French interior min. insists on right of public religious dress

Darmanin insisted that religious dress be allowed in public during dedication of restored graves vandalized in antisemitic attack in 2015.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin places a stone on a recently restored gravestone (photo credit: Consistoire of the Lower Rhine - Eli Butbul and Yoav Rouseno)
French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin places a stone on a recently restored gravestone
(photo credit: Consistoire of the Lower Rhine - Eli Butbul and Yoav Rouseno)

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has insisted that Jews and members of all other faiths be able to outwardly display their religious dress in public, saying that this was a strength of the French Republic.

Darmanin was speaking earlier this week at the dedication of 269 restored gravestones in a Jewish cemetery in the town of Sarre-Union, in eastern France, that were vandalized in February 2015, some of them being spray-painted with swastikas.

“France’s strength is in granting a public right to adherents of religious faiths, and of course to Jews, to maintain their religion [and] let them preserve their attire in public and preserve their Jewish appearance,” Darmanin said.

The minister denounced antisemitic attacks such as the one in which the Sarre-Union Jewish cemetery was desecrated, pointing out that for such attacks to take place, “there must be a discourse that gives legitimacy to some of these acts.

“It is our great responsibility to be careful with words, to give all the necessary support for a sympathetic and inclusive discourse, and to condemn any intolerance in any disguise,” he said.

 Gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in the town of Sarre Union in eastern France (credit: Consistoire of the Lower Rhine - Eli Butbul and Yoav Rouseno) Gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in the town of Sarre Union in eastern France (credit: Consistoire of the Lower Rhine - Eli Butbul and Yoav Rouseno)

The minister’s comments may well have been referring to an incident last week in which far-right French nationalist and likely presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, who is also Jewish, told a Muslim woman to remove her hijab during a tour of the Paris suburb of Drancy.

Hundreds of members of the Jewish community, as well as local residents of nearby Strasbourg and the Lower Rhine region of France, attended the dedication ceremony, along with French Chief Rabbi and first vice president of the Conference of European Rabbis Rabbi Haïm Korsia, French members of parliament and other dignitaries.

Also present were Rabbi Avraham Weill, who is the chief rabbi of Strasbourg and the Lower Rhine and a standing member of the Conference of European Rabbis; Prefect of the Grand Est French region Josiane Chevalier; president-elect of the Israelite Central Consistory of France Elie Korchia; and president of the Israelite Consistory of Lower Rhine Maurice Dahan.

Over the past five years, there have been two other incidents in which Jewish cemeteries were desecrated in eastern France’s Alsace region – specifically in Herrlisheim and Quatzenheim – while another in southwest France’s Westhoffen was also vandalized.

During his comments, Darmanin noted that there have been about twenty antisemitic acts in the Alsace region alone, emphasizing that the country will not tolerate such attacks.