The most important speech ever given by a French president on anti-Semitism
July 28, 2017
(JNS.org, and Aish Hatorah Resources)—President Macron equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and said Jew-hatred wasn’t born with the Vichy regime, nor did it die after the liberation of France.
French President Emmanuel Macron is not the first French president to give a speech at the annual memorial ceremony commemorating the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup in July 1942, when some 13,000 Parisian Jews—a third of them children—were rounded up and taken to a local stadium and subsequently expelled to Nazi concentration and death camps. This operation was the first stage in the flagrant murder of a quarter of French Jewry at the time by the Nazis and their French collaborators.
Indeed, it took France decades to contend with its role in the Holocaust. It has been convenient for France to adopt a historical narrative that the entire country was a part of the anti-German underground resistance. It was only 22 years ago that then-French President Jacques Chirac recognized his country’s role in aiding the Nazi extermination machine and officially began revising history. This allowed the public to face the scope of France’s collaboration with the Nazis, as well as the fact that the Germans did not need to prod the French authorities too hard to send tens of thousands of Jews to their deaths.
Senior government officials at the time initiated the “purging” of France, mostly from “foreign Jews.” Police officers followed their orders efficiently and zealously. This confrontation with history has not been without opposition, as demonstrated by far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen’s recent declarations challenging the French Republic’s responsibility in the crimes of the Holocaust. As she would have it, the state ceased existing when France fell to Germany—the complicit Vichy government did not represent the “real France.”
Macron’s speech at the Vel D’Hiv Roundup memorial ceremony is the most important speech ever given by a French president on anti-Semitism. Macron did not stop at completely rejecting the historical opinion espoused by Le Pen—“We cannot build pride upon a lie”—he expanded on the matter as it pertains to the past and the present.
In his speech, Macron remarked that the Vichy regime’s anti-Semitism did not sprout up out of nowhere, but was rather deeply rooted in the political and social realities of the Third Republic that existed before the Nazi occupation. Anti-Semitism and racism, Macron emphasized, were not born with the Vichy regime, nor did they die with its disappearance after the liberation of France from the German occupation. In a brave step, Macron spoke about the murders of Jews in France in recent years. He also called on the French judicial system to explain why the most recent murder, of 65-year-old Sarah Halimi by a Muslim shouting “Allahu akbar,” was not recognized as an anti-Semitic hate crime.
Moreover, Macron declared, without embellishing, that anti-Zionism is the new face of anti-Semitism. Macron thus justified his inviting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the memorial ceremony by showing the connection between anti-Semitism and opposing the existence of Israel, the Jewish state.
However, Macron’s historic speech contained an especially jarring comparison between the murder of Jews by Muslims and the racism Muslims themselves suffer in France. These are actually two very different phenomena that require different approaches. An attempt to placate the Muslim community and portray it as a victim of modern French society, without calling on this community to combat the radicals within it, is equivalent to the day-to-day silence in the face of racism that Macron himself denounced. Indeed, the modern murderous anti-Semitism in France and Europe is rooted in Islamic circles, and this must be stated clearly, as the president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions did.
Macron has taken it upon himself to bring about an all-encompassing internal reconciliation so that all the French may find their place. This reconciliation necessitates bravely coping with big problems facing immigrant Muslim communities in France and Europe. But it must be stated that those who wish to see us abandon humanity, democracy and liberty all generally come from a specific religious background. Ignoring this fact or denying it will only exacerbate the problem. Internal reconciliation will be facilitated not just by acknowledging that Muslims are victims of European racism, but also by demanding that Muslims take responsibility for the radicalism in their communities and encouraging them to integrate into European societies rather than trying to change them.
Eldad Beck is a prominent Israeli journalist and author. He studied Arabic and Islam at the Sorbonne University in Paris; he was Middle East affairs correspondent of IDF Radio and the newspaper “Hadashot,” as well as the Paris-based correspondent of IDF Radio, the Jerusalem Report, the Jerusalem Post, and Israel’s Channel 2.