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Annual dinner of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions

Publié le February 4, 2010
Speech by Prime Minister François Fillon
Paris, February 3, 2010

Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The annual dinner of the CRIF is a major event because it offers us an opportunity to engage in a friendly, republican exchange.

This year it coincides with the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the camps and the 25th anniversary of the CRIF. This double commemoration demonstrates the common need for memory and vigilance.

I want to pay tribute to those deportees who are still living, and to their families. They have a key role in society—a role of transmission and remembrance. The Government must do its utmost to help them keep this memory alive.

“True civilization is first and foremost the part of man that the camps wanted to destroy,” Malraux wrote in his Antimémoires.

This is the crux of our shared combat: the sacred protection of that part of man that cannot be denied. And I want to thank the CRIF for its commitment to that fight.

I want to convey to the entire Jewish community of France a message of friendship and solidarity in the wake of the desecration of graves at the cemetery in Cronenbourg.

Once again, stupidity and hatred have insulted the dead, upset the living.

Beyond the Jewish community, it is our nation as a whole that is hurt, humiliated and stricken to the core. Together with the Interior and Justice Ministers, I will do everything in my power to ensure that those responsible for such acts are found and receive harsh sentences.

You noted, Mr. President, the things that unite us now more than ever: the Republican triptych, the humanist heritage of the Enlightenment and the Republic.

These principles and values must be defended at all times, especially in periods of economic and social hardship such as we are currently experiencing.

Amid the temptations of withdrawal and intolerance, we must tirelessly reiterate the principles of the Republic.

I believe in our Republic. One can be passionately republican, passionately French without renouncing the deepest part of oneself.

The history of the Jews of France is inseparable from the history of the Republic and the love of France. As Marc Bloch once said: “Whatever happens, France will remain the homeland where my heart lies. I was born there, I drank at the sources of her culture, I made her past my own, I breathe only beneath her skies, and in turn, I have done my best to defend her.”

That even today some can deny, reject, trample on this attachment is something we cannot tolerate. Whenever anti-Semitism advances, it is the Republic that retreats, democracy that withers.

Anti-Semitic violence is deeply revolting and intolerable.

Our criminal justice policy is strong and responsive. It is not weakening, as attested by the harsh sentences that have been handed down in recent years.

We have decided to increase specialization among judges: In addition to cases of discrimination, those who make up the anti-discrimination units are now also dealing with violations in which anti-Semitism is an aggravating factor.

This will help boost the effectiveness of our judges in fighting racism and anti-Semitism.

And it will improve communication between jurisdictions and the representatives of cultural and religious communities on the ground.

You mentioned, Mr. Prasquier, the trial of Ilan Halimi’s executioners.
That case was like a thunderbolt: In 2006, a Jew died in France simply because he was Jewish.

He was not the victim of an isolated criminal; over a period of several weeks, many accomplices were aware of his imprisonment, participated in it, saw him being abused and tortured. And no one showed compassion. This terrifying indifference shook us all deeply.

Let me add that during the trial, one aspect of the proceedings elicited considerable astonishment: the fact that it took place behind closed doors, because the accused were minors at the time of the events.
We took these legitimate reactions into account. This very morning, the National Assembly’s legal committee adopted a provision that modifies closed-door proceedings of the Cour d’Assises for minors, making debate public while respecting the protection of victims’ and minors’ rights.

You said, Mr. President, that “France is not anti-Semitic.” But you also noted that “democracies sometimes forget they have enemies.” These are the enemies of what Karl Popper called “the open society.” They are those who have deep hatred for individual liberty, secularism, pluralism.
And they are not only thugs, criminals and the violent. Some of them are also—always have been—intellectuals and thinkers. Their weapons are disinformation, the perversion of history, the reign of rumors, moral relativism.

The Internet, that free space par excellence, has given them new tools to oppose freedom. We must pay very strict attention to the spread of racism and anti-Semitism on the Internet.

The report I asked Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin to prepare on this subject was submitted to me a few days ago. It proposes an action plan to fight this scourge.

I have tasked the appropriate ministers with implementing its proposals, and I will oversee the coordination of their actions.
I also decided to call the attention of Internet hosts to this serious problem, inviting them to implement the tools developed to fight counterfeiting.

Progress in the implementation of these measures will be assessed at the end of the first half of the year.

I want France to be in the forefront of this new dimension in the fight against anti-Semitism.

We must remain clear-sighted about the incredible ease with which the most heinous conflations come about and are expressed. I’m thinking, for example of the scandalous movements to boycott Kosher or Israeli products. I am astounded by the silence, let alone the connivance, of certain political leaders in the face of these revolting actions.

All those who engage in anti-Semitic speech should be treated with the most extreme harshness. Whatever our opinions, we must fight, and for that you know you can always count on me.

Racism and anti-Semitism take the most varied paths, which require better coordinated responses on the part of public institutions. For that purpose, Brice Hortefeux appointed Michel Morin, the former prefect of the Isère, to coordinate the fight against racism and anti-Semitism. He will be attentive to the concerns of those who fight these scourges.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Georges Loinger’s presence here this evening naturally calls on us to remember. His exceptional deeds inspire humility, respect and admiration. Sir, you saved hundreds of children by getting them into Switzerland. Your courage is a source of inspiration.

As first-hand memories of the genocide fade, bit by bit, with the loss of the witnesses of that era, our responsibility toward future generations grows. Now more than ever, we must resist those who try to banalize the Holocaust. Now more than ever, we must preserve the physical sites of remembrance.

There are concerns about the financing of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation.

I want to tell you that France will not let indifference erase the place that is the symbol of the worst horror engendered by humanity.

France is ready to provide its full share of the funding needed for its preservation.

This is a challenge for the entire European continent. Auschwitz is an essential place of remembrance for Europe. It symbolizes our common resolve to never again repeat the intolerable: the reign of absolute barbarism in Europe.

That is why I ask you to write President Barroso to ask him to swiftly propose before the European Parliament and Council that a significant share of the EU budget be allocated to the Auschwitz Foundation.
But France itself will heed the call. I want her to assume her responsibility.

I have asked Simone Veil to present me with proposals on the best way to respond to the Polish request, a mission she kindly accepted.

In France, I want the state-approved status granted in February 2009 to the Fondation du Camp des Milles – Mémoire et Education to help concretize the project of restoring the sole French internment and deportation camp that remains intact and restorable.

I also hail the initiative of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah, which, in partnership with the Mémorial de la Shoah, will soon be creating a Center of History and Memory in Drancy, the antechamber of death for the vast majority of those deported from France.

The duty to remember is also carried out through the transmission of eyewitness accounts and fighting Holocaust denial.

Through its diplomatic network, France is engaged in this battle.

Yesterday in Casablanca and Tunis, tomorrow in Cairo, on February 7 in Baghdad, our cultural institutes abroad are hosting evenings focused on the works of Primo Levi, with the participation of Arab intellectuals and that tireless advocate for remembrance, Serge Klarsfeld.

I would also like to mention the remarkable work of the NGO Aladin, which oversaw the translation of major works such as those of Primo Levi and Anne Frank into Arabic and Farsi.

Educate, sensitize and pass on: That is the essence of the proposal President Sarkozy formulated here two years ago on Holocaust education in primary schools.

These teachings, which take the approach of the Waysbord report, have become widespread and new resources have been developed.
A database of 11,400 Jewish children who were deported during the war was developed by the Mémorial de la Shoah and made accessible to teachers.

These new resources have made it possible to revive and renew teaching of the Holocaust at school and to stress its universal dimension.

France fully owns its history, both the shadowy areas we are all familiar with and the points of light, such as the help given to Jews by all our country’s Righteous, whether practicing or atheist.

France has acknowledged its responsibility in the deportation of Jews and has owned it, notably through the 2000 creation of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shah, as reparation for damages, and through the complete restitution of looted assets that had remained without beneficiaries.

In less than 10 years, the foundation has fully played its role. 150 million euros were allocated to support the Mémorial de la Shoah and to assist more than 1,700 projects relating to solidarity toward survivors, history, remembrance, Holocaust education and Jewish culture.

For 10 years, the committee to compensate victims of looting (CIVS) returned more than 450 million euros to tens of thousands of applicants. I hail the work of this remarkable institution.

Finally, last August I decided to reassess the allowances paid to orphans whose parents were deported, shot or slaughtered because of their Jewishness, established in 2000. This will be done each year until 2012.

Mr. President, you underscored the difficulties experienced by some of your fellow-citizens in receiving or renewing natural identity cards. I fully understand the emotion of the French citizens in question. These situations are deeply hurtful. And frankly, they are unacceptable.
I have asked Brice Hortefeux to implement the necessary measures to prevent these difficulties. They must no longer be repeated.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
France is proud to be considered one of Israel’s best friends.

It was the strong desire to strengthen ties between all aspects of French and Israeli society that gave birth to the France-Israel foundation.

Its president, Nicole Guedj, who is engaged in the renewal of this foundation, is currently working to launch a very promising Europe-Israel initiative that will, I hope, lead to concrete initiatives in the coming months.

Mr. President, you mentioned Durban II.
The fight against anti-Semitism must be one of the United Nations’ priorities.

At the Durban Review Conference in May 2009, in keeping with the promise I made here last year, France refused the intolerable. Following the unacceptable remarks by the Iranian President, the EU ambassadors in attendance left the room.

And in Geneva, we obtained a final document that stigmatizes no nation and enshrines, in particular, the remembrance of the Holocaust.

This is progress compared with Durban I, although many challenges remain.

For the Middle East peace process, 2009 was unfortunately a lost year, marked by the Gaza conflict. With respect to the Gladstone Report, I know how intense the debate is in Israel. France, speaking through the President of the Republic, is continuing to demand that the parties undertake an independent investigation into allegations of international humanitarian law during the Gaza crisis. I have full confidence in the ability of Israel, a great democracy, to do its part in establishing the truth.

Despite the ongoing deadlock in the peace process, we have no right to give up. There are some positive signs, and we must take advantage of them. They include:

- the full mobilization of regional and international players, notably the United States
- the moratorium on settlements announced by Benjamin Netanyahu in November
- the confirmation of Mahmoud Abbas as head of the Palestinian Authority and the commitment by his Prime Minister, Mr. Fayyad, whom I received last week, to reform the Palestinian State.

These elements are not sufficient, but they should contribute to the urgent resumption of negotiations.

We have been engaged in an intense diplomatic effort in recent months, receiving all the major players in Paris and making numerous journeys to the region.

I myself will be visiting Syria and Jordan in two weeks and will stress our total determination and commitment to bringing the parties back to the negotiating table.

President Sarkozy has said that France is prepared to host a peace conference that supports international efforts and would accompany the resumption of discussions among the principal players.

For me, Israel’s only path to security is the path of peace.

Our vision is simple and clear, based on international law: that of a viable, independent and democratic Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace with Israel within secure and recognized borders, on the basis of the 1967 borders and in accordance with Security Council resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.

This viable Palestinian State is, of course, in the interest of the Palestinians, but also in that of Israel, the region and world peace.

That is why France took the initiative to organize the international donors’ conference for the Palestinian State in late 2007; careful oversight is ensuring the proper use of funds and has made it possible to launch the French-Palestinian project for an industrial zone in Bethlehem.

Together with President Sarkozy, we are demanding that the EU act no longer merely as a provider of funds, but also as a political player of the first order in seeking a solution to the Middle East conflict.

That is what it did last December when it adopted a common position on the peace process that officializes its commitment to Israel’s security.

This very important, well-balanced text on which France expended considerable effort includes the formulation that President Sarkozy used at the Knesset on June 23, 2008, when he declared that there would be no peace without Jerusalem, capital of the two States.

Peace cannot be built without compromise on both sides. Compromise is not a betrayal of one’s principles; it requires courage. The two peoples have so much to gain by agreeing, and so much to lose if they keep fighting.

Germany and France sacrificed millions of their children during WWI, and this year, the German Chancellor and the President of the French Republic attended the Armistice Day ceremony together.

I want to believe in hope; I want to believe in peace!

We must promote this peace with the help of all the regional players and by mobilizing the Union for the Mediterranean. We must also promote it with Syria and Lebanon.

Syria is a crucial player when it comes to stability and peace throughout the region.

The risk the President took in engaging in dialogue with Syria has begun to bear fruit. But we must go further. There will be no lasting peace without an Israeli-Syrian resolution, which we are ready to help revive, on the basis of international law.

As for Lebanon, a few days ago I reaffirmed to Saad Hariri France’s full support for his country’s independence, unity and stability.

We fully support the efforts of the Lebanese authorities to reestablish the State’s authority over all its territory.

For Israel’s security is an absolute priority for France. It is inseparable from the recognition of its legitimacy.

That is why we fully share Israel’s concern over the development of the Iranian nuclear program.

Unfortunately, Iran did not grasp the outstretched hand offered by President Obama.

France’s two objectives have not changed since the beginning of the crisis: preventing Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon—an unacceptable prospect—and searching for a diplomatic solution, for a conflict would have disastrous consequences in the region and beyond.
While we spared no effort to advance this vision, the Iranian regime did not wish to take us up on our offers of dialogue. To the contrary, it continued on its reckless path.

The time has therefore come to act.

We are seeking to have the United Nations adopt a new resolution containing strong sanctions, and the EU too must assume its responsibilities.

It is not too late to prevent Iran from acquiring a military nuclear capability through political means. But time is short.

Finally, like you, my thoughts—both hopeful and full of emotion—go out to our compatriot Gilad Shalit and his family, with whom we are in constant contact. France is working relentlessly on behalf of his release. It must take place now.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Republic is One, and everyone has his or her place in the Republic. You are well aware of this—you whose history has for so long been intimately intertwined with that of France.

You know that the Republic provides a place for all of its children. It respects their differences and cultures of origin, and has been nurtured and enriched by them.

You know, too, that in exchange, it demands universal respect for its principles: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. For each of these principles is the best guarantee of respect for the individual.

The Republic offers everyone the right and the opportunity to flourish. In order for this right to endure, we must all be vigilant.

These four cardinal values have meaning only if they are articulated in the service of the nation.

What would Liberty be without Fraternity? What would Equality be without Liberty? And what would Equality be without Secularism?

These are treasures and we must protect them. We are French because we want to live together. With respect for one another. With understanding for one another.

We must defend these values against those who, behind the screen of so-called liberty, conceal a militant extremism.

Identity politics rejects equality and makes a mockery of fraternity.

It is up to us to defend this France in which we believe, the France I evoked in citing Marc Bloch, whose words remain strikingly relevant. They speak to us of this French identity that we must always nurture and always maintain if we want our country to retain its universal message.

Let us be proud of who we are, of the cement that holds us together. Of the wealth of our history and values. Because they are worth it.

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