Anti-racism should be national cause, French Jewish leader tells Hollande

(JTA) — The head of France’s Jewish communities, Roger Cukierman, urged President Francois Hollande to make the fight against racism and anti-Semitism a national cause.

Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella organization of French Jewish communities, made the plea in an interview he gave to the BMFTV network Tuesday, as he and other CRIF leaders prepared to greet Hollande at the annual CRIF dinner.

French presidents have attended the event for the past 29 years.

“I will ask him to consider making the fight against racism and anti-Semitism a national cause,” Cukierman said when asked about the subjects he would like to bring up during his meeting with Hollande.

Since 1977, French prime ministers have  designated one cause each year that would receive free publicity on state media. Last month, the prime minister’s office designated the fight against illiteracy as this year’s national cause.

Cukierman said the move was necessary because the media storm around Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, a comedian who has multiple convictions for anti-Semitic hate speech, risked generating a new spike in anti-Semitic incidents.

Dieudonne, who has been disseminating anti-Semitic messages for years, has recently gained unprecedented media exposure. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who also attended the CRIF dinner Tuesday, has asked mayors to ban Dieudonne’s new tour. In parallel, several star athletes taught countless spectators the “quenelle” gesture Dieudonne has invented, which some say is anti-Semitic but which Dieudonne says is anti-establishment.

“Thousands wanted to watch this show of Jew hatred and millions were exposed to [Dieudonne’s]  online videos. There is a large audience so I am concerned that, following recent events, we would have a new conflagration of anti-Semitic acts,” Cukierman said.

On Sunday, the SPCJ watchdog group counted 423 anti-Semitic incidents in its annual 2013 report on anti-Semitism in France — a 31-percent decrease over 2012.

“But 2012 saw a conflagration after the slaying of children in Toulouse,” Cukierman said in reference to the slaying of four Jews at a Jewish school by an Islamist. “So we are talking about a decrease, but on the contrary, there is growth. Behind the figures there is a difficult climate.”

Cukierman also said he would ask Hollande to have France’s education system teach tolerance values beginning in first grade.

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