(photo credit: Press attachée, French Embassy in Israel)
Anti-Semitism is a problem not just for French Jews but for the entire French Republic and the world as a whole, French Ambassador Christophe Bigot said on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters at the Tel Aviv beachfront, Bigot stressed the seriousness with which French President Nicolas Sarkozy views anti-Semitism and outlined measures taken by his administration and that of his predecessor Jacques Chirac to combat the threat, including pushing for tougher punishment for racist violence and the appointment of specially trained judges to handle such cases.
Bigot also described Sarkozy’s support for Project Aladdin, a cultural initiative that seeks to counter racism and Holocaust denial, partly through the translation into Arabic and Farsi of The Diary of Anne Frank
and the works of Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi.
In addition, Bigot said that Sarkozy had called for trials like that of the murderers of Ilan Halimi, a French Jew kidnapped, tortured, and slain by an anti-Semitic gang in a Paris suburb in 2006, to be open to the public.
Last week, a report on antiSemitism in France in 2009 was released in Paris. Bigot presented a chart detailing statistics from the report, which showed an increase in anti-Semitic acts during January 2009, when the IDF was engaged in the Cast Lead offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The chart also showed a decline in such acts in the second half of 2009, compared to the same period the year before.
Bigot hesitated to say that anger over Cast Lead was a reason for an increase in anti-Semitic acts, saying that there “is never any reason for anti-Semitism,” but added that Israel’s military campaigns “are often used by extremists as a pretext for violence.”
The ambassador did not point fingers at France’s Muslim or immigrant community, saying that antiSemitism is used by several sectors of society to express political or economic frustration.
Though the talk was focused on anti-Semitism, Bigot said that anti-Muslim discrimination and violence is a more widespread problem for France, but stopped short of comparing the two, saying that so-called Islamophobia is a form of hatred based on religion, unlike anti-Semitism, which goes to a deeper, racial hatred of a people as a whole.
Bigot also stressed the improvements and increased assimilation of his
country’s Muslims, saying that “France is a nation based on
immigration” and that although there is still much work to do, the
Muslim community is becoming more and more integrated into the fabric
of modern France.
As for the proposed burqa ban, which would bar the wearing of the head
to toe veil in public places in France, Bigot said that while “Muslim
traditions are as important as Jewish traditions,” the burqa represents
only a small, extreme branch of Islam. French Jews have supported the
ban because “the place of Jews is on the front lines of the fight for
European values, including freedom for women,” and Jews understand the
role of secularism and keeping religion out of politics, he said.