It's an alarm signal, says France's new chief rabbi

Interview: Haim Korsia

June 27, 2014

The newly elected Chief Rabbi of France, Haim Korsia, has a stiff task ahead of him - and he knows it.

The exodus of large numbers of French Jews is an "alarm signal", he said on Wednesday.

"Jews have been killed, such as Ilan Halimi, and there were the shootings in Toulouse and in Brussels. In general, Jews feel vulnerable in our society.

"This means France hasn't found the words and actions necessary to reassure them."

Rabbi Korsia was the French army's Jewish chaplain and beat interim chief rabbi Olivier Kaufmann to the top job following the resignation of the previous incumbent, Gilles Bernheim.

Rabbi Bernheim stood down in April 2013 after admitting to plagiarism and falsifying his academic titles.

Rabbi Korsia argued that the problems facing French Jews are not unique to their minority group, and lamented the pervasiveness of violence in French society.

"A Roma young man was killed a few days ago and nobody seemed to care. That's not antisemitism. Everyone suffers," he said.

However, he emphasised that "the Jews who were murdered were targeted specifically because they were Jewish".

The rabbi emphasised youth education and training as the best method to combat hatred, as well as intercultural work, by which problem groups "get to know other segments of society.

"Training and dialogue are a priority before crimes are committed. I think that, in any case, prison is not a solution," he added.

On the subject of high-level interreligious dialogue, the rabbi was sceptical: "We've met people; we've seen improvements in some areas. But sometimes it's difficult to build bridges because there's no one to talk to."

Recently, National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen appeared to make a derogatory Holocaust-related remark about French actor Patrick Bruel. However, Rabbi Korsia insisted that "we should stop focusing on the National Front. Of course one should be aware and oppose these statements - but we and political leaders should focus on offering new ideas and policies for our society."

Last updated: 6:45am, June 27 2014