This 32nd CRIF dinner has a special flavour. With the presidential election campaign in full-swing, this moment should cherished, as one of republican unity when personalities from across the Republic gather around in the same place, bearing witness to a friendship which is refreshed every year.
I am delighted and honoured to welcome all of you.
Allow me, Mr President, to extend my warmest wishes to the three individuals who undertook this prestigious and vital role before me, and who are present here this evening, Henri HADJENBERG, Richard PRASQUIER and Roger CUKIERMAN, I would also like to pay a special salute to Théo KLEIN who is unable to join us tonight. The CRIF recognises the debt it owes to each one of them.
I would like to say a special word to Roger CUKIERMAN, whom I succeeded in May of last year. He remains a model of courage, strength, integrity and independence for all of us.
Mr President, this evening I am delighted and honoured to present you with our highest regards. Your relationship with the CRIF is long-standing and heart-felt, and you have always been concerned by our situation. In particular, I am referring to your decision on the day after the Hyper Cacher attack, when 10,000 soldiers were mobilised to protect vulnerable locations such as Jewish schools and synagogues.
I also refer to the warm welcome you extended us at the Elysée Palace, for the celebration of our institution's 70th anniversary in December 2013.
Since the previous CRIF dinner held in March last year, Islamist terrorism has on many occasions cast a dark shadow over France and the wider world. My thoughts are with the victims of the attacks in Istanbul, Brussels, Tel Aviv, Cairo, Orlando, Jerusalem, Baghdad, Gao and Berlin. My thoughts are also with the couple of Jean-Baptiste Salvaing and Jessica Schneider, two police officers brutally murdered in their own home on 13th June. My thoughts are with the 86 victims of the cargo-truck attack on the Nice Promenade des Anglais the evening of our National day celebrations. And lastly, my thoughts are with Father Jacques Hamel, who was slain on 26th July in his own church. In their memory, and in the memory of all victims of terrorism, I would like to invite all of you to observe a minute of silence.
Following the murder of Ilan Halimi in 2006 and the massacre at the Ozar Ha Torah school in Toulouse in 2012, anti-Jewish hatred once again reared its ugly head in France on 9th January 2015 and thus reinforced the feeling of solitude and abandonment that had started to engulf the Jewish community.
What an awful feeling to have to be forever vigilant, attempting to fade into the background. What an agonising feeling to follow a solitary path, deprived of the solidarity of our compatriots.
Since the attacks of November 2015, this feeling has started to wane. All French people now realise that it is the whole of France which is under attack. France along with its culture, freedom, way of life and world view. All French people are now aware that they are at threat and we are slowly but surely regaining our position on the national stage. We have always been vigilant and concerned and now we continue to be so. We remain alert and know that we are still the preferred target of Islamist totalitarianism. Today, we are no longer indifferent targets.
The battle against Islamism will be long-fought and the threat endures. We must, therefore, see every element of positivity as cause for celebration. 2016 saw a net drop in anti-Semitic acts and threats: a 58% reduction compared with 2015. Anti-Islamic acts also dropped by the same amount. It is my hope that 2017 will see these trends continue.
Nevertheless, anti-Semitism remains at a historic high. Jewish people, who represent under 1% of the population, remained a focal point of over 30% of all reported racist acts committed in our country throughout 2016, being subject to 335 anti-Semitic acts and threats. The tell-tale signs of anti-Semitism never seem to be far away.
First and foremost, we owe this improvement to the unprecedented efforts to mobilise security forces and the army as part of the Sentinel operation. We are all aware of the debt we owe them. In this respect, I would like to salute the volunteers of SPCJ, The Jewish Community Protection Service. Day in day out, they work in perfect harmony with the security forces.
Furthermore, Mr President, allow me to highlight your initiative to set up the inter-ministerial plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism which is drawing together numerous public personalities to support a drive which is both crucial and long-term. I would like to commend all who are involved, with special mention to DILCRAH and Gilles CLAVREUL, the inter-ministerial delegate for the fight against racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia.
There is a simplistic notion that were it not for the conflict between Israel and its neighbours, there would be no anti-Semitic violence in France. It is something I entirely refute. Since the year 2000, anti-Semitic hostilities have continued without relief or cease-fire. I refute this idea as it absolves perpetrators of violence across France of any responsibility.
I believe that the situation in the Middle East serves as a pretext for the expression of a hatred which is omnipresent in France, lurking in the shadows for its moment to strike.
The figures, which focus on 2016, should not lure us into a false sense of security. First of all because these figures, which are based on complaints filed at police stations, reflect a progressive relativisation of less serious acts. When in 2015 anti-Semitism resulted in the deaths of French Jews, some deemed it pointless, trivial or even in poor taste to lodge complaints about graffiti, threats or insults, - something which makes year-on-year comparisons all the more complicated.
Last of all, these figures do not include the anti-Semitic statements, threats or comments widely posted on internet. Neither do they take into consideration all of the anti-Semitic statements, gestures or positions now concealed by anti-Zionism positions, which Robert Badinter defined on 6th December, (I quote):
“Anti-Zionism is quite simply the contemporary expression of anti-Semitism, it is hated against Jews”. If we therefore wish to gain a measure of the true hold this scourge exerts on France, we also urgently need a means of gauging hatred against Israel.
Mr President, I have just mentioned Israel, a State with a special place in my heart, as is so for a great many others here this evening.
Like many among you, I often dream of an Israeli State at peace with all of its neighbours. Ultimately, however, I always reach the same conclusion: both parties must negotiate directly in order to reach a point where they can live side by side in peace and security. It is only through concerted efforts and compromise on both sides that this result can be achieved. For a long time now, this has been the stance we have adopted at the CRIF.
Many people in France have a magnified view of Israel, something which overlooks the big picture. Sometimes this perspective is a positive one, when Israel is seen as a champion of innovation or as a start-up nation, for instance. At other times, it is less flattering, and Israel is reduced to no more than the issue of the settlements. It is here that I would like to dismiss a simplistic idea, which we have seen in relation to Gaza, as it is in fact not just a matter of demolishing settlements in order for peace to reign between Israel and Palestinians.
The big picture, which I wish to reiterate this evening, is that Israel is a democracy, a State respecting the rule of law and a country of freedoms. It is a democracy which has held 5 general elections since 2003 and now counts 13 Arab members among a total of 120 in the Knesset. This State, which respects the rule of law, is also home to a Supreme Court and judges whose independence is renowned and rulings are just. It is a country where all are free to practice or change religion, or indeed not to follow one at all. It is a country where Jews, Christians and Muslims are afforded access to their holy sites within the ancient city of Jerusalem. June 2017 will see the 50th anniversary of that freedom. Previously, and for centuries, Jews could do no more than dream of and pray for as much.
Nonetheless, not everything is plain sailing in Israel. I know this all too well, and it is something Israeli media outlets do not shy away from.
Disagreeing with the policies of the Israeli government in one thing, and is entirely permitted under the Israeli democratic system, but the anti-Israeli obsession has nothing to do with any political criticism.
The real problem is that the State of Israel is often given a raw deal, discriminated against like some kind of pariah State.
This is the case at the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. There nations amassed an array of condemnations for Israel. In 2016 alone, there were 18 resolutions at the General Assembly and 12 at the Human Rights Council. 12, which is more than all the resolutions produced by the Council concerning Syria, Iran, South Sudan and North Korea put together.
It is regrettable that France did not stand in the way of that situation and failed to obtain an explicit condemnation at the UN regarding the Palestinian attacks in addition to not even requesting of the Palestinian authorities, that Mahmoud Kader Abed, alias Hicham HARB, the principal orchestrator of the rue de Rosiers attack in 1982, who had taken refuge in Ramallah, be handed over to the French courts.
On 23rd December, France voted for resolution 2334 at the Security Council. Where France is concerned, this vote did not represent a new direction. I am, however, disappointed that this form of injustice or discrimination which involves invoking international law can be brought to bear against Israel, whilst it remains impossible to do the same thing where so many other countries are concerned.
At the same time, I would also like to mention just how shocked we are by the enforcement of a European ruling in our country, which requires specific labelling for merchandise from the territories, dare I say it, of Judea and Samaria, of Golan and East Jerusalem. This ruling is yet more evidence of the unfair treatment directed solely at the State of Israel, despite numerous other countries being involved in similar territorial disputes.
Why ultimately, has France forsaken its principles and values by choosing to abstain from a vote on a UNESCO resolution depriving the Jewish people of their historic link with Jerusalem? To abstain when it is a matter of choosing between the truth and a lie is to accept the political machinations of disgrace and revisionism. And above and beyond Jewish issues, this is to accept a situation that casts doubt over the entirety of Christian history.
I wish lastly to discuss one final area where Israel falls victim to discrimination, and that is regarding its capital, Jerusalem. Israel is the only UN member state not to have its capital recognised by the others, despite its capital being the same today as it was 3000 years ago. Is it not now time for France to recognise the facts?
Mr President, in a wonderful speech you delivered at the Knesset in November 2013, you suggested that 2018 be selected as a year of culture to be jointly-hosted by both France and Israel. Some would have liked for this event to be cancelled or for it to take place behind closed doors and with minimal fanfare. Quite to the contrary, I hope that it enjoys wide scale success throughout France and Israel. Every effort must be made in this regard, starting with the provision of a suitable budget, because culture is the greatest cure for idiocy and ignorance.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As I have already mentioned, the year that lies before us is one full of challenges. I hear pre-conceived ideas and dogma along with populist statements from some, and totalitarian reactions from more radical minds.
Our society is suffering. The prevailing climate is one of mistrust. Many French people are afraid or angry and democracy is on the back foot. According to an IPSOS survey taken in November last year, 32% of French people think that other political regimes would be equally effective. They long for a world of times gone by, looking for scapegoats and sweeping changes.
Some are losing their sense of direction. Others distil the feelings of hatred and confusion. Racist and anti-Semitic comments creep up out of the sewers, meeting an indifferent response or emerge from the online echo chamber of Facebook friends. And where there are disgraceful comments, there is always someone ready to laugh, offer approval or justification. When I take a step back, I am struck by a profound realisation: those in France who have a problem with Jews and Israel almost always have a problem with democracy, the rule of law and individual liberties. And vice-versa.
Who are these people who look at us with hostility, who believe there to be a Jewish hand in every one of the world’s difficulties, and where are they to be found?
They are well-versed in traditional anti-Semitism, and do not see us as being “truly French”. They are over-represented on the far right, which feeds on fear and has the sole aim of turning inwards and rejecting all others. They wish to lead France down a pathway of hatred and xenophobia. They wish to take secularism hostage and impose a totalitarian secularism upon us, forbidding the display of any religious symbols in public, as well as the act of ritual slaughter.
(Unfortunately) the same is true among a growing number of French Muslims.
According to a study carried out by the Montaigne Institute last September, 28% of people in this group “have adopted a value system which clearly opposes the values of the Republic”. “Anti-Semitism is a marker” which, even more worryingly, is shared by 50% of those aged 15 to 25.
Ultimately, they are anti-Zionists, they are those who would deny the Jewish people a State and who use Israel as a means to justify hatred against Jews. They are over-represented on the far left.
They stubbornly, you could even say obsessively cling to their hatred and attempts to de-legitimise Israel. They have turned boycotts of the country into weapons to be wielded by their voters. They have even granted terrorists honorary citizenship. These are shameful acts. As well as being illegal, this boycott movement is unacceptable as it discriminates against the sole Jewish state. Despite protestations to the contrary, it fuels this new anti-Semitism which masks its surreptitious rise with the thin veil of anti-Zionism. Due to the fact that it operates in the same way, the BDS movement should be banned in France.
I, however, would like to avoid any misunderstandings and unfounded accusations. I am not trying to say that all French Muslims, all those who support the National Front or have far left sympathies are anti-Semites. I am just pointing out that anti-Semites are over-represented among these three groups. For that reason, and because their programmes represent a danger for France, the CRIF is calling for the far right and far left to be barred from contesting forthcoming elections.
Mr President, we cannot settle for a drop in anti-Semitic acts. I therefore wish to make another appeal this evening: for zero tolerance towards the tell-tale signs of anti-Semitism.
I would like to make this appeal to every citizen of France, as anti-Semitism does not only affect Jews. I make this appeal to each and every one of you honouring us with your presence at this dinner. You, the personalities of political life, civil society and the media. You, the candidates in the presidential and parliamentary elections.
To all of you, I would like to say that the fight against anti-Semitism is far from straightforward.
It is down to us to combat hatred in all its forms. Hatred directed towards Arabs, black people, Muslims, The Romani, homosexuals and white people, without overlooking the violence and inequalities suffered by women. Conversely, all these forms of hatred can be combated through the fight against anti-Semitism.
All of these fights have their distinct traits, so we must avoid generalising. However, each of us must look beyond just fighting our own corner. There must be an element of overlap between fights, just as is the case with memories.
Let us ultimately avoid falling into the traps set by those who would seek to undermine this struggle, those who would prohibit all criticism of religion, those who cry Islamophobia no sooner than Islam is mentioned. Combating all these forms of hatred will in fact be an essential building block in the construction of a better and more united France.
To achieve this, it is vital that we abandon the kind of discourse that systematically sets Muslims and Jews against each other. Parallels are drawn, both sides are dismissed, there are attempts to offset statements made about one party with those of the other, all of which is often baseless. We cannot go on tolerating this kind of amalgamation.
Like so many of you, I long for education to become the priority. Racists and anti-Semites are not born. They are created. Schools must aim to help France’s young produce the antibodies to reject racism and anti-Semitism themselves. The urgency of such steps is evidenced by the results of the Montaigne Institute survey on young Muslims. I would particularly like to emphasise the importance of teachers being better supported when, on the basis of religion or identity, they are confronted by students in class.
The Internet must also be a priority. Progress is being made, but at a snail’s pace. As things stand, a court ruling is required in order for hateful content to be taken down, and even then, this does not always happen. In 2016, from among a barrage of racist and anti-Semitic messages, the CRIF notified Facebook of over 180 such posts. Currently, only one third have been removed. It is therefore necessary to facilitate the removal of illicit content and the identification of those behind it. It is essential that more of these individuals be brought to justice.
But nevertheless, security remains the overriding priority. New threats continue to join the ranks of those that are already being faced. I am thinking, in particular, of those French people, now Islamic State terrorists, who are on their way home and who largely continue to harbour Jihadist beliefs, and for who, at the risk of repeating myself, we as French Jews remain the targets of choice. Only robust measures will mean they are no longer able to inflict harm.
In a matter of months, you will complete your term in office. I once again wish to thank you for being there when we were assuaged by doubt, when we were afraid, when we were angry. Your words and actions restored our hope and our future in France.
On a more personal level, I would like to mention that I am one of the French Jews born in Oran, in an Algeria where Jews formed the most distinct of bonds with their French identity. Frenchness and Jewishness were so intertwined they became almost inextricable. Since the Crémieux decree of 1870, history has instilled our families with two key ideas: In Algeria, all Jews were French. And they were French because they were Jews. In short, in Algeria, despite Vichy, and despite very real anti-Semitism, our Jewish identity has always been inseparable from our French identity. For as long as I can remember, my Jewish and French identities have been, dare I say it, united and indivisible!
This singular link to France will not surprise you, neither would it if I add that my father, Joseph Kalifat, opted for a career of public service in his country’s police force. He wore his uniform with pride, firstly in Oran, then in Versailles. He is in my thoughts this evening, at the first CRIF dinner that I have had the honour of presiding over.
French, Jewish, I know that he discovered a profound bond between these two identities, particularly given the spirit of the Law, the love for justice and the affirmation of individual freedom. It is within these shared values that the essence of my commitment resides.
The spirit of the Law, the love for Justice, the affirmation of freedom.
Mr President, dear friends,
In the name of these values, in the name of what is imperative, the world has no other choice than to prevail in the fight against Islamism and we have no other choice than to wipe out the tell-tale signs of racism and anti-Semitism.
These fights go beyond our individual destinies. It is France itself which is at stake. Liberty, equality and fraternity are all at stake. The love for our country is at stake as is our collective desire to leave every child of France a country where they will feel proud and will be happy.
I remain confident of our victory, as together we are France.
Vive la démocratie, Vive la République, Vive la France!
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