Growing insecurity and online antisemitism were at the heart of French President Emmanuel Macron’s first Crif dinner, an annual gala organised by France’s Jewish umbrella group.
Gathered last week in the same hall in the Louvre where Mr Macron made his election victory speech last May, the president and Jewish leaders talked about the plight of Jews who have had to leave neighbourhoods where antisemitism is on the rise.
French authorities registered 311 antisemitic threats and attacks in 2017, with the number of violent aggressions up by 26 per cent compared with the previous year.
“It’s high time for the state to restore its authority,” said Francis Kalifat, who leads Crif.
“People who had been threatened told me that police advised them to move away because ‘they have been detected’.
“Something is wrong when people have no other option but to leave.”
In his remarks, Mr Macron referred directly to the police message.
“I’m ashamed if people have been given that kind of advice,” he said.
“It’s not a republic if some neighbourhoods are reserved for some and banned for others.”
“I heard of children who have had to leave their public school and enrol in a private school. Children of all faiths and all backgrounds should be able to attend public schools.”
He continued: “France is not abandoning Jewish families. No attack or threat will be tolerated. I will fight on all levels: in schools, with other countries, on an international level.”
Emmanuel Macron said French authorities are working on a new pan-European plan with the UK to tackle antisemitism and racism online.
“We were inspired by a German law. We are hoping for a legal framework that would force social networks to [detect] antisemitic messages within a day’s time.”
A French government body set up to coordinate actions against antisemitism and racism, Dilcra, is due to present a new biannual plan focusing on web-based hate later this month.
Jerusalem was another topic debated in the evening, with Mr Kalifat urging the president to follow Donald Trump’s Jerusalem move because “Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital for 3,000 years.”
But Mr Macron did not signal a change in French policy: “My friend Donald Trump – we always say we’re friends before stating our differences – he decided to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and I think that did not improve security in the region.”
“If France followed his lead, we would lose our ‘honest broker’ status. And that status is the most useful thing we have. If we lost it, that would be bad for everyone, including Israel.”
Mr Macron also said he would not intervene in a recent controversy in France over the decision to reprint antisemitic pamphlets written before the Second World War by the novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline.
Crif lobbied against the documents’ republication.
“There is no historic moral police in France that would allow me to tell an editor ‘you can’t print this’.” Mr Macron said.
To applause from the crowd, he added: “But you know how I personally feel about this issue.”