CRIF was invited Thursday, December 17 in Brussels to open the 9th seminar organized jointly by the European Commission and the State of Israel on the fight against racism, antisemitism and xenophobia.
Yonathan Arfi, vice President of CRIF, invited in his speech the European Union to see the reality of anti-Semitism today affecting European Jews and to fully engage in the fight against radicalization.
He particularly stressed the "shared destiny" between the Jewish and democratic Europe, which face similar challenges:
"Over the year 2015, France has been at the same time the most ravaged country in the European Union by islamist terrorism, the most afflicted by anti-Semitism and the one who gave the more ground to the far right in the ballot box.
And I suppose that it’s due to these three chilling statistics, that you give me the honor to speak in front of you today, on behalf of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France – the CRIF – and its President Roger Cukierman.
Terrorist anti-Semitism from the jihadists. Political anti-Semitism from the Far Right. Religious and social anti-Semitism from part of the underprivileged muslim population. Anti-Zionist anti-Semitism from the Far Left.
Let me first tell you how these threats to the future of French Jews are not independent one from the other but strongly interrelated. They feed off each other. Anti-Semitism has even made possible in France an unholy alliance around the French comedian Dieudonné, with far right, far left, pro-Palestinian and radical Islam militants.
I draw from this observation a first conclusion: for Jews, far right can not be part of the answer to radical Islam and to the rising anti-Semitism. In France, the Jewish community has been clear that no dialogue can be established with the National Front.
My second conclusion is a deep personal belief: more than ever, I do believe there is now a « community of destiny » between Jews and Europe. Why? Because it is clear that these threats to the future of Jews, are a threat to our societies themselves.
I remember a time when some experts explained that the new wave of anti-Semitism was just an imported conflict from the Middle-East. This mistake allowed for years part of the French public opinion to consider it was not up to France to tackle this issue. French public authorities, either from the left or the right, have now perfectly understood that anti-Semitism in France talks also about France itself since it threatens France itself.
As a simple demonstration of this, let’s just remind everyone that in Paris and Copenhaguen in 2015, in Toulouse in 2012 but also in Casablanca and Bombay a few years ago, Jewish and general targets were hit by the same terrorists.
In fact, Jews are targeted for what they are but also because in the eyes of their enemies, they serve as the faces of the liberal Europe they hate. In some schools in France - fortunately a minority of them - the anti-Semitism which appeared at the beginning of the years 2000 has been a premonitory sign of the homophobia, sexism, conspiracy theories, and even hatred of France which have developed the following years.
The third idea I would like to share with you is my concern of only short-term answers to islamist terrorism which would not solve the deeper issue of anti-Semitism.
Radical Islam borrows similarities to several other fateful episodes of history: the Nazi era for its totalitarian vision of society. The Inquisition for its religious obscurantism. The radical far left activities in the 1970’s for its choice to resort to terrorism.
I don’t question the fact that Europe will fight terrorism. It will do it since no society – neither Israel nor Europe – can accept terrorism. But my concern is that Europe may cope with the challenges of terrorism but neglect the long term issues of religious obscurantism and totalitarianism.
Because, we, European Jews 50 years after Nostra Aetate, know how crucial it is to disarm religious obscurantism to curb the « cultural anti-Semitism ». In France, public policies at the beginning of the 20th century put the stress on the development of critical thinking, education and secularism to curb the radicalization and anti-Semitism of masses which at that time were mostly rural Christians. These masses are today mostly urban Muslims but does it change the nature of the challenge and the type of answers? I don’t think so.
In the same way, we must fight against the totalitarian vision that radical Islam wants to establish among European Muslims, in part of our societies. We must defend fundamental rights such as rights of women or freedom of belief more strongly. When it is needed, Europe must hold a firm line and close radical mosques, expel preachers of hate, ban access to sexist, racist and anti-Semitic contents on the Internet and use all its power to reduce the influence of salafism and the Muslim Brotherhood. Without that firm line, we will lose the cultural battle against anti-Semitism among the European muslim population.
History has shown that anti-Semitism can take several forms. Holocaust denial and anti-Zionism are quite recent variations. In front of that, Europe needs to keep its eyes open and adjust its legal framework. And I am proud today that France is the only country in the world with laws against both anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial but also against the calls to boycott Israel.
Let me here also express my regrets that Europe voted for the labeling of products from Israeli settlements located beyond the borders of 1967. One can have different views on the solutions to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But singling out Israel by a measure which is not applied to any other comparable territorial conflict (neither Tibet occupied by China, nor the north of Cyprus occupied by Turkey, for instance) will legitimate questions on the real motivations of such a decision which I consider totally inappropriate between friendly countries.
I would like to end with a personal belief: as a Jew born in a generation for which the European ideal was natural, I am convinced that Europe as a democratic society needs Jews just as much as Jews need Europe. Our mixed destinies of Jews and Europeans are interrelated. Europe will not remain itself if it leaves the Jews alone in front of anti-Semitism."