Published on 5 September 2023

Crif – Op-Ed by the President of Crif: "Books, honey and back-to-school”

During the back-to-school period, the President of Crif shares his thoughts on the summer's news and the year to come.

Of all the Jewish traditions, there's one that I like to remember every year on back-to-school day: brought back in the 14th century by Aaron ben Jacob of Lunel in the South of France, this tradition, present in both Ashkenazi and Sephardic heritage, invites teachers to delicately place a drop of honey on the first alphabet and books of the children beginning Talmudic school to give them a taste for learning and illustrate the gentleness of education.

The gentleness of education... That's a far-fetched ambition for today's France, where the back-to-school season occurs in a tense political and social context.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon's remarks accusing the Crif of being far-right in July, rapper Médine's invitations to the summer universities of Europe Écologie Les Verts (EELV) and La France Insoumise (LFI), the speech calling for the denaturalization of French Jews delivered at the Universités d'été de Civitas in early August, the rants of secularists galvanized by the debate surrounding the ban on the abaya and qamis a few days ago...: the summer's polemics bear witness to the risk that lurks that of the premium on radicalism that is to say, of outrage and caricature becoming a political strategy.

These polemics allow Crif to reiterate a few principles: No, secularism is not a law restricting freedom. For Jews and everyone else, it has always been and remains a law of protection, balance, and freedom. Yes, the ban on abayas and qamis in public schools logically falls within the scope of the 2004 law forbidding religious symbols in schools, which Crif supported at the time.

Yes, inviting Médine, who has compromised with Dieudonné's quenelle or displayed himself with Tariq Ramadan or Imam Iquioussen, and maintaining this invitation after his tweet with anti-Semitic overtones about Rachel Khan is a moral and political error.

As ever, issues relating to Jews and anti-Semitism are a political marker that doesn't lie. The coming year, marked by the prospect of the European elections, will not fail to remind us of this.

On this back-to-school day, just a few days after an equally eventful political year, let's collectively hope that we'll be able to add a drop of honey to the public debate this year.


Happy back-to-school to all,

Yonathan Arfi, President of Crif