“A central concern of French Jews is antisemitism from all sides of the political map,” said Francis Kalifat in an interview in Jerusalem during a CRIF mission in Israel.
According to Francis Kalifat, president of CRIF, the umbrella organisation for Jewish organisations in France, antisemitism is a chronic and recurring problem in many parts of France, damaging the fabric of Jewish communities.
Antisemitism continues to emanate from both the far right and the extreme left, the latter often being masked behind anti-Zionism. Nevertheless, the antisemitism from the Muslim community has had the most malign effect, making Jews flee predominantly Muslim suburbs. These areas often have large immigrant communities of low socioeconomic status from North Africa but also have significant Jewish communities. Antisemitic incidents may not happen daily, but Jews can always be subjected to antisemitic abuse in these areas.
Many Jews leave these parts to live in more privileged areas, and those who cannot afford to move have to deal with significant problems due to the weakening of the local Jewish communities. Therefore, synagogues face reduced membership, which impacts their services. Also, it sometimes leads to the closure of local kosher grocery stores that cannot survive due to fewer customers. This is “a total failure of the French Republic in these neighbourhoods, not only over antisemitism but for the lack of public authority”, Kalifat said.
Kalifat claims that although France already has strict laws against racism and antisemitism, these are not well enforced in many instances, and the courts do not give antisemitic crimes severe enough sanctions. Political parties are involved in efforts to address the issue, but the problem is “the indifference of the general population,” Kalifat said. “To get rid of antisemitism, we need the mobilisation of all French society in all its diversity and across all sectors,” he said.
“Antisemitism is not the problem of the Jews; it’s the problem of the French Republic at large, and the public authorities must understand that these threats to Jewish life can affect the decision of people living as Jews in France and Europe and needs to be taken into account,” he added.
Despite the concerning presence of antisemitism, Kalifat expressed that “Jewish life in France is flourishing,” and Jewish communities are growing and expanding their institutions and activities. “Jewish education is doing well, and France is really the centre of Jewish life in Europe.”
Photo credit: CRIF