Manuel Valls, Moral Courage Award
UN Watch Gala Dinner, Geneva, Switzerland, May 7, 2018.
Ladies and gentlemen and dear friends,
I would like to thank you for this welcome and to express how pleased I am to share this evening with fantastic people who are truly heroes. The comments I have heard throughout the evening have encouraged me in the notion that the prize that I just received is an invitation to keep moving forward with my commitment. This is simply my obligation rather than my right in any way. I would like to thank Daniel Abittan for his words of praise, and of course, give a huge thank you to UN Watch for this award. I also want to thank Ambassador Moses and Executive Director Hillel Neuer who share my passion for words and action regarding our shared values.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Persecuted throughout our history, designated as scapegoats, deprived of civil rights, accused and imprisoned, deported to death camps by their own country, beaten, humiliated, murdered; the Jews of France have been spared from nothing, absolutely nothing, despite being one of the oldest communities in Europe.
France has had a unique relationship with anti-Semitism. For a long time in our country – and not only in ours, of course – the Jews have been met with violent hostility.
The French Revolution allowed for a considerable improvement in their situation under the impulse of very distinct men such as Abbé Gregoire, Robespierre or Mirabeau, who eventually allowed for their emancipation; in 1791, the Jews of France received French citizenship.
However, this gradual improvement in the situation of the Jews did not go hand in hand with the disappearance of prejudices concerning them, or the anti-Jewish sentiment that prevailed at the time, linked to the ancient Christian anti-Semitism dissected by Leo Poliakov. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, arbitrary decisions were raining down on them, especially during the reign of Napoleon, even though – and this is crucial – even though he would organize the Israelite Consistory of France and allow for both the emancipation and assimilation of this community.
At the end of the nineteenth century, an anti-Semitism sentiment conveyed prejudices about Jews, money and political power, associating them to the Rothschilds and financiers who were dominating the world. It was at this time that many anti-Semitic books were published, including Édouard Drumont’s La France juive in 1886, the book founding contemporary anti-Semitism, which enjoyed considerable editorial success. It was also during this time that the anti-Semite Charles Maurras asserted himself. Throughout the Dreyfus Affair, the socialists of the time remained passive or skeptical at best, while anti-Jewish hatred swept everywhere. However, it was at this time that Clemenceau resisted the crowds and the great intellectual Émile Zola refused any compromise with his famous “J’accuse“, published by Clémenceau’s newspaper l’Aurore on January 13, 1898. Zola had already published an article two years prior in the Figaro entitled “For the Jews“. These incredible men were fundamentally correct; they saved the Republic and human conscience at that time. For that, I admire them, and for that, we must not forget what they did. They are joined by Péguy, who was just quoted a moment ago, Proust, Lazare, and finally Jaurès. Théodore Herzl, a young Austrian journalist, would closely follow their long victorious struggle. But the Dreyfus Affair, as you already know, played a vital role in his belief that the Jews needed their own land. Being able to say this today, as we celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary and remember the reasons why Herzl wanted a home for the Jews as he saw what was happening, especially in France, is particularly moving.
Even today, the relationship to anti-Semitism among some French politicians are ambiguous. There is a trend within the French left and far left, which exists in other countries as well, that uses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to express its hatred towards Israel and has led to abuse. I am thinking, of course, of movements like the BDS and their illegal boycotts of Israel that contain hints of anti-Semitism. There is not simply a desire to criticize or question the policies of the Israeli government. Any criticism is legitimate and is first expressed as it should be in Israel, which is, I remind you, the only true democracy in the Near and Middle East.
But anti-Semitic abuse still exists, together with alliances formed between the extreme left and the extreme right, and among individuals such as Dieudonné and Soral, as we recall, who built a ready-made ideological way of thinking that has caused considerable damage, especially among our suburban youth.
Ladies and gentlemen, in spite of this description which can sometimes be difficult to hear, I know that the French Jewish population has a deep, steadfast and sincere attachment to France. Since the creation of the Consistory in 1808 by Napoleon and the great March 17th prayer for the Emperor, the Jewish community has celebrated France. Every week, during Shabbat services or official ceremonies, the prayer of the Jews for the Republic resounds in French:
“May France live in happiness and prosperity. May it be strong and great by union and accord.
May the rays of Thy light enlighten those who preside over the destinies of the state and bring order and justice.
May France enjoy lasting peace and maintain her glorious rank among nations.”
The Jewish community has long been unconnected within Europe. In France, it has found promises of equality, freedom, emancipation, and integration. My country has been able to offer them civil rights and a normalization of their places of worship. Never have the Jewish French renounced their attachment to our State, they have always resounded in the name of the same patriotism, and sometimes more than any other citizen. Raymond Aron, for example, although he knew that he was a Jew and did not try to conceal it, always felt himself a French citizen. He said that it was not the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem that made him cry, but the great pages of the history of France. And yet it was in 1930, while studying in Germany at the University of Berlin, when he explained that it was Hitler who “revealed his Judaism.”
France must be worthy of this spirit, and that is why I watch what is happening in my country with such pain because I know that the French identity is also deeply linked to French Judaism. 75 years after the deportations to the concentration camps, French Jews are once again afraid and have had to face a terrible regression. Today, anti-Semitism has been responsible for twelve murders of French Jews, from Sébastien Selam in 2003 to Mireille Knoll in 2018, all killed by French Muslims who were either practicing radical Islam or harboring a deep hatred towards Jews.
Without modesty, I will say that I was among the first to talk about this new anti-Semitism, but I do not derive any pride from it. On the contrary, I feel an immense responsibility to denounce it once again and to continue to act. I have always fought against anti-Semitism not because I want to be “a friend of Israel,” as I often hear. Of course I am, and I embrace it in front of you – it is not so difficult to embrace this in front of you, though elsewhere it is sometimes more difficult – but I do it simply because I love my country, I love France, and I refuse to allow the return of that which has been the greatest dishonor in its history, which is 1940 and anti-Jewish laws. The situation we face is terrible. The Jewish community and French Jews have ceased to believe that our country can protect them.
I co-signed a manifesto in April 2018 along with 300 other personalities, including politicians, artists, intellectuals, Muslim, Catholic and Jewish religious leaders such as Nicolas Sarkozy, Bernard Cazeneuve, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Philippe Val, Alain Finkielkraut, Charles Aznavour, etc. This morning we were all accused by a Turkish minister of being as terrible as Daesh for having signed this manifesto. In the text, we denounce a “quiet ethnic purging,” as has just been recalled. If this is not so, how can one explain that whole families from Paris suburbs, obviously victims of terrible pressure, make the decision every year to leave France, or at first just their district? 10% of the Jews from Île-de-France, which represents 50,000 people, had to flee their neighborhood to escape this pressure and fanaticism.
Anti-Semitism is at the heart of the ideologies of Islamism, of jihadism, of the family of the Toulouse and Montauban terrorist who grew up with a deep hatred towards Jews and France. We have turned a blind eye to this anti-Semitism of Muslim origin, yet it exists. The figures prove it once again: in a 2014 study by the Fondapol foundation and the Ifop polling institute, it was found that 67% of Muslims in France think that Jews have too much power in the economy and in finance (with the national average being only 25%), and this percentage rises to 74% among the most religious Muslims. Also, where 19% of French people agree with the statement that “Jews have too much power in the field of politics,” this rate rose to 51% among Muslim respondents. But above all, 46% of Muslims agreed with four or more anti-Semitic prejudices, where the national average is 15% and close to 38% of the National Front. This is indicative of the challenge we are facing. We also denounced certain passages of the Qur’an, and even more so of the Hadiths or words of the Prophet, which are used by some preachers every Friday. Anti-Semitic preachings in mosques or over the internet are neither an urban legend nor are they isolated cases.
More generally in Europe, despite all of the “never agains,” we are experiencing a disturbing return of anti-Jewish phenomena. The anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp on January 27th was marked, as you know, by incidents and controversies in Poland and Austria. The lower house of the Polish Parliament passed a law that sanctioned the use of the term “Polish death camp” because it would give the impression that Poland is responsible for the Holocaust. This text blurs the reality of history because Poland participated, just as other European countries did, in the deportation and extermination of Jews. It took Jacques Chirac’s particularly courageous speech in 1995 to admit France’s responsibility in the deportation and death of Jews. In Austria, members of the Pan-Germanist movement Germania have been indicted following the discovery of the existence of a Nazi-related corpus within their local cell, and today the far-right is in power in this country. These are just a few examples among many. I am also thinking about the increase in anti-Semitic acts in Berlin, the attempt to burn down a synagogue in Sweden or the schools emptied of Jewish children in Brussels. Let us make sure that the disappearance of the last Holocaust survivors does not cause the trauma that Europe has experienced to fade, that anti-Semitism may never become an opinion that is the same as any other, and that the neo-Nazi movements of the extreme right are hunted down.
Anti-Semitism, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, has always been the preamble to the greatest catastrophes in our history. Those who think that it concerns only the Jewish population, that it is a Jewish issue, are mistaken.
Today, I call for a general awareness. Essentially, new Dreyfusards will rise up. Anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish issue; it’s everyone’s issue. Today it is our turn to accuse those who disseminate hatred in our societies, and thus the hatred of France or of any country in Europe where these anti-Semitic acts take place, and therefore hatred of ourselves. I reminded you that attacks against Jewish people have greatly increased against the background of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unfortunately, these have been understated for too long. Anti-Semitism has spread into our neighborhoods and suburbs. It is held by a fringe of younger and younger people in France, of North African descent or of Muslim culture or faith, who express their hatred of Israel, and therefore their hatred of Jews.
Within this fight, there is no mistaking that at times I have not felt sufficiently supported. One such example is when I started my battle against the anti-Semite Dieudonné while I was the Minister of the Interior. Dieudonné is neither a “controversial humorist” nor a “comedian” as the press writes. What he conveys during his shows is not artistic creation, but rather pure hatred.
But I cannot forget that after the murder of Ilan Halimi in 2006 or the 2012 attacks in Toulouse, there was not the moral and political awakening that we should have expected. Since January 2015, there has finally been awareness, but we had to wait for new victims, new deaths. French society has finally come together. There was the big demonstration in Paris on January 11th, or my January 13th, 2015 speech to the National Assembly which received support – the event, that is, not the words that I spoke – of all of the national representatives, both right and left.
Following the publication of the manifesto against anti-Semitism that I previously mentioned, 30 imams wished to react via opinion column. Beyond the wounds evoked and the criticisms expressed against the manifesto, for the first time they admitted three essential things, ambiguously, but admitted none the less:
- Some imams through their sermons have “generated a religious anarchy, poisoning the whole society,” they said.
- They also added that they do emphasize the responsibility of some imams in the radicalization of some French Muslims and the rise of anti-Semitism.
- Finally, they admitted that this situation “engages all of us in these circumstances of insecurity that we are experiencing, including Muslim religious contributors, in the fight against radicalism and anti-Semitism.”
That’s the big challenge we have to face. We must talk about this new anti-Semitism because it is one of the foundations of radical Islam that poisons the whole of this religion. We must reach out and help to create an Islam of France or a European Islam, respectful of European values, respectful of our French republican pact and free from the hatred of other religions. This is an essential struggle within Islam itself.
This new anti-Semitism is, I must say, a vile mixture that, using conspiracy, does considerable damage to youth with its concoction of anti-Semitism, hatred for Israel and hatred of all Jews. In July 2017, I was happy to hear the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, in the presence of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the occasion of the anniversary of the terrible Vel d’Hiv raid, take up the same words that I had the opportunity to use and that you have already heard: anti-Zionism is synonymous with anti-Semitism. We must not let this go, and I want to commend the action of UN Watch in this regard.
Jews are no longer demonized as Semites, but instead as Zionists. In the new anti-Semitic discourse that needs to be deconstructed, the Zionist has replaced the Jew.
The new enemies of the Jewish people do not see them as an enemy “race” but as a “racist and powerful” people. “The big difference between racism and anti-Semitism is precisely that in the anti-Semitic worldview, Jews are no longer a submissive ‘race,’ but, on the contrary, they are imagined as extremely powerful,” says Canadian historian Moishe Postone. Within this thesis, it is indeed the State of Israel that is credited with a superhuman and always manipulative power. This is what allows these enemies of the Jewish people to present themselves in their fight as anti-racists or anti-fascists, in a fight against the new quote-unquote “Nazis,” the Israelis, whose main victims are the Palestinians. This has blown apart the ideological landscape for years: anti-racism is put at the service of the Judeophobia so well described by Pierre-André Taguieff. The first objective of the new anti-Jews is the elimination of the Jewish state, after a process of de-legitimization and criminalization of the latter, demonized as racist, fascist, or even Nazis: Zionism = racism = colonialism = apartheid, etc.
Remember the Durban conference in South Africa in 2001, you yourself experienced it: it is the action of this organization, UN Watch, which has to lead this fight every day within the UN or UNESCO. It is in the name of this anti-racism that what we have called Islamo-leftism is born, and it is always in the name of this blend of racism that the calls to hatred against the Jews or against Israel are launched.
In a conference posted online on July 26th, 2017, this being just one example among many, a Saudi Sheikh recalls the religious justification of the total war against the Jews, and not just against the “Zionists”: “the Prophet Muhammad predicted that we would kill the Jews,” he said. “Whoever claims that our war is directed against the Zionists rather than against the Jews is wrong. Our war is against the Jews.” He is a preacher on Saudi television.
More recently, during a speech to the Palestinian National Council, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ranted about the roots of anti-Semitism. While claiming to rely on Jewish writers, like all anti-Semites everywhere, he has his references and asserted that the hatred of Jews that was “widespread throughout Europe” was not of a historically religious nature but was explained by their “social function, which was tied to usury and the bank.” We can see the link between the old and the new anti-Semitism, that is to say, the story is always the same. That needs to stop, and Mr. Abbas’s apology will not convince anyone.
Ladies and gentlemen, thanks to the measures I put in place when I was Prime Minister, but also thanks to the strong stance taken by French politicians on behalf of the French Jewish population, and the same determination of the current government, attitudes have evolved and anti-Semitic acts are receding; these figures could be encouraging, at least in appearance, but we must look at them with the greatest lucidity because they give an imperfect idea about reality, and there are no statistics that take into account the anti-Semitic climate prevailing in certain neighborhoods, the looks, the insults and the departures that I previously mentioned.
The first battle in the coming years will happen over the internet. Every day at our expense – and I pay the price just as others do – we see an ocean of hatred on social networks. I would never have suspected that one day this violence would take such a turn. As we know, verbal, anonymous, digital violence precedes physical violence and large catastrophes.
In this fight, everyone has a role to play. We will only overcome this cancer if we have the means to fight equally against every blind spot, and everyone must take responsibility. However, we also need to fight against what I call the Republic’s blind spots. Also, the many associations that are involved must remain so, and we must help associations or NGOs that fight against racism, anti-Semitism, and hatred.
The return of anti-Semitism in Europe, an anti-Semitism that could almost be described as “everyday,” 75 years after our continent saw 6 million Jews exterminated in death camps, is terrifying and forces us to think about Europe, which must be our destiny more than ever, but also about the values that must bring together that which is a civilization. This hatred is developing elsewhere in the world. The United States is also familiar with this anti-Semitism, carried out by violent right-wing extremist groups that want to give glory to Hitler through boycotting movements against Israel, but also through a number of religious theories found within Christianity.
This poison, and I am coming to a close, ladies and gentlemen, spares no person, spares no society, it is everywhere. In regards to that which brings us together in the face of hatred, we must all stand together. The solution cannot be the departure of the Jews; the solution cannot be to say goodbye to all those Jewish communities in Europe that have built European civilization. Judaism is deeply rooted in that which is European civilization, and to see the Jews of Europe leaving would be a moral, intellectual and civilizational defeat from which we could not recover. It is, therefore, a major battle. It is a battle of survival for who we are. I want to thank UN Watch for its action, for this award and for this invitation to come to speak to you about a subject that concerns me, one of my life’s biggest battles. That’s how it is in politics; there are fights that go beyond yourself, that are greater than you are, that force you to commit, to take risks. In the end, this is what makes political action beautiful, when one deals with the essentials. And this fight which is yours, which is ours, which is mine, yes, it is the fight of a lifetime, because just as Kafka so aptly wrote, “He who strikes a Jew strikes down all of mankind.”