February 22, 2019 — Paris, France
This piece originally appeared in Le Figaro.
Anti-Semitism: Actions Speak Louder Than Words
By Simone Rodan-Benzaquen
It is a tragic fact that in France in 2019, anti-Semitism is becoming commonplace. Every day brings a new set of bad news: the 74% increase recorded in anti-Semitic acts, the wall of a Bagel restaurant covered with the word "Juden," the cutting down of two trees planted to honor Ilan Halimi (the young Jewish man assassinated in 2006), portraits of Simone Veil covered with swastikas, French Jewish intellectual Alain Finkielkraut insulted in the streets of Paris.
On Tuesday, 14 political parties called for protests against anti-Semitism. This initiative needed to be supported, and it is important that it did not emanate solely from the Jewish community, but from political parties.
After an 18-year increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes, it appears that some political leaders have come to the realization it is the symptom of a troubled country, of a deep-rooted democratic crisis.
However, the fundamental question now facing us is what should be done?
We must go beyond simply acknowledging, commemorating and demonstrating. We must address both the symptoms and the cause.
We must first find a means of mobilizing civil society as a whole against this plague. This is truly where the difficulty lies. Many sections of French society remain apathetic and indifferent to the rise in anti-Semitism, not grasping that what is at stake is the future of their country. For this we must revive parties and civil society organizations, the media must play their role to educate and alert, and the government must strengthen the intermediate bodies that have been significantly weakened recently.
The fight against anti-Semitism must become an absolute political priority and consequently get the resources to address it. The DILCRAH [French inter-ministerial delegation dedicated to the fight against racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-LGBT hatred], which is carrying out great work, has a very limited budget.
Heavy and exemplary sanctions must be imposed, based on a true zero-tolerance policy. Nothing should be tolerated, including those who hide behind so-called "anti-Zionism.”
We must re-establish common order, adopt the principles we wish to defend – democracy, the Republic, the legacy of “Les Lumières,” the promotion of the rule of law. These are not concepts. They are a reality to live by. However, for too long democratic voices of this country have allowed themselves to be intimidated, or even inhibited, and no longer dare to defend the principles that our nation is based on.
It is necessary to introduce certain rules of conduct on social media. We can no longer live in a society where fake news, conspiracy theories, targeted harassment, and external – namely Russian – news influences reign. We will never be able to continue to live peacefully in a country where we allow our enemies rule.
Our duty is also to speak truth to power. The survey AJC conducted with Fondapol clearly showed the different sources of anti-Semitism. On the extreme right there are still Pétain sympathizers, Holocaust deniers, and conspiracy supporters. On the far left criticism of Israel very often leads to the promotion of anti-Jewish bias. In too large of a section of the Muslim community lingering anti-Semitic prejudices are still being shared.
There cannot be a fit-all approach. It needs to be laser focused as different forms need different solutions. And everyone must also agree to fight anti-Semitism from within "their own camp." The left cannot limit its criticism to anti-Semitism of the far right. The right cannot limit its criticism to the anti-Semitism of the far left and Islamists.
We need determination. We need to promote the idea that we cannot claim social justice while making "quenelle" gestures. That participating in demonstrations shouting "Death to Jews" in Paris will in no way help the Palestinian people. That the anti-Semitism of the extreme left is no more acceptable than that of the extreme right. That we can criticize the Israeli government, like the government of any democratic country in the world, but challenging the existence of Israel is unacceptable, and believing in a Zionist conspiracy is not simply an opinion but pure anti-Semitism.
There can be no more indulgence for hate preachers, radical Imams, and anti-Semitic discourse broadcast on satellite television. Ghettos must be disintegrated, allowing for everyone to espouse French values. French Islam cannot perpetually live under the yoke of external influences such as Turkey or Saudi Arabia, and our country, home to large Jewish and Muslim communities, must be a land of meeting, discussion, and dialogue.
Finally, we need courage. Once again, actions speak louder than words. Future generations will judge us based on these actions. It is time to act.
Simone Rodan-Benzaquen is Director of AJC Europe.