French President Francois Hollande (2ndR), Israeli ambassador to France Yossi Gal (C), and Strasbourg and Bas-Rhin Grand Rabbi Rene Gutman (R) walk past desecrated tombstones during a visit at the Sarre-Union Jewish cemetery, eastern France, February 17, 2015..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
PARIS – French President François Hollande, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, and Senate President Gerard Larcher attended a ceremony Tuesday morning at the Sarre-Union Jewish Cemetery in Eastern France, where 250 gravestones were either broken or toppled over on Sunday.
The ceremony opened with the Kaddish prayer, followed by a sixth grade student reciting a poem by a Holocaust survivor, Italian Jewish writer Primo Levi, If This is a Man. Strasbourg Chief Rabbi Rene Gutman denounced the “systematic destruction’’ of the cemetery, noting the damage was “as if an army has passed through here.”
His comments evoked the history of this old Jewish cemetery, some of whose 400 gravestones commemorate Jews who died during the Holocaust. The Sarre-Union Jewish Cemetery was desecrated twice in the past, once in 1988, when 60 graves were damaged, and in 2001, when 54 gravestones were either toppled or sprayed with graffiti.
Larcher told The Jerusalem Post that “the recent rise of anti-Semitism in France is undeniable. Responding to that, we declare unequivocally that French Jews are France. They are the flesh and blood of our country. This community must be protected, of course, but we must do much more than that. French Jews must be able to live a normal life, as any other French citizen.”
Larcher noted that the investigation is ongoing, but the perpetrators are juveniles, unlike in the terrible recent events in Paris and Copenhagen. “We have the obligation to react to all incidents,” Larcher continued. “These days especially, we can let nothing go by without reacting. This is why I went to the ceremony this morning, to show my solidarity and that of all the French people.’’
The local prosecutor announced that five boys aged 15 to 17 were under custody, with at least three of them possibly facing indictment.
Israeli Ambassador to France Yossi Gal, who also took part at the ceremony, told the Post how shocked and horrified he was entering the desecrated cemetery. “Such sights further reveal the fear and anxiety of the French Jewish community and what they are undergoing these days.”
Gal said that the presence at the ceremony of the most senior echelon of France’s political leadership indicates that it is aware of the task ahead of it, and the magnitude of the battle it must wage against anti-Semitism.
The president of the French Jewish umbrella organization CRIF, Roger Cukierman, told the Post that the youth of the desecrators attests to a total failure of families and educators.
“Anti-Semitism has made big progress. The national educational system has failed in its mission of instilling a minimum sense of morality and ethics amid our younger generation – a minimum of respect for the dead. When you add this to the ongoing global Jihad against the West, and particularly against Jews, there is a lot to worry about.
“’The presence of President Hollande and the ministers demonstrates that, contrary to the 1930s, we have political leaders who are totally engaged and committed to battle this phenomenon. We are now waiting to hear the proposals of the government on handling this battle – measures to be taken in the fields of security, education, justice, and the Internet,’’ added Cukierman.
Addressing the Jewish community of Bas-Rhin at the ceremony, Hollande declared that attacking a cemetery is an insult to all religions, and tarnishes the [French] republic.
“We must all pause and reflect,” he said. “This is not the first time that this Jewish place in Alsace has been devastated. But it has never happened with such tenacity, intensity, frenzy.”
Hollande also responded to recent calls by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to French Jews, encouraging them to move to Israel.
“France is your [French Jews] homeland. This time also, the Republic will defend you with all its might, because through you, the values, the principles, the promise of our country are all targeted.”
The president was echoing a remark Monday by Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who called upon the local Jewish community to remain in France.
Former prime minister Roland Dumas, 92, verbally attacked Valls during a television interview, saying the prime minister “has personal alliances that mean he has prejudices.”
Asked whether Valls was under Jewish influence, Dumas replied, “Probably. I think so,” offering that Valls’s wife, the Jewish musician Anne Gravoin, “has an influence on him.”