Time has come to stop anti-Semitism - President
Thirty-fourth annual dinner of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France – Speech by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic
Paris, 20 February 2019
President of the French Senate,
President of the National Assembly,
President of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council,
Mayor of Paris,
President of the Île-de-France region,
Members of Parliament,
President of the CRIF [Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France],
Ladies and gentlemen,
Like everyone here, I would have liked this dinner – the second I have had the honour to attend as President – to have been held under calmer circumstances. We would have spoken passionately about Claude Lanzmann and what he gave to France by joining the Resistance at the age of 18, and what he contributed to the world with his monumental film, Shoah, immortal against an inexorable fading of memories with the passage of time. We would have remembered Marceline Loridan, who passed away in September, and her relentless work to pass on the memory of genocide and its insolence. And Georges Loinger, who left us in December taking with him a life of heroism, he, a man who saved nearly 400 Jewish children during the Second World War. We would have together relived that bright sunny morning in July when the French people gathered in rue Soufflot around the blue, white and red coffins of Simon and Antoine Veil. Simone Veil, who drew force from the inexpressible horror of the camps to build, through her battles to preserve memory, for women and for Europe, the universal work of France even more. We would have certainly looked back on the 70-year friendship that binds France and Israel, that the cross-cultural season in 2018 helped perpetuate, and that President Rivlin’s visit to Paris in mid-January helped to seal. We may even have discussed the role of René Cassin in the drafting of the Declaration of Human Rights, this common reference for nations, whose 70th anniversary we have just celebrated. Yes, each of us would have liked to have spoken about all that. This Jewish part of the French soul, this history of French Jewish people who have helped to forge our beautiful and great nation. But what we are currently living calls for much graver words. For several years – and the situation has become worse in these past few weeks – our country, like all of Europe and almost all Western democracies, has experienced a resurgence of an anti-Semitism which is undoubtedly unprecedented since the Second World War.
For several years, anti-Semitism has once again been taking lives in France.
The faces filling our consciences this evening are not only those of our heroes that I just mentioned but those of the martyrs who were recently killed because they were Jewish. Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Parisian who survived roundups but not the murderous rage of her killers. Sarah Halimi, a mother of three seized in her sleep, beaten then thrown out of a window by her killer. Ilan Halimi, a young man in his twenties, who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered. And the victims of the terrorist attack on the Hyper Cacher in January 2015 – Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, François-Michel Saada. The terrorist attack on Ozar Hatorah school – Jonathan Sandler and his sons Aryeh and Gabriel and little Myriam Monsonego repeatedly shot to their deaths. We will not forget them. As the 20th century came to an end, there were hopes anti-Semitism would end along with it. The dawn of the 21st century reminds us just how tragic history is, how dismal passions are at work, how darkness has returned. And that the son of a deported Polish Jewish couple who loves France, its language, to the point that he became a member of the Académie Française, would be insulted by a hate-filled crowd on his way home. That in Paris, on a restaurant window the word “Juden” would be painted with a swastika. That on the town hall of the 13th arrondissement Simon Veil’s face would be covered in those same swastikas. That in Alsace, the graves of dozens of Jewish people would be desecrated, as if people were trying to take away their deaths. That Jewish religion representatives, anti-racism activists and journalists, would be insulted and threatened – Joël Mergui, Ariel Goldmann, Philippe Val, Hermann Ebongue. That with the same nihilism, the same violence, spreading the rejection of what is sacred and of Parliament, churches and elected officials would be blamed and attacked. Unfortunately, I could add to this list and say what too many anonymous people are subjected to and do not dare say. It would be wrong to say that we haven’t done anything to prevent these unacceptable acts. We have condemned many things, adopted plans, often for years and years, and sometimes passed laws. But we haven’t been able to act effectively. That is true. And if this is where we have ended up today, that is the reason.
And this litany of events that I have just described is our failure.
Too much indignation. Too many words. Not enough results.
The time has come for forceful and tangible action.
Because I do not want to get used to these words and indignations: “There is something worse than having a perverse soul,” wrote Charles Péguy, “and that is to have a soul grown used to things.’ We do not have the right to have souls that have become used to things.
First, identify what’s wrong: those who cannot see that anti-Semitism is increasingly hiding behind the mask of anti-Zionism.
I said this at the 75th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv roundup: anti-Zionism is a modern-day form of anti-Semitism. That is why I stated that France, which as you recalled endorsed it in December with its European partners, will start using the definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. This does not mean we will amend the Criminal Code, let alone stop those who want to criticize Israeli policy from doing so, as you pointed out, Mr President. Nor does it mean we will re-discuss issues that we know and that pertain to international policy – and in this regard, France’s position is known and last year we discussed it. The aim is to set out and reaffirm the practices of our police, our judges, our teachers, and to help them better fight those who are hiding the very negation of Israel’s existence behind the rejection of Israel. A primal hatred of Jewish people.
By the same token, there will be no complacency with regard to boycott practices and BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions], which have been condemned in France several times and will be again.
Then face the facts, with no filter.
Yes, unfortunately, there is an anti-Semitism founded on radical Islamism that exists alongside traditional anti-Semitism. Yes, this ideology blights some of our neighbourhoods to the point of triggering an intolerable exodus within them. And yes, we need to reintroduce Republican institutions into these areas. That is our goal in creating new police and gendarme positions in 45 of them, beefing up the involvement of all government services, the education system, civil servants, and rolling out a plan to tackle radicalization. In this regard, nor should we give in to the pitting of one bloc against another that some people would like to see French society locked into. One religion against another. One stigmatization against another. No. The Republic protects all citizens, all consciences, all discourse, and it does not allow, under any circumstances, in the name of a distorted religion or any philosophy whatsoever for the worst to be committed, because that is what being a Republic means, because that is what our freedom means.
Track and punish those who are guilty of committing anti-Semitic acts.
Nothing is more intolerable for victims than an offence that goes unpunished. Nothing is more incomprehensible to our fellow citizens than the feeling that “everything is allowed”, which motivates those who sow hatred and undermine government authority. To change this, no matter how discouraged they may be, I urge all the victims of anti-Semitic acts to press charges when they are insulted or attacked. They need to be assured that everything is being done to support them in their action, from training our police officers and gendarmes to attend and listen to them, to the possibility of pressing charges online, which has just been approved with the adoption of the Justice Act. It is to be enforced shortly. In this regard, we have to admit that up until now we were used to unclear practices. Charges were not always registered and things were complex. They have been simplified in this Act. They must be applied in practice. This means that nothing can be tolerated and no habit should set in. Everything is being done to gather evidence. Specialized teams of investigators and gendarmes will be created all over France following the example of what has been started in Aix-en-Provence in partnership with the Camp des Milles Foundation. Mr President, you then talked about what is incorrectly called “virtual anti-Semitism”. The only thing virtual about it is its name. There are, in this faceless hatred, to which it is believed the law does not apply, the beginnings of hatred, which in turn goes out into the street and commits the worst acts. This slow poison that has made nearly two in five French people, who mainly keep informed via social media, to believe in a global Zionist conspiracy. We need to fight this, too, with force and clarity. We have now begun to work with such platforms as Facebook, which chose France to launch a €1-million fund to raise civic awareness and address hatred and which agreed to work with French regulators and legal experts to improve a number of practices. Last year I talked to you about my wish to spearhead an ambitious project at European level. Work has been done to make this possible, as you mentioned: the report by Ms Avia, Mr Taieb and Mr Amellal in this regard. Put forward concrete things. European efforts must continue, but they are going too slowly, and we can no longer wait. That is why in May, in other words at the first parliamentary opportunity, National Assembly Deputy Laetitia Avia will submit a bill including proposals from this report to Parliament to fight hatred on the Internet. In this regard, we must draw inspiration from what our German neighbours have done effectively and pragmatically. Provide for judicial, criminal and financial sanctions. Call for individuals and platforms to be held accountable. This means putting an end to eviction strategies used by foreign websites which change their servers regularly and are currently difficult to block. In this context, the question of anonymity will clearly be raised. Too often, it provides a mask for cowards. And behind every pseudonym lies a name, a face and an identity.
Should anonymity be banned entirely on the Internet? I think that if we choose that path, it would be worse in some respects. We therefore need to think twice. However, one thing we cannot accept is the fact that because content is anonymous, it cannot be removed immediately and the identity of its author cannot be sought or provided. Today there are platforms, such as Twitter, to name a bad example, that wait weeks, if not months, before providing login information needed to begin judicial proceedings against those who have advocated hate or murder. They can in some cases also take days or weeks to remove content thus identified. What this text will therefore provide are clear provisions that require content advocating hatred to be removed immediately and that implement all the techniques to identify the author immediately and call for the said platforms to be held accountable, including legally. We have to adopt sanctions for the digital society. We need to establish the means to ban people who are guilty of racist and anti-Semitic speech from the Internet, just as we have banned hooligans from stadiums. If not, at least we have to ensure that convictions of people who have committed racist and anti-Semitic acts are made public.
The sense of shame over these urgent issues must switch sides. It must no longer eat away at the victims. It must bear down on the perpetrators. Finally, because our very essence is now being challenged, France must also draw up new red lines, and we will do so through concrete measures and decisions which the law now allows us to take. For this reason, I have asked the Minister of the Interior to institute proceedings aimed at disbanding associations or groups whose behaviour fuels hatred, promotes discrimination or calls for the use of violence, starting with Bastion Social, Blood & Honour Hexagone and Combat 18.
Name, prosecute, punish, but of course also educate.
We must never lose sight of the fact that education, culture and moral and spiritual stature is a long-term process, because what we are currently experiencing in our society, in our country, says much about our past failings. About what we have allowed to fester, about what we no longer want to condemn, and sometimes perhaps about what we have forgotten to say. While history has shown us that knowledge has never been an antidote to hatred, we know for sure that ignorance has always been fertile ground for it. Our teachers and professors have been exemplary in teaching our young people about the memory of the Holocaust, and are ably succeeded by institutions like the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah and the Shoah Memorial. As you recalled, Mr President, the Minister of National Education quickly committed to the fight to remove any possible remaining ambiguity, to provide more education and to apply even higher standards. And to this end, the government will increase its support for the Shoah Memorial even further. The interministerial delegation for the fight against racism and anti-Semitism (DILCRA) is now providing help. This will be significantly increased by the Prime Minister in the coming weeks.
These teachers and professors are still all too often left to their own devices, particularly when, in these areas plagued by radical Islamism, bringing up the Shoah or the situation in the Middle East has become impossible. The Republic will always stand with these teachers and professors. At national level, a response team has been set up, providing them with a solution within 24 hours, as soon as a difficulty arises. In each local education authority, clear messages have been sent so that everything is out in the open and the slightest problem is addressed as soon as it is observed. But we have also seen all too often in recent years children dropping out of state schools in these neighbourhoods of the Republic – let’s be honest, to go to private schools under contract with the state – regardless of faith, in order to change neighbourhoods because something was happening which the child or the parents did not dare to bring up. This is why I have asked the Minister to begin specific action and to carry out an audit of all schools which have seen Jewish students drop out.
The fact that this problem exists says something. Sometimes it says something about what we did not want to or could not see, something left unsaid. Beyond that, schools must play their full roles to defend the Republic against prejudice and hate, but also against what makes these things possible: the empire of immediacy, the reign of a form of absolute relativism. The teaching of the scientific, historical method will be strengthened. All the children of France will be made aware that building great civilizations takes a long time, a notion which was dear to Braudel, which brings a taste of tolerance and humanism. But we must go back to basics, to the heart of our education, which has sometimes been forgotten. Going back to the heart of education also means examining how to combat the insidious growth of complacency, the absolute immediacy, the relativism which corrupts everything. My dear friends, such acts must not be ignored, and I will speak about them. That is why I wanted to be here with you today. Because anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem. It is a problem for the Republic.
This is because those who think that anti-Semitism only affects some of us, just one community in the Republic, must never forget our history, and must pass on who we are. Anti-Semitism is the hatred of others, pure and simple. Just look at the forms it takes: to hate Jews is to hate both communism and capitalism, both outside forces and the enemy from within. It is all types of hatred combined. Anti-Semitism has taken all forms, has fed off all extremes. It is simply the hatred of the other, and what’s more, another who resembles us. Anti-Semitism is a matter for the Republic because it is an avant-garde hatred, which goes hand in hand with the other hatreds which you have referred to, and in these times, it is these other hatreds which are also flaring up in the background: hatred of Muslims, all forms of racism, anti-LGBT racism, all forms of hatred stirred up against elected representatives, against authority, against parliamentarianism, against all that is sacred, churches and all religions, against everything that makes us who we are.
Yes, for all these reasons, anti-Semitism is a matter for the Republic and for France. Because the essence of our interconnected stories represents everything they don’t want to see. I won’t list all the immense figures who have made France what it is: people like Rashi, Bergson, Proust, Simone Veil and Robert Badinter. France owes so much to those who have built it step by step, who have taught it the universal, have given it this form. But what too many of our citizens still don’t realize is that for centuries, great Jews, great commentators of sacred texts, were in France, and had so much to say about these texts, and are known around the world, that the foremost scholars of the Bible and the Talmud, Jewish people, lived in French villages, sometimes making these villages famous among people who had never set foot in France. Eliezer of Touques, Samuel ben Solomon of Falaise, Simhah ben Samuel of Vitry in Moselle, Samson ben Isaac of Chinon, Moses of Évreux, Thérèse Ben Elia of Corbeil, Moses of Coussy, Isaac ben Samuel of Dampierre, Samson of Sens, Eliachim of Chalons, Jacob of Pont-Audemer, Matatia of Avallon, Salomon of Château-Landon, Meshoulam ben Nathan of Melun, Eliezer ben Samuel of Metz, Joseph Tov Elem Bonfils of Limoges, Ayim ben Isaac of La Rochelle, Menachem ben Solomon Meiri of Perpignan, Jacob ben Machir of Montpellier, Aaron ben Perez of Avignon, Abraham ben David of Narbonne — so many names known all over the world because they commented on the Bible, because they added to our universal knowledge. They came from the towns and villages of France. So when, like you, I hear people saying “This is our country”, and that they do not want certain people to be part of it, I say to them: look at our history head-on, for everything it is. France has a glorious history, with the intertwining universals of its Jewish people who came from all over the world and loved our country, died for it and gave it access to the universal, as well as all its French people who wanted to adopt, love and follow a religion, because this could be done freely and with pride in our country. Such is the history of the Jewish people and France, long before the Republic, even long before the notion of ‘France’ existed. That is who we are. This is our country. All of us. Yesterday, in Quatzenheim, I was ashamed. I was with the residents of that village in Alsace and I was ashamed. And as we looked at those desecrated headstones, I said to myself: “Their goal is ultimately for nobody to even rest in peace.” And then shame gives way to anger. An anger that wants instant answers. To fight hatred with hatred. In the end, I told the people of Quatzenheim: “The true face of this village is all of you. We will clean these graves.” And above all I told them how ashamed the people who did this should be. They do not represent France. They do not represent the people of France. The graves of the French and Jews defend our soil like the trees planted for them. They are firmly rooted, just like our nation. So yes, my friends, I am well aware that our task is a somewhat thankless one. Barbarity is powerful. It has an immediate impact. It shocks us. To some, it is fascinating. To others, it is distressing and even overwhelming. And barbarity has immeasurable strength compared to using intelligence or taking rational action, as we are trying to do. It is this very strength that it seeks. So we will not win this battle overnight; but I would like to tell you something here this evening. We will never get used to it. We will always demand truth, freedom, fraternity and intelligence, which are the only answers to this barbarity. Our mission must be to demand courage. The courage of the Republicans that we are. It is slower, sometimes not as apparent. Sometimes we will stumble, but we will yield no ground. Dear friends, last Friday, I met Ilan Halimi’s mother in my office. Opposite her was a painting by Pierre Soulages. I told her, “This is what we must live through.” Many people thought that black was not a colour and that nothing could be done with it. In his genius, Soulages, who turns 100 this year, has commented: “by tirelessly working on black with the paintbrush and palette knife, by drawing my lines, adding shapes, I will create the sun. I will create light.” And she saw the painting come to life before her eyes. And the black was no longer black. It was Soulages’s Outrenoir [Beyond Black]. We cannot erase evil from our society, neither through laws, discussions nor actions; but we must all come together to fight with this Outrenoir, with these strong lines, unshakeable courage and this type of humanity and intelligence which we must show, even against the darkness of our society, because it is there; but we will stand strong and in the end, we will prevail. Long live the Republic, long live France./.