The denial of justice is not just a betrayal of the fight that we must lead against hatred of Jews and extremism in all its forms; it is the very betrayal of France’s own definition. It is hatred not just of Jews, but of France itself, of democracy and of the values that constitute France’s republican basis.
The “eternal pact” between the Jews of France and the French Republic, based on sublime notions, has been time and again challenged and undermined by a long line of events that have smeared the history and memory of the Jews with blood. If we look at the old masters, we find Racine, in his admirable Esther, denouncing the unenviable fate of his Jewish compatriots of the Grand Siècle. Montesquieu, Diderot and even Pascal Paoli, in their courage and intellectual lucidity, speaking out against the oppression and exclusion of Jews in the Age of Enlightenment.
But this pacte éternel has been repeatedly broken: In 1894, with the anti-Semitic plot that saw the conviction of Dreyfus for high treason; in 1940 and 1941, with the decree of the first and second anti-Jewish Vichy legislation; in 1942, with the Vél d’Hiv roundup, the deportation and complicity of the Vichy regime in the Shoah, a systematic extermination of the Jewish people.
Most of us may not remember, but in 1967, with the turnaround of France and the embargo decreed against Israel on the grounds of a new so-called “Arab” policy, Charles de Gaulle shamelessly claimed in a famous press conference that the Jewish people are “an elite, self-confident and domineering people.”
In 1980, following the attack on the synagogue on rue Copernic, Prime Minister Raymond Barre declared that the target was Jews, but among the people killed were also “innocent French people who were crossing the street.”
Sadly, we don’t need to go that far back in history. At the dawn of the new millennium, a new covert anti-Semitism arose, under the pretext of a general hatred of Israel, and unleashed unrestrained violence against Jews, without much global attention. The synagogues were on fire and the Jews had to hide away because they were threatened, insulted and abused on a daily basis.
In 2006, this anti-Semitic violence took a turn in horror with the murder of Ilan Halimi, who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered simply because he was Jewish—and Jews, as the good old blood libel goes, have money.
In 2012, children of the Jewish school of Ozar-Hatorah were killed at close range by an Islamist, and again, a frightened France preferred to look away, rather than publicly show its collective indignation in the face of these heinous crimes.
It is anger and indignation that overwhelm us these days, as the French justice system has decided not to try the assassin of Sarah Halimi, on the pretext that this mad Islamist and anti-Semite, who has a full criminal record, is really a victim himself, of an “acute delirium” resulting from excessive cannabis consumption. Drug use constitutes in other circumstances an aggravating factor, but can in no case be considered as a cause exonerating criminal liability.
This moral and judicial bankruptcy seems to have awakened the conscience of our non-Jewish compatriots. Around the globe, women and men are rising to express the horror that this abominable crime inspires in them. It is not just a denial of justice, but the very betrayal of the fight that we must lead against Islamism, obscurantism and hatred of Jews that takes new forms—but most of all, the hatred of France, of the values that constitute our republican base and of democracy.
It is France that finds itself alone in this fight against its very self. It is faced with its own cowardice, compromises and renouncements; confronted with the challenge to recover and return to its glorious days as a beacon among the nations. French President Emmanuel Macron, as former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, recalled with solemnity that “without the Jews, France would no longer be France.”
So, yes, the same France that unjustly condemned Dreyfus, dishonored itself and took an active part in the deportation of the Jews to Auschwitz, is once again committing the irreparable. France, which today refuses to judge the assassin of Sarah Halimi, betrays its own citizens’ confidence in the values of their country.
Nevertheless, France has two faces. The France of Zola and Péguy, who fought to demonstrate the innocence of Dreyfus; the France that raised the Resistance fighters and the Righteous Among the Nations, is eternal.
This France, which made the “great voice of justice” heard, possesses unalterable strength and remains in the hearts of all Jews, in Paris as in Jerusalem. This France will rise to recall the martyrdom of Sarah Halimi and cry out against anti-Semitism and Islamism.
This France will assert, loud and clear, its rejection of this denial of justice that withers the memory of all the victims of this centuries-old hatred of the Jews, because this hatred contradicts the very Republican promise and dissolves the European dream.
Dr. Arié Bensemhoun is chief executive officer of ELNET France. ELNET Europe-Israel is a non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening relations between Europe and Israel based on shared democratic values and strategic interests.