(JTA) — French officials asked a Jewish group that supports a blanket boycott of Israel to pay back state subsidies that it received to combat racism but had used to accuse the Jewish state of causing anti-Semitism.
The Jewish French Union for Peace, UJFP, received in 2016 more than $22,000 from the General Commissariat for Equality in France, an inter-ministerial body set up by the government in 2014 to combat racism, the conservative news website Causeur reported Wednesday, based on data collected by the NGO Monitor watchdog group in Israel.
UJFP used the money to make a series of 10 videos comprising interviews with activists affiliated with the group. The introduction to each video contains a picture of a banner advertising the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, a separate banner accusing Israel of stealing Palestinian land, and images of Palestinian flags. The videos had text slides stating they are sponsored by the commissariat.
Calling for a boycott of Israel is illegal in France, where doing so is a form of incitement to discrimination or hate.
Corinne Gonthier, director of communications for the commissariat, said UJFP neither showed the videos to the commissariat nor ask permission to use its name.
“Alerted in December as to the contents of the clips, the commissariat concluded they neither correspond whatsoever with the agreed-upon subjects nor are they admissible because they deal with an alleged ‘state racism’,” she told Causeur.
The commissariat warned the education ministry to not allow the use of the clips as teaching aids and “began procedures” for recouping the subsidies from UJFP, she added.
Some interviewees accused Israel of being inherently racist, others only accused France, and some accused both countries of “state racism.”
“When I hear the government of Israel speaking for the Jewish people,” one interviewee said, “it’s a form of anti-Semitism, it is a form of signaling the Jewish identity and appropriating it.”
“Israel confiscated the Jewish voice,” a second interviewee said. “I’m not prepared to let the State of Israel speak for me, I’m revolted by the fact that an Israeli leader can come to France and tell French Jews: ‘you have a second country,’” he added.
Another said about Israel: “It infuriates me because it ignores all the cultural identity.” Another called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2014 statement to French Jews, in which he said Israel is their home, “profoundly cynical and perverted.”
Separately, the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish groups protested on Thursday the cancellation in the northern city of Lille of a four-day event organized by university students on Israeli culture. The cancellation followed protests by pro-Palestinian activists, CRIF said in a statement, and “compromises academic freedom.”