“What is the definition of anti-Semitism?” Roger Cukierman jokes. “Hating the Jews more than is necessary.”
Cukierman is in his third, nonconsecutive term as president of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France (CRIF), the representative organ of French Jewry. He is familiar with the challenges facing his co-religionists and can joke about them, if only because humor is one of the time-tested coping mechanisms of a people that has faced almost two millennia of exile.
Cukierman will be a special guest speaker at The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference at the Daniel Hotel in Herzliya on Thursday.
A vice president of the World Jewish Congress and of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, Cukierman last served as CRIF president from 2001 to 2007 and is throwing himself right back into the fight for the future of French Jewry.
Anti-Semitism is on the rise in various European countries, and French Jews have been among the hardest hit. While no far-right party such as Greece’s Golden Dawn or Hungary’s Jobbik has entered parliament in France in significant numbers, anti-Semitic incidents are increasing in frequency, due in great part to tensions with North African Muslim immigrants.
The essential function of CRIF, he tells The Jerusalem Post, is to fight anti-Semitism, which he calls “a weighty task, [due] to years of worsening” sentiments regarding the country’s Jews.
There is no issue of statesponsored anti-Semitism and that both the Right and the Left understand that anti-Semitism is contrary to the spirit of the French republic. The far Right, represented by the National Front, is a potential danger for the future, he says. He refers to this as the first kind of anti- Semitism.
“I just met with the French president, the interior minister and the justice minister and we have no problem with them, just as we have no problems with the right-wing parties in the opposition,” he explains.
“However, the problems start with the National Front and the extreme Right,” which he says is deeply anti-Semitic.
The fact that the party, which now stands on the sidelines of politics, is gaining popularity is a long-term concern, he says.
A considerable issue facing France’s Jewish community is that of anti-Zionist activity emanating from the Left.
“This is the second kind of anti-Semitism,” he says, citing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns, which he calls “the new clothes of anti-Semitism.”
The third form of French anti- Semitism, he says, comes from young suburban Muslim immigrants who frequently engage in violence against Jews. From last year’s school shooting in Toulouse and bomb attack against a Jewish grocery shop in Sarcelles to incidents such as the kidnapping, torture and murder of Ilan Halimi in 2006, France’s Jewish community has been gripped with fear due to rising Muslim immigration.
Fueled by rampant anti-Semitism in the Arab world and anger over the Israeli-Arab conflict, young Arab and Muslim immigrants have taken out their rage on the closest thing to Israelis that they can, the extremely pro-Israel French Jews.
Arab violence, which roughly correlates to upticks in fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, “is a real threat that weighs on the whole community,” Cukierman says.
While French Jews continue to make aliya, the number coming is still less than 1 percent of the Jewish population, he says. Despite this, French Jews have an “especially strong connection” to Israel that is exhibited equally by Orthodox and secular alike, he adds.