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Annual dinner of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France

Published on February 11, 2011
Speech by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic (excerpts)

Paris, February 9, 2011

I’m happy to be among you once again for this annual dinner of the CRIF [Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France], which over time has become a republican meeting-place where representatives of all religions, beliefs and opinions find themselves seated at the same table. The spirit of openness and mutual respect traditionally prevailing at this dinner exemplifies the way in which we should learn to live together, with our differences. (…)


Franco-Israeli friendship is deep and sincere.

Peace for Israel and Palestine is a necessity for the peace of the world.
Let me add that Israel’s real friends must persuade Israel that the best security for her is the existence of a modern, democratic Palestinian State that is viable and at peace. All of us, for different reasons, are committed to Israel, and for my part I’ve asserted this friendship throughout my political life; for France, Israel and her security are non-negotiable. But at the same time, France says to Israel’s leaders: “You must negotiate to build peace.” There will be no security for Israel without peace. And we – who are solid, unwavering friends – we have this duty to the truth. I wanted to tell you so here, at the CRIF, as I did in the Knesset. It’s so easy to make a speech for one hall, for one evening. It’s harder to build for the future and for life. I tell you, it’s a very long-term commitment for France.

Of course, there are the events in Tunisia and Egypt. Those events undoubtedly have an historic dimension. Those people – I mean the Tunisian and Egyptian people – with a boldness that surprised even them, have said powerfully that they want to live differently. Nobody has the right to condemn them for what they’ve had the courage to say.

This dawning of a people’s spring is positive, because it’s genuine.
The demonstrators in Tunisia and Egypt haven’t been shouting “Down with the West”, “Down with America” or “Down with Israel”. They haven’t been calling for a return to the past, to a mythicized Islamic golden age. And those demonstrators haven’t been attacking any minority, Mr Chairman.

I’m wary of jumping to conclusions; who can say what the next episodes will be? We’ve already had enough trouble defining recent episodes. And who can rule out brutal or totalitarian excesses? No one.
But it’s our duty to help these movements – which doesn’t mean sometimes rather shamelessly interfering. It’s our duty because it’s our values these people are calling for. And I want to ask this question: why should what’s good for us be forbidden to them? And in the name of what cruel fate should the Arab world be excluded from this inexorable march of peoples towards freedom?

I said it’s our duty, but I want to say it’s in our interest. It’s in our interest because – as you’ve said, Mr Chairman – democracies don’t wage war on each other. What better guarantee of Israel’s security than to have, alongside her, States which have become democratic and free peoples who wouldn’t have to look elsewhere for, I don’t know, compensation for their own frustration?

You know what I firmly believe: the best guarantee of security for Israel is the existence, alongside her, of a democratic, viable and sovereign Palestinian State. I’m convinced that it’s possible, that it’s a matter of urgency, to relaunch the peace process.

I’m convinced that a resumption of direct negotiations would be an extra signal of hope for all the peoples of the region. The parameters of a peace agreement have been known for a long time. In no way do I underestimate the difficulties of this negotiation, but I tell you, as I tell the two opposing sides: peace is much less dangerous than resistance to change.

I say, moreover, that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a problem for every one of our democracies, because this unceasing conflict is a breeding ground for the terrorism and extremism we too suffer.


As you know, I’m also urging a resumption of talks between Israel and Syria. Despite the wall of mistrust that has built up, I’m convinced this peace too is possible. And what a strategic transformation it would be for Israel if there were both normalization [of relations] and a return of the Golan Heights! It would lead to a radical change in the movements which threaten Israel every day from Lebanon and Gaza!

Nor do I forget our compatriot: I’ve said our compatriot because, ever since I was elected, I’ve said I regard Gilad Shalit as a Frenchman and that to hurt Gilad Shalit is to attack France. Today he’s living through his 1,690th day of captivity and isolation in Gaza. I’ve told his parents, Noam and Aviva, we’ll never abandon their son to his fate, a fate that nothing – I repeat, nothing – can justify! Nothing.

There’s a final point of our foreign policy I want to say a word about here: Iran. Let it be clear: the world can’t accept an Iran with a nuclear weapon and missiles whose range grows further by the year, in complete violation of international law. An Iran which, it’s true, fuels extremism every day.

Stepping up sanctions isn’t about punishing the Iranian people but about making their leaders understand that the cost of their irresponsible policy will grow heavier by the day, for them and their regime. I’ll never agree to Iranian leaders threatening to wipe Israel off the map. And France has stated this position many times. France will never accept that.

Be sure, Mr Chairman, that Israel’s right to live in peace and security is a diplomatic and strategic priority for France. But I want to say just as emphatically that the Middle East conflict mustn’t have an impact on the relations French people have with other French people. (…)


I want to say, as Head of State, that Judaism has helped forge France’s identity and that each of you continues to contribute to that subtle alchemy that makes us French.

If France has Christian roots – I’ve reminded people of it; why deny it? It’s the truth – France also has Jewish roots. Judaism is known to have been present even before France became France, even before she became Christianized. There are Jewish ritual baths in France from the same time as our Romanesque churches, and synagogues as ornate as Baroque chapels. Yes, Judaism is part of France’s roots, and every French person, whatever their persuasion or origin, can be proud of it. This long history, over 2,000 years old, is indeed a shared history, even though nobody forgets it has been tarnished, torn apart by hatred and persecution.

We mustn’t forget the expulsions, the despoliation, the forced conversions, the wearing of the rouelle (1), to which, many centuries later, another piece of yellow fabric would provide a sinister echo. I don’t forget that the same Republic which emancipated the Jews sentenced Dreyfus to forced labour, then acknowledged and revoked that monstrous injustice. I don’t forget the dark period of collaboration, which saw the law put at the service of a hateful anti-Semitic policy. I don’t forget that the French security forces, in French uniform, turned up early on the morning of 16 July 1942 outside carefully selected buildings to arrest French people, herd them into the Vel d’Hiv [Paris velodrome] for three days and three nights and then send them, in French trains, to the death camps. I don’t forget those women and children torn from their sleep to be thrown against a wall of hatred by the very people whose mission was supposedly to help and protect them. (…)

I know and understand the special place that the State of Israel holds in the hearts of Jews all over the world. For France, the existence of the State of Israel is a requirement of universal conscience, and the Jews of France will never, ever have to choose between their conscience and their homeland.

Because France – France, true to herself – is the country of freedom of conscience, the country whose every value is implacably opposed to racism and anti-Semitism. And for us French people, religious freedom isn’t negotiable.

Those who believe, those who pray while respecting the Republic’s laws have the right to the Republic’s respect and protection. That’s what laïcité (2) means. Prayer is silent; prayer offends no one; prayer attacks no one.

By contrast, any attack on a place of worship or burial ground must be regarded as an attack on the Republic and its fundamental values, because it’s a form of sacrilege not just against one religion in particular but against all religions, all beliefs and ultimately humanity itself. Those attacks, moreover, are not reserved for the Jewish community alone. Mosques, chapels, Catholic and Muslim cemeteries are not spared this religious vandalism. Everyone in France has the right not to believe in God, but no one has the right to attack what others hold dearest by violating the graves of their forebears.

However, it’s easy for everyone to understand that, in the case of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, this violence has a very particular resonance. Its sound is that of the windows smashed during Kristallnacht, and how can we fail to remember what followed?

That’s why the Republic has been spurred into action; I was Interior Minister then, and I was told that when a synagogue burned it was an act of vandalism in a public place. No, I didn’t accept that classification, that trivialization, because trivialization is nothing but complicity. And on that date, we – we and you – began a programme to secure buildings belonging to the Jewish community. A new convention signed in 2010 with the Interior Minister made it possible to complete the huge amount of work already done. This determination may not be unrelated to the 43% decline in anti-Semitic violence in 2010 that came even after the increase recorded during the Gaza crisis. (…)

(1) “rota” or wheel – oval badge Jews were obliged to wear in 13th century France

(2) Laïcité goes beyond the concept of secularism, embracing the strict neutrality of the State.

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