If Jews leave, ‘France will no longer be France,’ foreign minister says

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — The soul of the French Republic would be at risk if there is a mass exodus of Jews from France, the country’s prime minister said.

“(I)f 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure,” French Foreign Minister Manuel Valls told The Atlantic in an interview with columnist Jeffrey Goldberg.



He believes that France can convince most of its Jews to remain, while acknowledging that thousands have left for Israel and other countries in recent years in reaction to anti-Semitic and violent incidents.

“The Jews of France are profoundly attached to France but they need reassurance that they are welcome here, that they are secure here,” Valls said.

“The choice was made by the French Revolution in 1789 to recognize Jews as full citizens,” Valls told Goldberg in an interview conducted before the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket massacres. He called the emancipation of the Jews of France “a founding principle.”

Jews have played a central role in France’s history, Valls said. “Jews were sometimes marginalized in France, but this was not Spain or other countries—they were never expelled, and they play a role in the life of France that is central.”

Valls has spoken out about the threat of anti-Semitism to France’s Jews. He also has worked to ban performances by French anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne, who invented an inverted Nazi salute called the quenelle.

“There is a new anti-Semitism in France,” Valls said, according to Goldberg. “We have the old anti-Semitism, and I’m obviously not downplaying it, that comes from the extreme right, but this new anti-Semitism comes from the difficult neighborhoods, from immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, who have turned anger about Gaza into something very dangerous. Israel and Palestine are just a pretext. There is something far more profound taking place now.”

Valls stressed that it is legitimate to criticize Israel’s politics and policies. But what is taking place in France, he said, “is radical criticism of the very existence of Israel, which is anti-Semitic. There is an incontestable link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Behind anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.”