October 23, 2014
This article was written by Simone Rodan Benzaquen, Gilles Finchelstein and Dominique Reynié
Ten years have passed since the release of J.C. Rufin’s report on racism and antisemitism. Rufin’s pioneering work, which was pretty groundbreaking at the time, addressed one of the major challenges of the 21st century, and could have marked a turning point in addressing it.
Instead, the situation has deteriorated. There is an accelerating cascade of resentments between groups. For many, someone who is racially, culturally or religiously different poses a threat and an injustice, so that the very notion of French people living together in harmony is becoming obsolete. At the same time, public confidence in the State and its politicians has eroded. Being “anti” the “system” is now an ideology exploited by populists and extremists. Old restraints on inflammatory language have fallen, and when anything can be said, nothing—not even the indefensible—is off limits.
This social context makes the specific case of antisemitism that much more worrisome. The French people as a whole are not antisemitic, but the number of antisemitic threats and acts is rising: the 91% increase in antisemitic acts from 2013 to 2014 is alarming. And it is only in France and Belgium that Jews have been murdered because they are Jews. Finally, a multitude of signs point to the widespread trivialization of antisemitism, not just among the poor and uneducated, but even among young people who are fully integrated into society.
To act is a republican imperative. Our response must be based on three pillars.
First pillar: Principles.
Fighting antisemitism is not only a Jewish problem, but concerns the entire nation: targeting a minority group threatens the Republic as a whole. We must not let religious differences and “competition” between victims poison the political sphere.
Second pillar: Legal Action
While France has an extensive battery of laws against antisemitism, their effectiveness depends on zero-tolerance application. Furthermore, governmental institutions must be provided sufficient means to enforce them. For example, the PHAROS device on the Internet is inadequate and lacks resources to deal with the emerging globalization of antisemitic rhetoric.
Third pillar: Education
Education against antisemitism must give priority to young people, especially those who come from low-income and immigrant families. Sessions with high school students that focus on the shared history of all French people have proven effective. We must redouble our efforts.
The future of the Republic depends on reducing racism and intergroup hostility in our society. We need to generate a new momentum that brings together all parties concerned and find solutions, so that ten years from now, when the next evaluation takes place, we can feel more hopeful about our national future.
Simone Rodan Benzaquen is Director of AJC Paris, Gilles Finchelstein is Director of the Foundation Jean-Jaurès, and Dominique Reynié is Director of the Foundation for Political Innovation