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Hollande outlines plan against anti-Semitism at Jewish annual dinner

AFP

French President François Hollande outlines his government’s upcoming plan to fight anti-Semitism and racism at an annual dinner of France’s most influential Jewish organisation Monday amid mounting alarm over recent anti-Semitic attacks.

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The annual dinner of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France (CRIF) -- a major event on the French political calendar -- comes at a tense time for Jews in France, home to Europe’s largest Jewish community.

A deadly January 9 attack on a Paris kosher supermarket -- just days after jihadists stormed French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo -- was followed by the vandalisation of hundreds of graves at Jewish cemeteries in eastern and northern France in recent weeks.

The desecrations came just days after a Danish gunman targeted a cultural centre and synagogue in Copenhagen earlier this month, killing two people.

The attacks have sparked increasing alarm among Europe’s Jews -- as well as tensions between some European leaders and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been accused of exploiting the attacks ahead of next month’s election.

Following Netanyahu’s recent comments that Europe was no longer a safe place for Jews and that Israel is the only country in the world where Jews can be safe, an irate Hollande retorted: “I will not just let what was said in Israel pass, leading people to believe that Jews no longer have a place in Europe and in France in particular.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to the comments with a seething reply that her government is doing everything possible to protect Jewish sites.

Netanyahu’s frequent calls on French Jews to make aliyah (or return to the Holy Land) have infuriated Hollande in the past, including an exhortation following the 2012 Toulouse attacks, which led the French president to privately complain that Netanyahu had come to France to conduct a “two-staged election campaign”.

Hollande’s speech at Monday night’s CRIF dinner is expected to reinforce his message that French Jews are “full citizens” vital to the French Republic and that any acts of intolerance against them will be severely punished. The French president is set to outline his government’s plan to fight anti-Semitism and racism, to be officially unveiled next month.

The plan includes toughened sanctions and penalties for racist and anti-Semitic crimes as well as increased monitoring of social media sites.

Marine Le Pen ‘irreproachable’ but not invited

Hollande will outline his government’s plan to a gathering of 700 dinner guests, including longtime CRIF president, Roger Cukierman. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls will also be present at the event as well as senior politicians, including former president Nicolas Sarkozy and former French foreign minister Alain Juppe.

National Front leader Marine Le Pen however has not been invited to the event despite a comment by Cukierman earlier Monday that the current leader of the French far right party was “irreproachable”. Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has been frequently accused of anti-Semitism and is reviled across France for his infamous dismissal of the Holocaust as a “detail” of history.

The new National Front leader however has spent considerable energy trying to soften the party’s anti-Semitic image.

Cukierman’s comments on Le Pen came during an interview Monday morning with a French radio station. Speaking to Europe 1, Cukierman noted that he would never vote for the National Front, but, he added, “it is now a party that does not commit violence”.

The CRIF president’s comments on Muslims during the interview however provoked a strong condemnation from France’s leading Muslim organization, CFCM (French Council of the Muslim Faith).

'ALL VIOLENCE TODAY BY YOUNG MUSLIMS'

In a statement released shortly before the dinner was set to begin, the CFCM said its members would not attend the CRIF annual dinner due to Cukierman’s “irresponsible” statements on young Muslims.

Speaking to Europe 1, Cukierman noted that, "All violence, and we must say this, all violent acts today are committed by young Muslims. Of course that's a small minority of the Muslim community and the Muslims are the first victims," he added.

Asked whether he was "shocked" by the use of term "Islamo-fascism" by Prime Minister Valls following the Copenhagen attack, Cukierman replied, "No, not at all, it is fairly consistent with reality."

The prime minister’s use of the term "Islamo-fascism" sparked a controversial response from former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, who accused Valls of pushing a Jewish agenda because his wife is Jewish. 

The anti-Semitic comment by Dumas, a 92-year-old Socialist Party veteran, sparked condemnations by a number of French politicians, including the Socialist party spokesman.

Home to West Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim communities, France has frequently found itself embroiled in the events and conflicts gripping the Middle East.

This year, CRIF will present three awards, including one to Lassana Bathily, a Malian-born supermarket worker who saved a number of lives at the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket on January 9. Bathily, also known as “the Paris supermarket hero,” was granted French citizenship weeks after the attack.

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