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February 22, 2022 4:30 pm
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French Jewish Leader Calls for ‘Targeted Strategy’ to Combat Antisemitism, Criticizes Existing Government Efforts

avatar by Ben Cohen

CRIF President Francis Kalifat (center), Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen (second left) and philosopher and human rights advocate Bernard-Henri Lévy (far right) were among those leading the 2018 march in Paris for murdered Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll. Photo: Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes.

France’s Jewish community will call later this week for a “targeted strategy” to combat antisemitism that will emphasize the unique features of anti-Jewish bigotry along with the importance of victims filing criminal complaints with the police.

In an interview with the AFP news agency on Tuesday, Francis Kalifat — the president of Crif, the umbrella body representing French Jews — stated plainly that the three-year plans to fight racism and antisemitism launched by the French government in 2012, 2015 and 2018 had failed to tackle the problem.

“The strategy, through comprehensive plans to fight different hatreds, is not the right one,” Kalifat said. “We have to move on to a targeted strategy, because each of the hatreds responds to different triggers.”

The French Jewish leader also asserted that efforts to define anti-Zionism as antisemitism — a proposal enthusiastically supported by President Emmanuel Macron in his speech to the 2019 Crif annual dinner — had petered out. A non-binding resolution adopted by the French parliament in 2019 included opposition to the existence of a Jewish state as a form of antisemitism; however, said Kalifat, “we have the impression that these are statements with no consequences.”

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Kalifat pointed out that the French interior ministry’s own data showed that there was a 74 percent increase in complaints to the police regarding antisemitic acts, from 339 in 2020 to 559 in 2021.

However, a spokesperson for the ministry pushed back against Kalifat’s claim that “antisemitism is progressing,” telling AFP that there had actually been a decline of 14 percent last year from the 617 outrages recorded in 2019. The ministry insisted that 2020 could not be considered as a statistical comparison for antisemitic incidents because of the lockdown brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kalifat argued that the true picture of antisemitism in France could be found in the proportion of antisemitic incidents that do not result in criminal complaints.

“If we add the fact that 80 percent of the victims do not file a complaint … we have the real measure of what antisemitism represents in our country,” he said.

Kalifat will unveil his proposal on Thursday at Crif’s annual dinner in Paris. Canceled for the previous two years because of the pandemic, this week’s dinner will bring together leading politicians, diplomats and media personalities.

Macron, running for re-election in April’s presidential poll, will address the dinner in his capacity as head of state, while rival candidates — Valérie Pécresse, Anne Hidalgo and Yannick Jadot — will attend but will not speak.

Kalifat stressed that invitations had not been extended to those he described as representing the “extremes” of French politics. Marine Le Pen, head of the far-right National Rally (RN), maverick far-right candidate Eric Zemmour, who hails from an Algerian Jewish family, and Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of the extreme left France Rising coalition (LFI), were all excluded from the dinner.

“Traditionally, the representatives of extremist parties are not invited to the dinner,” Kalifat explained. “Extremes are dangerous for France and dangerous for Jews, as history has shown us.”

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