The CRIF in action
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Published on 10 February 2012

CRIF president Richard Prasquier to french president Nicolas Sarkozy

Mr President,

 

Thank you for honouring us with your presence. This year, even more than in the past, we want to make this CRIF dinner a time for coming together. Here, the antagonisms of the city give way to sharing and focussing on what unites, which is intangible, rather than on what opposes, which is situational. Seated here are women and men with diverging opinions and some of them will even soon be engaged in competing with each other for the universal suffrage. We are proud to see them here with CRIF and its guests from civil society.

We are on the eve of a critical political deadline that will determine the future of our country.

Jews are fully-fledged members of the national community and like their fellow citizens they will be making their choice based on a project for society and on economic issues. However, CRIF considers that there are a number of yellow lines that should not be crossed, when it comes to those who distil messages that encourage ethnic preferences and those who demonise Israel and call for boycott.

On some of those subjects some of us are particularly sensitive. Such sensitivity is perfectly legitimate and does not go against the general interest.

EUROPE is important to us. Some of our ancestors roamed it for two thousand years, Europeans before their time and sometimes without knowing it, making a significant contribution to the successes of the modern world. A Europe in crisis worries us, for we know that crises are not limited to the economy.

In the European Union, peace among its member States and internal democracy in each country are prerequisites. Were it not for this Union, how many European countries would have toppled into dictatorships?

Today, self-sufficient nationalisms from what was considered a bygone age are coming back. Offering simplistic explanations, they are reactivating xenophobia.  The European rampart must not be allowed to crack.

Several of them are getting close to power. Some of them have toned down their anti-Semitism, others not.  But the unacceptable scapegoat rhetoric still rings out. The National Front is a part of this European nebula. The attempts by its president to change the party's image are not deceiving those who are familiar with its history and its entourage. On the 27th of January, the International Holocaust Memorial Day, Marine Le Pen (the president of the National Front) went dancing in Vienna with the representatives of Europe's most extreme right parties - the pan-germanic racist brotherhoods - along with her father, mentor and honorary president of the French party, who could not help contributing one of his usual questionable jokes. Ten years ago, there would have been massive protests, but it seems that some have become used to such things. Not we. We will not vote for the National Front.

Europe also has a black hole, Auschwitz, a place of horror, history and memory. Samuel Pisar warns us that it is also a place that speaks to the future, a "warning for humanity of the horrors that may yet await us in the future". The lesson of Auschwitz is permanent and universal. Those who brought it about did not act out of fear, nastiness or folly, but under the effects of indoctrination that denied Jews the quality of human beings.

 The Nazis called the Jews vermin, rats or bacteria. There are today other Nazis, who come from a warped Islam, and call the Jews sons of monkeys or swine.

It was with those words that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was introduced and called to speak. His speech was short: "The noble hadith is trustworthy which calls on Muslims to hasten the day of judgement and kill all Jews; they will hide behind trees, but the trees shall say: There is a Jew behind me, O Muslim, kill him...". That speech was made one month ago, on the 9th of January 2012, in north Jerusalem. The text is quoted from article 7 of the Hamas Charter. But the one who spoke it this time is the highest religious authority in the West Bank, appointed by the President of the Palestinian Authority.

Seventy years ago, on the 30th of January 1942, Hitler declared that the end of the war would see the end of the Jews. Let us once more hear what Samuel Pisar has to say to us: "Auschwitz is a warning for humanity of the horrors that may await humanity in the future...". Let us once more hear what Samuel Pisar has to say to us: "Auschwitz is a warning for humanity of the horrors that may await humanity in the future...". People refused to hear Hitler. It was wartime. It is no longer wartime. The words of the Mufti did not cause many reactions. I beg you, listen to them: he spoke to them without embarrassment, because all around him such words have become ordinary.

Negationism is flourishing in the Islamist world, wielded as a new weapon against Israel. It denies or minimises the Holocaust, and claims that the real genocide is that of the Palestinians... Those who assassinate memory are paving the road for those who murder human beings. We must measure the full weight of such threats, because they concern our world, and not just the Jews. The Aladdin foundation is not resigned to a future prepared by those who teach hatred. Let us hope that the broadcasting of the film Shoah by Turkish television augurs the start of a new era.

The Arab revolutions have been raising plenty of concerns. The cries of "Death to the Jews" heard in once liberal Tunisia are unbearable. The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is a branch, has the political project of islamicising society. Salafists are becoming increasingly influential. Their success is fed by the oil money being paid out to religious parties. We should not forget that universal suffrage does not embody democracy if it only serves to express the tyranny of the majority.

However uncertain may be the future, I can only be pleased by the fall of the Libyan tyrant and I am proud that France played a key role in that. There is no future for dictatorships and I hope that the sinister Syrian regime will be prevented from further massacring its population.

And then there is Iran, with its negationist regime supported by the European neo-Nazis. Its nuclear programme is about to succeed. Those who think that the danger only threatens Israel listen to pastor Niemöller: "When they came to take the Jews, I did not protest, because I am not a Jew; when they came to take the communists, the free masons, the trade unionists I did not protest, because I am not a communist; free mason or trade unionist; when they came to take me, there was no one left to protest." I wish to pay tribute to you, Mr President, for having energetically taken the lead in the European wake up call and for having always been totally lucid about Iran and the lies spoken by its leaders.

FRANCE

Jews were living in Gaul before it was called France, they became citizens on a par with others during the Revolution and they have since participated in the national community, except for the infamous period when 78000 of them were murdered with the complicity of the French State. The fight for Remembrance, that some of those in this room have faithfully waged at great cost, and with which is associated the name of Henry Bulawko, who left us on the 27th of November, could have divided our country. In the end, it brought it together, as witnessed in the recent ceremony during which the president of the Bar spoke of the Paris Bar's role at the time of the Statute on the Jews. CRIF, responding to its statutory and moral calling, is strongly involved in this struggle, together with the Holocaust Memorial Foundation, the Holocaust Memorial itself and the Association of Deportees. Together with the International Auschwitz Council, I want to thank the government for the financial support given to the preservation of the camp, and for its support for national memorials such as the Camp des Milles, the house in Izieu and the Cercil.  We are now preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv round-up on the 16th of July 1942.

The history of the Holocaust serves to test the values of our society. But there are places where such teaching is difficult, where an anti-Semitism that can no longer be qualified as a new phenomenon is rearing its head.

The number of anti-Semitic acts dropped by 16% in 2011, from 466 to 389; however, physical attacks, the most serious, unfortunately remained stable. In 2010, the violence was related to the Gaza flotilla. Not so in 2011. There is a deeply embedded anti-Semitic base. Yet we know that the authorities are doing all they can, that buildings are being secured, that the judicial arsenal is strict and that the community's protection service is doing a good job. The inter-ministerial committee for fighting anti-Semitism needs to be convened and civil society players need to see their resources strengthened. In state schools, children are today being harassed because they are Jews. When I say that such a state of affairs is intolerable, I am not speaking on behalf of our community but in the name of the values of the French Republic.

Many such acts are being committed under the guise of anti-Zionism. Obsessive anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. We see this in the demonstrations calling for a boycott of Israel. The anti-Israel activists who engage in these illegal activities never fail to refer to their universalist engagement on behalf of the oppressed. But in reality, they can cope quite well with the massacres in Syria, but suffer a lot when faced by Israel's grapefruit.

The spirit of the times unfortunately leads them to admire the monomaniac indignations of an ideological mentor whose fifteen pages of writing encapsulate the paucity of a certain contemporary political correctness.

I would like now to address without any taboo the Muslim community leaders who, as much as we have, and with even greater courage than ours, are responding to the calls for hatred. Among those who are committing anti-Semitic acts there are some who profess the Muslim religion. To silently pass over this fact, is to be hypocritically complacent in a way that plays into the hands of the extremists. But in the same way, to use such an observation in order to stigmatise a whole community is ignominious. We must reject the call to each be concerned only for our own group, and rather undertake a process of reflection and proposition, discussing openly our points of divergence and convergence, as we recently did at the Grand Mosque in Paris. Let us show that reason will always have the last word over the predictions of resigned Cassandras. That is how we will fulfil our role in disseminating the republican values, not the least of which is the notion of fraternity.

CRIF has been working intensely for an inter-cultural dialogue where otherness is enriching. We have been doing this with the Roma, Africans, West Indians, Armenians and Berbers, and with Christians, with whom we have long-standing links nurtured by regular meetings and symposia. For example, we will be in the French West Indies, in Guadeloupe, for a conference on slavery.

Inter-religious connections can be structured thanks to the positive atmosphere provided by the separation of church and state, by the law of 1905, thanks to which religions are able to engage in their own life with their own special demands, under the authority of French law and thanks to the concerted dialogue which can overcome many a sensitive issue. In Aramaic, dina de malkhuta dina, that is to say the law of the country is the law.

ISRAEL

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Israel is at the heart of our affections and our concerns and that is why I trust you will allow me to speak in the first person.

I have never hesitated to express my criticism to the authorities when I have felt it was necessary. I can testify that our dialogue has always been frank and respectful. We were shocked by France supporting Palestine’s admission to Unesco - that centre dedicated to culture, science and education - without requiring anything in return? Without requiring anything about the teaching of hatred which only grows? Without requiring anything about the projects of Holocaust deniers to erase Jewish memories of the memory of this land, without requiring anything as these projects are likely to multiply in the offices.

Some challenge my right to speak about Israel, because, they say, it is a foreign state or because I don't represent them. I represent those who feel a kinship with CRIF, that is to say a sizeable proportion of the Jewish community in France. It is not up to us to approve or not the decisions of the Israeli government, but rather to explain when comments on those decisions seem to avoid a part of reality and unjustly damage the image of Israel in our country. It is our statutory role, and we stand by it. It is not a partisan role.

I do not shy away from criticising Israel. When some groups there begin to make demands that are incompatible with the equality of men and women, then we need to pull the alarm, even when they represent only a small minority within the religious world.

When Israeli MPs ask France to extradite two of our compatriots who despicably fled after running over a young woman, I say that it is irresponsible to suggest that French law should not be applied.

But when it comes to political matters, as a Frenchman and as President of an organisation such as CRIF with its many diverse sensitivities, it would be presumptuous of me to consider that my personal commitments take precedence over the choices of a freely elected Israeli government, which is subject to internal criticism, respects democratic rules and benefits from enviable popular support. Israel is a democracy.

Some of my friends, or former friends, who knows, have told me that my statements are diverging from the humanism that characterised me before I became President of CRIF. But my person is of no interest, what is important is what is implied by such a remark: those who are sympathetic to Israel are not humanists. I strongly deny such an assertion.

The qualities of a humanist are not decreed by a ukase; they are proved by the positions we adopt daily.

Is he a humanist who calls apartheid the regime of a country where Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian student from a public university who has written a book calling for a boycott to destroy Israel yet continues his studies quite normally?  A country where a court presided by an Arab judge sends a former State President to jail?

Is he a humanist whose language misrepresents the facts by claiming in a disastrous TV broadcast that Israeli soldiers were shooting on sight when they were firing warning shots? 

The one who lets a Hamas leader speak of self-defence without reminding him of the articles of the charter that show that it is in fact a jihad?

Is he a humanist who, after a television report broadcast by his channel which at the very least was subject to caution, refuses to have it subjected to an expert opinion?

He who expresses his pleasure over Judge Goldstone's report, but omits to point out that the judge has since retracted his statements?

Is he a humanist who calls Hadas Fogiel, a three months baby who had his throat cut along with his parents on the 31st of March 2011, a baby colonist?

And the list could go on: the de-legitimisation process not only demonises Israel, it also demonises those who support Israel. They are considered to not be thinking correctly. They do not benefit from professional solidarity networks, they are marginalised, their publications have difficulty to be circulated, their opinions are not sought for. How should one call such a state of affairs if not censure? Why claim that it is CRIF that is asking for censure, when all it is asking for is a balance?

Let my friends be assured, I have remained a humanist, but what is the value of humanism without clear-headedness? A humanist looks out on the world with both eyes and not just one.  He does not mask the beam in order to focus on the straw, he considers that there is a stronger need to protest against the calls to hatred ringing out from Jerusalem North than against the plans to build apartments on empty lands in Jerusalem South, like in Gilo, a neighbourhood that was Jewish before 1948, which has once more become Jewish since 1967 and which will no doubt remain so, whatever the results of the Israeli-Palestinian talks?

An unbalanced viewpoint only reactivates mutual animosity. Those who hear a balanced report on Israel more often, will better accept a balanced report on Palestine. For there to be two states for two peoples, the truth must be spoken to both those peoples.

The truth about Israel is that the mothers in that country tremble at the thought of the three years that their sons will have to spend in military service, not to defend their border but to defend the survival of the State.

These mothers who dream of peace identify with Aviva Shalit, whose son remained locked up five years in conditions of isolation such that, even several months after being freed, he is incapable of facing the public. Mr President, without your personal involvement in his case, Gilad might now be dead. He has thanked you, and I thank you too.

The truth about Israel is its scientific, technical and artistic creativity: over the past 10 years: four Nobel prizes in chemistry and two in economics.  Our guest of honour from Israel this evening is Mr Dan Schechtman, from the Technion, the Nobel Prize winner for chemistry in 2011, who has come accompanied by the mayor of Haifa, Mr Yona Yahav. Mr Schechtman is not only a prestigious researcher; he is also a man with great charisma, who is passionate about educating young people.

The truth about Israel, is that it is the State of the Jewish people and that the spiritual centre of the Jewish people is Jerusalem. And the reality of the conflict, Mr President, is that despite all our hopes, all your hopes, the Palestinian leaders have still not recognised that truth; we have not seen them with a map containing the name Israel, we have not heard them admit that Jerusalem is a foundational place for Judaism. It would only take a few words for the climate to change. Unfortunately, even the moderates are becoming more radical because the radicals, who are convinced that the times are favourable for them, are putting pressure on them.

What are we to do, we who are so far yet so near to this conflict? With our partners we must seize every opportunity to set the example of dialogue, breaking down animosities, opening bridges, accepting complexity, refusing to allow emotions, which are so easily manipulated, guide our actions. We are to show solidarity, clear sightedness, sincerity and the hand of friendship. That will be our contribution to the struggle against anti-Semitism and on behalf of peace. Rest assured, Mr President, that CRIF will spare no pains to reach this goal.

For five years, there has been in my speech a mention of Gilad Shalit and, in your speech, or in the speech of the Prime Minister, a reference to the particular importance you attached to his release. You have reminded the world that Gilad was French, and that his capture was also an aggression against France. The Shalit family knows what they owe you, and we are honored, but not surprised, they booked their first visit outside Israel to thank you. I hope that one day, Gilad will come himself incognito (or almost) to a future CRIF’s dinner.

 

R. PRASQUIER
President of CRIF

Translated by Michel Zlotowsky

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