PRESIDENT François Hollande said yesterday that France must offer its protection and affection to the Jewish community as antisemitism is increasing in the country.
“Jews are at home in France, it’s the antisemites who have no place in the republic”, Mr Hollande said in a speech at a prestigious annual dinner of France’s main Jewish organisation.
Many French Jews feel increasingly worried about antisemitism, particularly coming from young Muslims who embrace radical ideology propagated online.
France has Europe’s largest Jewish population, at about half a million. More than 7,000 emigrated to Israel last year. Mr Hollande noted acts against Muslims were also increasing in France.
Hundreds of Jewish graves were desecrated in eastern France earlier this month. The attacks have sparked increasing alarm among Europe’s Jews as well as tensions between some European leaders and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been accused of exploiting the attacks ahead of next month’s election.
Following Mr Netanyahu’s recent comments that Europe was no longer a safe place for Jews and that Israel is the only country in the world where Jews can be safe, Mr Hollande retorted: “I will not just let what was said in Israel pass, leading people to believe that Jews no longer have a place in Europe and in France in particular.”
German chancellor Angela Merkel responded to the comments with an angry reply that her government was doing everything possible to protect Jewish sites.
Mr Netanyahu’s frequent calls on French Jews to make aliyah (or return to the Holy Land) have infuriated Mr Hollande in the past, including an exhortation following the 2012 Toulouse attacks, which led the French president to privately complain that Mr Netanyahu had come to France to conduct a “two-staged election campaign”.
About 10,000 soldiers and police forces are protecting synagogues, but also mosques, schools and cultural centres, Mr Hollande told the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF) dinner. He said they will stay mobilised “as long as necessary”.
On Monday, France’s Muslim leaders boycotted the dinner – which they have attended since 2003 – angry over comments by a Jewish leader. Roger Cukierman, head of CRIF, was denouncing the growing number of acts against Jews in France. He specified that he was talking about a “very small minority” of Muslims. The French Muslim Council (CFCM), denounced his comments as unfounded, including his use of “Islamo-fascism.” Mr Cukierman explained later that he was specifically thinking of the authors of recent attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, in which terrorists had “claimed allegiance” to Islam. “Jews and Muslims, we are all in the same boat”, he said.
This year’s dinner comes amid increasing fears of antisemitism in France after attacks by Islamic extremists against a kosher market and satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. National Front leader Marine Le Pen was not invited to the event despite a comment by Mr Cukierman on Monday that the current leader of the French far-right party was “irreproachable”. Ms Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has been frequently accused of antisemitism and is reviled across France for his infamous dismissal of the Holocaust as a “detail” of history. The new NF leader has spent considerable energy trying to soften the party’s antisemitic image.
Mr Hollande is set to outline his government’s new plan to fight antisemitism and racism, to be unveiled next month.