The Grand Rabbi of France on anti-Semitism
For a good while after the war, no one dared show any anti-Semitism of any description. Do you think there is a resurgence of anti-Semitism in France today? You are aware, for example, that after the Rue Copernic episode the American press presented France as a country where there was a particularly strong threat of anti-Semitism. Do you think that is true?
There have veen anti-Semitic incidents that hurt us deeply, but there has also been the magnificicent reaction of the people of France, and from the bottom of my heart, personally and for my community, I would truly like to express our gratitude to the people of France who reacted spontaneously and forcefully. Hundreds of thousands of people marched from the Place de la Nation to the Place de la Republique in Paris. In nearly all the major cities around France there was a spontaneous reaction by French people because they realized that anti-Semitism is only perhaps the most visible tip of the iceberg; anti-Semitism is the forerunner of racism, and racism is horrible. We Jews know it well; we have unfortunately experienced it; we know that racism is. . . .
Has there been marked anti-Semitism in France over recent months or years? If so, do you think that situation is peculiar to France?
There are neo-Nazi groups that have. . . perhaps not been taken seriously enough --that have in fact expressed anti-Semitism, it is true. One of the aims of all these incidents --school, at synagogues, and then the Rue Copernic incident -- was most certainly to alienate the Jewish community in France. The result was the opposite, because there was this strong reaction. But there have been incidents -- I think some anti-Semitic slogans appeared last night at Clichy and a number of graves were desecrated at Rosny-sous-Bois. This is thoroughly regrettable. It is serious and we have to be constantly on guard. Not jut the Jewish community . . . but all of France. . . .
Following the Rue Copernic incident, do you feel you now have the protection you requested, and at the time, did you get the impression that the French leaders were being too indifferent or lax?
First of all, I think that after the genocide, the death of six million Jews, everyone believed that anti-Semitism was finally, once and for all, dead and buried. That is not the case. But since the Rue Copernic a number of measures have been taken. Jewish institutions in the Paris region and, I believe, in many of the major cities of France are under guard. I would like to express our gratitude to all those who, night after night, in the cold and the snow, spend hours guarding synagogues and Jewish institutions. I think they deserve a word of thanks. That was something that had to be done and was done, but there's also got to be an effort to root out racism from the hearts of those who feel it. I think there is also a whole process of education that should be enacted, starting with elementary schools, but there, perhaps, it will be up to the teachers. . . .
Are you willing to grant that a French government may be in complete disagreement with a policy pursued by the Israeli government without exposing itself to accusations of anti-Semitism?
There's a situation in the Bible that seems to me to answer your question perfectly. In Genesis, Chapter 44, there's a touching dialogue between Judah and Joseph when the young brother, Benjamin, is unjustly accused of theft and the situation seems hopeless. Joseph is dressed as a viceroy of Egypt. He is a stranger. Nobody knows he is Judah's brother. Judah says to Joseph: "You asked us 'Have you a father or a brother?' We told my lord, 'We have an old father and a young brother.'" This means, if we translate it into contemporary language, that we Jews of France have an elderly father -- this is Judah's reply; that is, we are faithful to our traditions and to our Jewish identity. We also have a young brother who is in the country of Canaan for whom we feel unlimited affection, love, and friendship. And so we have both an old father and a yo ung brother.