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December 7, 2022 11:51 am

The US and France Must Both Tackle Antisemitism

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avatar by Ari Mittleman


France’s Chief rabbi Haim Korsia is seen with President Emmanuel Macron. Photo: Reuters/Ludovic Marin

There is a common French expression used when a task seems futile — “pisser dans un violon.” Sadly, combating the hatred of Jews and denial of the Holocaust often seems futile. In English, we have a less crass expression — “one step forward; two steps back.”

The recent visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Washington sent a strong signal about the enduring alliance between France and United States, and showcased the diversity of our democracies and our shared values, including a commitment to pluralism and religious liberty.

The visit came as antisemitism and Holocaust denial spiked in both countries.

Immediately after the state visit of President Macron, President Joe Biden publicly reminded the world that the Holocaust did happen, and that Adolf Hitler was “a demonic figure.”

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Diverse Americans alive today have fathers and grandfathers who fought and bled on French soil to defeat Nazism. American GIs courageously fought Hitler’s troops on the shores of Normandy. In Operation Dragoon, they seized Nazi control of Provence. Ultimately, in the Vosges Mountains, they moved north of Dijon into Germany.

Less than 80 years after these heroic actions by diverse American soldiers, “swastika” was one of the most popular online search terms last week. it is time for deep introspection by the United States, France, and all allied democracies committed to a free and open internet to examine how and why.

France has certainly not been immune to online antisemitic rhetoric and hate-fueled violence.

President Macron, who has been attacked by political opponents using vile antisemitic tropes, has attempted to confront the hatred of Jews and Holocaust denial head on.

At the Great Synagogue in Paris, he was the first sitting French President to make a pre-Rosh Hashanah visit.

President Macron decried his Nazi-collaborator predecessors and rising antisemitism, vigorously vowing to stamp out Holocaust denial as he paid homage Sunday to thousands of French children sent to death camps for one reason alone: because they were Jewish.

This summer marked 80 years since the Vel d’Hiv, where French police went house by house, rounding up 13,152 Jewish victims bound for Hitler’s death camps. President Macron honored the victims and spoke forcefully on keeping their memory alive.

Violence against the Jewish community, fueled largely by conspiratorial disinformation and propaganda, did not begin with World War II and did not end when Hitler was defeated. Sadly, this is another shared part of both French and American history. Antisemitic violence has taken innocent lives and terrorized Jewish communities in both countries.

Indeed, at the beginning of this year, a synagogue was attacked and held hostage. On live television, the world watched a deranged man who traveled nearly 5,000 miles from London, England, to suburban Texas because of a sole desire — to harm Jews.

Similarly, 2015 began as live television took French, American, and global viewers to another tense hostage standoff at the Hypercacher supermarket in Paris, where four innocents lost their lives because of the same hateful ideology.

Both in Texas and Paris, diverse community members, religious leaders and elected officials came together and issued meaningful statements. Silence is complicity, and speaking up is an important first step. However, actions speak louder than words.

As Americans, we cannot influence French policymaking, but we must utilize our Constitutional rights to raise our voice to hopefully have 2023 be a year of greater “domestic tranquility.” Some potential legislation includes the Non-Profit Security Grant Program Improvement Act and the Pray Safe Act.

In July 1780, the Comte de Rochambeau disembarked from his fleet in the harbor of Newport, Rhode Island. The long-awaited support by the French military for the Continental Army began in earnest. For the next 11 months, the city hosted thousands from the French military.

Unlike any other city in the new United States, Newport was the clearest demonstration of religious pluralism. With a disproportionate number of Jewish and Quaker residents, the French — nearly entirely Catholic — made strong friendships.

Within less than a decade, the US Constitution would be ratified. In August 1790, President George Washington visited Newport and thanked the Jewish community. He closed his invocation, “May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths.”

Elected leaders in both Washington and Paris must remain committed to combating the darkness of antisemitism and divisive bigotry in all its forms.

Ari Mittleman is the author “Paths of the Righteous” from Gefen Publishing House. He was recognized by The Algemeiner on the annual J100 List of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life.”

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