn against the dangers of such texts in the context of rising anti-Semitism.
“Celine was not a socialite anti-Semite, but a pro-Hitler anti-Semite,” Marc Knobel, the CRIF’s director of studies, told The Associated Press. “His pamphlets are appalling. They are crime-inducing. With them, Celine expressed his execration for the Jews, called for putting the Jews to death.”
Antoine Gallimard, president of the publishing house, recently decided to suspend publication, while insisting he hasn’t given up on the project.
Proponents of reprinting argue that the texts already are easily accessible on the internet and say that it is preferable the tracts be published with historical comments explaining their danger, revealing the darkest face of the writer.
Macron said France doesn’t have “moral, historic or memorial police,” but added, “I don’t think we need these pamphlets” to understand Celine.
Also Wednesday, CRIF leader Francis Kalifat encouraged Macron to follow U.S. President Donald Trump’s lead in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but Macron called the move an “error” that hurt peace efforts.
Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.