PARIS (JTA) – French President Emmanuel Macron condemned anti-Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism during the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv deportations.
“We will never surrender to the expressions of hatred; we will not surrender to anti-Zionism because it is a reinvention of anti-Semitism,” Macron said on Sunday in Paris during the commemoration ceremony.
On July 16 and 17, 1942, French police officers rounded up more than 13,000 Jews at the Winter Stadium, or Velodrome d’Hiver. The men, women and children were imprisoned there for days in unsanitary conditions and without sufficient water, leading to dozens of fatalities, including by suicide. Then, the Jews were transported, partly on French national railway cars, to Nazi death camps in Eastern Europe.
More than 1,000 people, including Macron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, attended the ceremony held near a monument that was erected where the stadium, which was demolished decades ago, used to stand.
Netanyahu, in a speech he delivered partly in French, thanked Macron for inviting him to the ceremony, calling the gesture a “strong message” attesting to the friendship between Israel and France. He said the two countries must “stand united” against “militant Islam.”
Many politicians in France have acknowledged France’s responsibility for the murder of nearly a quarter of its Jewish population, including Jaques Chirac who, as president in 1995, said that France “carried out the criminal insanity of the occupier” at Vel d’Hiv. But the phrasing of Klarsfeld’s assertion about complicity in genocide rarely appears in such terms in French mainstream media.
Former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has consistently called anti-Zionism a form of anti-Semitism, but this statement had not been made publicly by a presiding French president prior to Macron’s speech.
Macron in his address said he had come to be part of the succession of French presidents who, following Chirac’s address, acknowledged French culpability for Vel d’Hiv.
“Not a single German was involved,” Macron said, adding that he rejects “those who wish to say that Vichy’s France wasn’t representative of the French nation because “the Nazis knew they could count on the obedience” of that government and thousands of Frenchmen serving it. He also praised Frenchmen who saved Jews.
French presidents rarely attend the annual commemoration for the Vel d’Hiv deportations.
The Vel d’Hiv roundup was carried out under orders from the Nazis by the authorities of the Vichy collaborationist government, which controlled part of France following the country’s occupation by Nazi Germany.
In April, Marine Le Pen said: “France, as a nation, is not responsible for” what happened at Vel d’Hiv, prompting Macron, who was then running for president against the far-right leader of the National Front party, to visit a Holocaust monument in protest of her statement.
Earlier this month, the Communist Party of France condemned Netanyahu’s attendance at the Vel d’Hiv commemoration. An Israeli prime minister had not yet attended the annual ceremony, which is an official day of commemoration in France. The ceremony “is about peace, whereas the Israeli prime minister is a man of war,” the party said in a statement.
Natan Sharansky, chairman of the board of the Jewish Agency, praised Macron’s declaration on anti-Zionism.
“When one of the most important leaders in Europe recognizes that modern anti-Semitism frequently cloaks itself with the veil of anti-Zionism, tearing the mask off the face of radical anti-Zionists, this is a highly significant development. President Macron’s remarks serve to further clarify the nature of modern anti-Semitism and facilitate efforts to combat it.”