France Opposes Anti-Semitism

The 5th Global Forum for Combatting Antisemitism was held in Jerusalem in mid-May 2015. The meeting there was not deterred by the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court held on June 8, 2015 that United States citizens could not list Israel as their birthplace even though they were born in Jerusalem.

At the forum, a number of prominent political and religious leaders, including representatives from Germany, Canada, Romania, and Bulgaria, made extraordinary statements, not only expressing outrage at the virus of anti-Semitism, but also calling for action, including criminal prosecution, to respond to and counter the disease that has been spreading in Europe and elsewhere. They were also conscious that the contemporary focus of anti-Semitism is the State of Israel in which they knew Jerusalem exists.

It was heartening that some participants, including Imam Hassen Chalghoumi, President of the Conference of Imams in France and an Imam of the city of Drancy, with its ominous heritage of Holocaust deportations to Nazi death camps, spoke passionately against the social networking sites that were fueling hatred and contributing to the recruitment of Islamist extremists.

The most potent and welcome condemnation of the disease of anti-Semitism was delivered on May 12, 2015 by Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist Mayor of Paris, and the first woman mayor of the city. She spoke both about the concerns of French Jews and also strongly condemned “antisemitism disguised as anti-Zionism.” She was in effect responding to the growing problem that French Jews have about threats against them and were leaving France to make aliyah to Israel.

Since 2000, more than 7,650 anti-Semitic incidents have been reported to French authorities. 70 per cent of Jews in France express concern about anti-Semitic harassment, and 60 per cent fear a personal attack on them.

Estimates suggest that between January and August of 2015, more than 5,100 Jews will have left or were planning to go to Israel. In language similar to that used in January 2015 by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, the Mayor said, “Without Jews, France would not be the same country anymore.” France is indeed struggling to deal with the issue of its Jewish population, the largest in any European country.

Mayor Hidalgo has showed her concerns. She went to Copenhagen in February to sympathize with the Jewish community after the attack on February 15, 2015 on the synagogue there where a Dutch Jewish guard was killed. At that time she drew a link between the Copenhagen killing and the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Yet, at the same time, Hidalgo was careful not to call the perpetrators “Islamic extremists.” Indeed, an interview with Lally Weymouth on February 22, 2015, Hidalgo said that though the French people was not anti-Semitic, there had been an increase in anti-Semitic and racist acts but did not identify the nature of the perpetrators.

It is a constant disappointment for Francophiles that anti-Semitic outrages occur in the country. France has been troubled by a number of acts in recent years. In January 2006 the young Jewish salesman, Ilan Halimi, was kidnaped, tortured, and killed by a gang of Muslims who burned his body with acid and gasoline. Shamefully, a plaque memorial dedicated to him in Bagneux, a suburb of Paris, was vandalized and smashed in June 2015.

Also, if not equally disconcerting, was the desecration of a Cross of Lorraine monument in the village of Thann, in east Alsace. It commemorated the 75th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle’s famous speech in London on June 18, 1940 that called for resistance to Nazi Germany. The monument was desecrated with anti-Semitic graffiti.

Yet it is encouraging that France in recent day has responded to past and present anti-Semitism in two ways.  

The first concerns the problem of the SNCF, the French railroad system that during World War II deported 76,000 Jews to Nazi death camps. After protracted legal maneuvering in France, and also in the United States, during which the SNCF had refused to pay any kind of reparation to victims of the Holocaust who were deported or to their descendants, the French State made a deal with the U.S. The French State had already paid $60 million in compensation to Jewish French nationals deported to their death. It agreed on June 24, 2015 to pay $60 million to the Jewish foreigners, the vast majority of those deported, living in France who had also been deported.

In return, the U.S. will now protect French immunity from claims filed in the U.S. concerning the deportations. It is relevant to the agreement that several U.S. state legislatures, including Maryland and New York, threatened to pass legislation that would block SNCF from bidding for rail projects unless it paid compensation to U.S. victims.

The second development is the case started on June 16, 2015 in a Paris court. Mayor Hidalgo in her interview on February 22, 2015 said that France had a special responsibility to keep the history of the Shoah (the Holocaust) alive. She remarked that some people try to deny that this history took place.

She did not mention him by name but the most notorious of these “people” is the Franco-British Robert Faurisson. Since 1974, when he first declared there had been no genocide of Jews during World War II, Faurisson has been the most relentless and notorious Holocaust denier in France. Among his beliefs is a denial of the systematic killing of Jews, a denial of the authenticity of The Diary of Anne Frank, and the accusation that Elie Wiesel’s account of his wartime ordeals was not true. He persists in the fabrication that no forensic study exists proving the existence and operation of the “Nazi death camps.” Israel for him is a “bogus state,” and Jews are responsible for propelling France into military expeditions.

Faurisson has been prosecuted a number of times for his outrageous views since 1990 when he was found guilty of breaking the Gayssot Act that prohibited Holocaust denial. The UN Human Rights Committee upheld that conviction in 1996.

At the Paris court on June 16, 2015 the prosecutor asked for a six-month suspended sentence and a 10,000 euro fine as punishment for Faurisson putting videos on two sites on the Internet. As usual, Faurisson had declared that while there were work camps and concentration camps there were no Nazi death camps or gas chambers. Talk of them he considered “buffonerie.” The court officials felt otherwise. Faurisson’s videos were an insult, an injury, a second death sentence for Holocaust victims. The judgment is expected on September 15, 2015.

Notwithstanding the atrocities and threats against Jews still current in France, it is encouraging that French authorities like Mayor Hidalgo have strongly condemned anti-Semitism, expressed outrage about it, and are engaged in actions to overcome the bigotry and ignorance that is responsible for spreading pernicious hatred. The virus of anti-Semitism must be eliminated. The Holocaust was not buffoonery.