The World Jewish Congress co-hosted a webinar on 17 June on the challenges facing the Jewish community in France today, in the fourth of a series of lectures organized in partnership with the Consulate General of France in New York and the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris.
“Being Jewish in France Today: The challenge of Antisemitism and the Promise of the Republican Spirit” was also held in partnership with the 92nd Street Y of Manhattan, with opening remarks by WJC President Ronald S. Lauder and French Ambassador to the United States Philippe Etienne.
Lauder commenced by thanking Consul General of France in New York Anne-Claire Legendre in particular for “going above and beyond her role to make this project a great success and for her wonderful friendship to the World Jewish Congress and the entire Jewish community.”
In his introduction, Ambassador Etienne spoke of the “plague” of antisemitism in France, describing the fight against it as a “critical issue for France.” He discussed several initiatives French authorities have undertaken to combat antisemitism, including the adoption of the National Plan Against Racism and Antisemitism, education of students about antisemitism and Holocaust denial, and coordination with social media companies to combat hate speech online. Etienne concluded his remarks by thanking President Lauder for his “support, strong leadership, and actions” against antisemitism.
Rabbi Peter Rubinstein, the director of Jewish Community at the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life at the 92nd Street Y, and Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur, the co-leader of the Liberal Jewish Movement of France, headlined the webinar as keynote speakers. During the discussion, Rabbi Horvilleur spoke of the need for a unified stance against all types of hatred, saying it is a “huge, huge mistake” to disconnect the fight against racism from that battle against antisemitism. She added that “there’s no way to fight this terrible disease if we don’t fight this war side by side.” Rabbi Rubinstein agreed, adding that the situation may be even worse than Rabbi Horvilleur described, because the fight against racism is really the fight against white supremacy, and if Jews are “perceived to be apart of that cadre of white supremacy, the fight against racism is a fight against the Jews.”
Rabbi Rubinstein also asked Rabbi Horvilleur to speak about her recently published book, Reflections on the Question of Antisemitism. Rabbi Horvilleur noted that while there are many different books about antisemitism, hers was different because it used Jewish sources and Rabbinic literature to analyze what our tradition has to say about antisemitism.
The webinar took place against the backdrop of a significant increase in antisemitic incidents in France, including several high-profile attacks against Jewish individuals and establishments. According to the French Interior Ministry, attacks against Jews accounted for over 60% of hate crimes in 2019, which was nearly a 27% increase from 2018.
The webinar was the final installment of the four-part series “France and Judaism: 2,000 Years of Intertwined History,” which began last year as a joint initiative of the WJC, the Consulate, and the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris. The series was launched last November with a conference at the French Consulate in New York, featuring Paul Salmona, the director of the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris, who discussed archeological revelations relating to Judaism in France.
In January, a special discussion focusing on the profound Jewish influence of the École de Paris artistic movement at the beginning of the 20th century was held at President Lauder’s Neue Galerie in Manhattan. In his remarks, Lauder spoke of the rise of antisemitism both in France and around the world. He described his visit to Paris shortly after the horrific terrorist attacks at the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent attack at the HyperCacher market. “I visited Paris shortly after that attack. I marched with world leaders and ordinary Parisians, and I was touched by the strong show of support that I saw,” Lauder said. “It is a reminder that we must continue to fight antisemitism, but we should also remember that the world is filled with good people.”
The third event in the series took place in March, with a symposium entitled “Jewish Survival and Rescue in Occupied France.” That meeting was held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage at Battery Park, and featured Holocaust historian Jacques Semelin, who spoke about Holocaust survivors from Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, a French commune that was used for a safe haven for Jews during World War II.