French Jews have had their ups and downs – the lowest points unquestionably were their expulsion in 1307 and the Holocaust of the 1940s. But Roger Cukierman, who leads France’s organized Jewish community, takes the long view when it comes to the crises of late – the deadly attacks on Jews and others by radical Muslims and the growing sense among French Jews that they aren’t safe.
As he finished a quick chronology of Jews in France, the president of CRIF, or Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, said, “Nevertheless they are still in France.”
At a press meeting last week held in the Kalorama mansion that serves as the residence of the French ambassador, Cukierman, 78, repeated some familiar themes. Asked if the terrorist attacks in January in Paris and in 2012 in Toulouse is a French problem, Cukierman said, “No, it’s a world problem.”
The “jihadists” are attacking Jews, Muslims, journalists and members of the military. “They are attacking the Western world,” he said.
The long-term solution is education, he said. French schools can’t teach the Holocaust in Muslim neighborhoods because students automatically link the subject to the Palestinians. Cukierman said schools must not teach the Holocaust as the victimization of the Jews, but as the lesson “you have to respect others. It’s a moral, civic lesson. Our message is, ‘Let’s live together.’”
He said that French Muslim leaders are friendly with their Jewish counterparts, but that the message of co-existence doesn’t reach the community.
French jails must be “cleaned” so that they are no longer schools for radicalizing young Muslims, he said, and “messages of hate” on the Internet must be restricted. “[Radicals] are not educated [in anti-Semitism] in the mosque. They are educated on the Internet,” he said.
Referring to a November survey by the French think tank Fondapol, Cukierman said French Jews face hostility on three fronts: from the far right, 40 percent of whom are anti-Semitic; from the extreme left, which is anti-Zionist and anti-Israel; and from the Muslim community, which is anti-Semitic.
The great majority of France is not anti-Semitic and “the only part of the population that acts violently is a very small part of the Muslim population,” he said.
Nevertheless, “anti-Semitic harassment,” which barely existed before 2000, is rising and is getting more violent, he said.
And while the number of French Jews leaving the country for Israel and elsewhere is increasing, the percentage is small in a community of one-half million.
“It’s respectable if they decide to leave, just like it’s respectable if they decide to stay,” Cukierman said in response to Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s exhortation to French Jews to move to Israel.
Israeli prime ministers are programmed to call on people to make aliyah, he suggested.
“I remember when [Prime Minister Ariel Sharon] met a group of French parliamentarians. He asked them to come to Israel – and they were not even Jews. He was just so used to giving his aliyah speech that it was automatic.”