Annual dinner of the CRIF
The CRIF dinner – this is the 28th such gathering – is a key event for the Republic, because it brings together the Jewish community along with the country’s highest institutions, represented by the presidents of the National Assembly and the Senate; the leaders of the Parliamentary blocs [who represent the] main political parties – separate though they may be in the afternoon; and representatives of the country as a whole, and particularly of all its religions, all of whom are gathered here this evening.
It is thus a rare moment, of which there are few in our Republic – a time of conversation and questions, but also trust – mutual trust, trust in France, and trust in the Republic.
Mr. Chairman, you underscored the bond between France and the Jewish community, a bond that goes back to medieval times and was sealed by the French Revolution. Indeed, it was under the National Constituent Assembly, on September 27, 1791, that Jews became citizens, for the first time in Europe. Having been persecuted for centuries, they joyfully, and perhaps a bit skeptically, greeted this declaration: “The National Assembly … revokes all adjournments, reservations and exceptions inserted into the preceding decrees relative to Jewish individuals.”
It was the beginning of a long history, the history of Judaism in the Republic. A history marked by important figures:
Edmond Fleg, the philosopher who expressed the essential connection between Jewish and republican universalism, between the people of human rights and the people of the Ten Commandments.
Jules Isaac, the great educator whose manuals taught generations of French schoolchildren the story of their own country. And he did so as a republican and as a citizen.
René Cassin, vice president of the Council of State, author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who for 30 years led the Alliance Israélite Universelle – an institution dedicated to promoting both Jewish culture and the French language.
I could name others. I am thinking of Jean Zay. But I also want to mention Simone Weil, whose life testifies to a diehard commitment to France but also to suffering from which our country could not protect her.
For the history of the Jews in France also experienced moments of fracture. The late 19th century saw the Dreyfus affair and the anti-Semitic hysteria to which it gave rise. But it was precisely because the Republic overcame those episodes, because freedom triumphed, because the law prevailed, that in Lithuania, Emmanuel Levinas’s father was able to tell his children, with regard to the Dreyfus affair: “A country that tears itself apart to defend the honor of a small Jewish captain is somewhere worth going.” And many came here, to France.
But that confidence would be betrayed in 1940. First there was the Jewish Status law, then the deportation of 76,000 Jews from France with the active complicity of the French state. I have addressed this, as has President Jacques Chirac before me.
I spoke about it on July 22, on the very site of the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup. Seventy years ago, France failed to live up to its word and its greatness. But the country’s honor was saved by the French Resistance, by the Righteous Among the Nations, by those anonymous individuals who – without even considering their personal heroism – extended a hand to the innocent. They remember it.
But other wounds would follow, made even more intolerable by the memory of the Holocaust. Mr. Chairman, you yourself gave some examples, and hearing about these occurrences is always a cruel and painful experience: the rue Copernic attack on October 2, 1980, when a bomb killed four people in front of a synagogue during the Friday-night Shabbat service; the rue des Rosiers attack on August 9, 1982, that killed six people; and many others. I am thinking of the torment inflicted on Ilan Halimi, kidnapped and tortured to death in the outskirts of Paris, because he was Jewish. Each time, we hope we’re seeing the final entry on this grim list, and from one CRIF dinner to the next, my predecessors at this podium have had to tell you that it was the last time, that it would never happen again, that we would be vigilant. They were sincere, and they did everything they could to put an end to these lethal events.
Until March 19, 2013, when, at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, Merah killed Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his sons Gabriel and Arieh, and Myriam Monsonego, the daughter of the school’s director. President Sarkozy immediately flew to the scene, on behalf of the entire nation. The same evening, all of the various political leaders met – this was right in the middle of the presidential campaign – at the synagogue on rue Notre-Dame de-Nazareth. We were there to undertake the same commitments, express the same pain, and share the same compassion.
On November 1, I welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu on the site where this barbarous act had occurred. We both spoke, as it concerned both of our countries, France and Israel. And on Sunday, a year later, I presided over a ceremony commemorating the memory of the victims – all the victims. That’s why we included our soldiers, Imad Ibn-Ziaten, Mohamed Legouad and Abel Chennouf, cravenly murdered by the same terrorist because they were French soldiers.
For the Jewish community and for the Republic as a whole, there will always be a before Toulouse and an after Toulouse. That’s why I wanted to make sure we learned all the lessons of this tragedy. Wherever necessary, the government stepped up security for the Jewish community, its houses of worship, its study centers and its schools. Five hundred buildings were subject to such measures. It is the State’s responsibility, the responsibility of the Interior Minister. The Republic guarantees freedom of conscience and thus the freedom of religion.
But this sentence comes to mind; I heard parents, and even children, utter it at the school in Toulouse: “How can it be that in the early 21st century, we still need the police to protect schools; how can we put up with the idea that children are afraid to go to school and that their parents are afraid to send them?” Let me say that the Republic will be at peace with itself when this fear has finally disappeared.
In the last 10 months (and before that, as well), the police – under the authority of the justice system – have dismantled several terrorist groups in Sarcelles, Torcy, and most recently in Marignane. It doesn’t matter which groups: some had already struck, others were preparing to do so. Thus our vigilance, and the job entrusted to our intelligence services. It’s one more reason for reorganizing them, to ensure their effectiveness. The Interior Ministry did this by coordinating between the central administration and regional departments, creating a true internal inspection system, improving information-sharing and relations between the courts and the police.
All this seems obvious. But we still have to make sure that nothing is missing, that no piece of information is forgotten, that no clue is discarded. A law was also adopted unanimously, the best signal we could send. This law makes it possible to prosecute and convict, in France, French nationals living abroad who engage in terrorist training and even actions.
By the same token, this law gives the intelligence services access to all technical data gathered online. But Toulouse offers us another lesson, Mr. Chairman. You mentioned it this evening – we are aware of it, but it was driven home to us in a terrible way. This lesson is just a few words long: horror does not discourage hatred. In the year since Toulouse, anti-Semitic acts have not stopped. The figures are unforgiving, the Chairman reminded us of them, and what’s more, they underestimate reality. Not all victims file a complaint, and some complaints are dismissed. Procedures will therefore be simplified, with the possibility of filing a complaint without becoming a civil plaintiff, for insults, defamation, and racist or anti-Semitic provocations. The Justice Minister is preparing a circular on criminal liability in this regard, and we will be unyielding.
Anti-Semitism isn’t only a hatred for Jews, although they are its essential target; anti-Semitism is the hatred of France and what it represents: France, the homeland of human rights, France, whose motto contains the word “fraternity.” That is why our response must be characteristic of France. It is this spirit that must inspire our laws and actions in the training of government officials, in the culture of our fellow citizens, and in the education of our children.
Education is remembrance, and 70 years after the Holocaust, nothing must be forgotten. That crime, unique in history, can be compared to no other. The Holocaust must be taught everywhere, in France’s schools, our cities, our villages, our housing projects, our suburbs. It is not optional, with teachers hesitant to discuss it in certain circumstances or in front of certain children. It is part of the curriculum, not to inflict it on children but to enlighten them, to make sure each of them truly understands what this crime against humanity means and what this genocide was.
Education is also the transmission of values, and that is the purpose of teaching secular morality, which the education minister proposed and will institute throughout the scholastic program. Those who smile at the idea of this kind of teaching are quite wrong. It does not mean preaching or teaching particular morals, but is quite simply a reminder of the meaning of the Republic’s principles: secularism, the values, disciplines and rules we must respect in any organized society. By ignoring the reminder of these rules, they cease to be considered rules incumbent upon all.
But our vigilance must go beyond the surveillance of certain groups and what’s happening in this neighborhood or that. We must now turn our full attention to the Internet. The Internet, that virtual universe, a guarantee of all liberties, where anything can be written, where all rumors are true and all images circulate, and where hatred can insinuate itself and spread without constraints, because all opinions are valid, because everything can be written, because everything can be seen. Alas, we witnessed the spread of tweets—oh, the word seems so nice!—the proliferation of anti-Semitic tweets last fall.
Social networks have therefore been asked to remove these racist and anti-Semitic messages as soon as they are reported by an organization. But it was necessary to go much further, to involve the courts, which have ordered social networks to transmit data making it possible to identify the authors of these messages. Because it’s too easy, because people can disguise or conceal themselves, they can use temporary names to post these insults. Here too, the justice minister will be tasked with implementing these judgments, because there can be no impunity for these racist and anti-Semitic authors. They must know, if they can hear me, that they will be prosecuted and convicted for their actions.
As you’ve said, Mr. Chairman, it is the duty of every republican to fight, to fight relentlessly against the rejection of others, against every form of racism and every form of intolerance. It is also the duty of any country worthy of the name.
But fighting all these forms of hatred doesn’t mean they’re all the same. Anti-Semitism is a very particular hatred with deep historical roots that has always been fueled by myths and obsessions based on stories and lies.
Anti-Semitism has taken many forms over the decades. Yesterday’s forms have not disappeared; you reminded us of them. Others have assumed a new dimension, with radical Islam. Anti-Semitism can’t be reduced to radical Islam, and radical Islam can’t be reduced to anti-Semitism. But this threat exists and we must confront it.
This extremism is not Islam; it warps and perverts Islam. Muslims are its victims; they suffer from seeing their faith, their sacred texts and their traditions attacked and soiled in this way. They too suffer from the confusions, conflations and caricatures that further strengthen discrimination.
I want to acknowledge the Muslim leaders who are here with us this evening. Their presence has a meaning; it has a significance that transcends this place. They are participating, within the Republic, in the fight against extremism and must do so without fear.
I thank them for having supported, from the outset, my decision to intervene in Mali on behalf of France.
What was at stake was the integrity of a country that was in danger of being taken over by terrorist groups – a country, I reaffirm, that is 90% Muslim – where women were subjected to laws that weren’t their own, where sacred monuments were desecrated and the people asked us to help combat these extremist terrorist groups. But it wasn’t just Mali, it was the whole of West Africa, and unfortunately recent events have proven us correct. Our intervention allowed us to achieve major results in two months: the offensive by the terrorist groups was halted, cities recaptured. During the last phase, the current phase, Mali’s sovereignty over almost all of its territory will be restored.
I commend the courage of our soldiers. Like you, Mr. Chairman, I pay tribute to the five soldiers killed in combat who died for the most just of causes, freedom; who died for France. I am also thinking of our hostages - everything possible must be done to secure their release.
But there’s another lesson that we must draw from everything I’ve just said: it’s that free people are never weak people.
And this lesson must apply to France. It’s by being strong that it will be respected, it’s by never giving up on its values and its principles that it will be able to maintain its influence. It’s by stating what’s right and ensuring that this is respected that it can again be considered a key power. This lesson – that a free country should never be a weak country – applies all over the world.
I know that your attention is focused on Israel. This country bears the name of a people who have for too long been persecuted. It revived the Hebrew language, which had been barely spoken for 2,000 years. It was created following the genocide in order to welcome all Jews, whatever their origin, who have had to suffer for what they are. Your attachment to Israel doesn’t need to be explained, justified. It’s legitimate. And it’s not something new or something that’s emerged over the last few years. I rediscovered the words of Léon Blum, before he died, in 1950: “I am a French Jew, who only speaks the language of my country, who has been nurtured mainly on its culture and yet I participate in the tremendous effort, miraculously transported from dream to reality, of a dignified country, that is also free to all Jews who haven’t like me had the good fortune to find it in their own country.” These words are no less topical today.
Today, for Israel, the major challenge, the only one – the others have already been met and overcome – the only challenge is peace. It involves recognizing and respecting the sovereignty and the security of everyone. All people should have the right to self-determination. The Palestinian people have long waited for it. It’s time for a Palestinian state to exist alongside Israel. It’s in Israel’s interest; as long as Palestine doesn’t have recognized borders, neither will Israel. Consequently – this is France’s constant position expressed through me, as it has been by others – lasting peace can only be achieved through a just and negotiated agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, with the support of the international community. The only solution therefore is that of two neighboring and sovereign states living in security within their borders; nothing should be done that is contrary to this objective. This is France’s position.
In recent months I’ve had the opportunity to receive Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel and two weeks ago, President Shimon Peres. I took the same line with all of them, I spoke about trust and responsibility. They must all now play their part in the courageous decisions to be made. Because until there is peace, these fears, these concerns, these questions will always exist. I know that it’s difficult, that there should be no preconditions from either side. With the formation of the new Israeli government, the international community has seized an opportunity. I hope that it can become reality in the next few weeks.
But peace goes beyond the Israeli-Palestinian issue, since the entire Middle East is involved. I’d like to tell you what our positions are, beyond our concerns. France is first of all mindful of the situation in Lebanon, where religions and communities live together – though with the memory of very recent turmoil – and where there is external pressure from Syria, and internal pressure as a result of Hezbollah whose links with Syria and Iran have been established and even asserted.
I heard you, Mr. Chairman. The Bulgarian authorities have said – and must confirm – that they have proof of the involvement of Hezbollah members in the heinous attack in Burgas, which targeted Israeli tourists in July. I want to say here that Europe must be ready to draw the conclusions.
I also understand the questions that drive the changes under way in the Arab countries of the region. The revolutions of 2011 are continuing: they gave rise to promises – which haven’t disappeared – but now give rise to fears that may deepen. I’m thinking of the uncertainty in Egypt, of the problems in Libya with the weapons that are circulating.
But we should focus our attention – which has too often been distracted - much more on Syria. We have to express much more than just compassion or our condemnation of the circumstances. Bashar al-Assad is conducting a war against his own people – 70,000 victims in 2 years. This war is terrible for the civilian populations and for the neighbors, with the vast numbers of refugees, and for Lebanon there’s the risk of contagion. Then there are the chemical weapons that are present in Syria. Consequently, the continuation of the war only benefits two camps: Bashar al-Assad in order to maintain power and the extremist groups in order to use misfortune, disarray, the lack of a political transition, to use their strengths to create chaos. There’s therefore an urgent need to find a political solution in Syria; this can only be achieved by using military pressure. That’s why France wants to strengthen the political alternative, why it recognized the coalition and is providing it with material, humanitarian and – if the conditions are met – military assistance within the European framework.
However, I want to issue a warning. If there’s no solution in the next few months, then the situation will escalate and all the countries of the region will experience the consequences.
I’m well aware that this is the greatest of threats, but it’s not unconnected with the previous one, since the same attitudes are involved and the same forces are at work. The main threat to the security of Israel – and not just for the security of Israel, for the security of the region, for the security of the world – is the Iranian nuclear program. The authorities of this country are increasing the number of statements calling for the disappearance, the destruction of Israel. This asserted goal, associated with the stated desire to continue a nuclear program, free from any international control, is therefore a major threat. There can be no question of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon.
France will therefore assume its responsibilities in order to ensure that pressure continues to be exerted, that sanctions are strengthened, that the Iranian leaders comply with their international commitments, with the Security Council resolutions. And to ensure that Iranians or rather the Iranian authorities – let’s make the distinction – are not counting on the supposed weakness of their interlocutors. France will fulfill its responsibilities and will keep its word.
I wanted to tell you what I thought about this exceptional relationship between the Jews of France and the Republic and also what France’s position was with respect to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, with respect to the threats; so that you know which lines of action, which lines must not be crossed as far as we’re concerned.
That’s the mark of respect that I have for CRIF.
You will celebrate its 70th anniversary in the next few months. I would therefore like to underscore the role of this institution in France. You represent the Jewish institutions of France; you are therefore a constructive interlocutor for the government. […] I pay tribute to Richard Prasquier who will step down in May. […] I thank him for having been a demanding, clear and strong voice of the Jewish community of course, and of France, throughout his 6 years as chairman. […]
France is made up of these combined influences, these successive waves of immigration, countless individual contributions, each of which may be considered irreplaceable. Among these contributions, there are those of the French Jews […] who have never stopped devoting their talents to their country.
You – your parents and yourselves – have defended your country each time it was threatened. You gave the best of yourselves and you continue to do so. You’ve taken part in so many projects, enjoyed so many cultural, economic and medical successes! You have contributed to the prosperity of your country, whatever your position. You’ve done so without ever forgetting your deep roots in Judaism. So I say to you, as I will say to others: our country needs you, all its children, all its citizens, all its talents. Without you France wouldn’t be France, but with you, and with everyone, France will be even greater. Thank you.
1 Umbrella organization of Jewish organizations in France