Conference of American Jewish Organizations
Elysée Palace – February 6, 2013
Presidents, since there are only presidents here,
Ladies and Gentlemen who are not yet presidents,
I am delighted to welcome you here on the occasion of the first visit to France by the Conference of Presidents, which represents 51 Jewish organizations in the United States of America.
Through you, France pays tribute to American Judaism, its dynamism, its vitality, its diversity. The Jewish community of the United States formed, like many Jewish communities, as a result of successive waves of immigration, constantly driven by hopes of a free, democratic world where Jews - persecuted for so long - could finally live in peace.
This promise also brought many Jews to France over the centuries. With the same aim: to find stability, tranquility and prosperity.
You’re aware of the importance of Judaism in France’s history. The Jewish community represented here is the 3rd largest in the world. Its roots are extremely diverse: Central and Eastern European countries, but also North African and Middle Eastern countries… France wouldn’t be France without the contribution of Jewish people, who have always loved, served and honored their country.
You’re also intimately aware of the tragedy suffered by Jews in France and Europe during the last century, the humiliation, the persecution, the violence, which caused many of your parents, your grandparents to flee – those who, in the best of scenarios, found refuge in the United States and others who remained here and were the victims of the Holocaust. In France – and it’s painful to recall this – 76,000 Jews were killed between 1942 and 1945, a quarter of the Jews in our country.
70 years ago, when our entire continent was governed by the brutal Nazi regime, as I said, the United States was a refuge for human dignity and for freedom and provided hope for those who were unable to reach it. Since then, the representatives of American Judaism have considered themselves – and you are witnesses to this – to be the protectors of Europe’s Jews and even of the world’s Jews.
Jewish communities throughout the world perceive any anti-Semitic act, any anti-Semitic comment, as an act of violence that directly concerns them. You should note that this is also the case for the French Republic which sees any act of violence committed on its territory against a Jew because he is a Jew as an attack against its very essence.
You were in Toulouse yesterday, where, one year ago, a tragedy took place that shocked and horrified us.
I can imagine how you felt about these acts committed on March 19, 2012. They weren’t random acts committed under just any circumstances. They were targeted against a community, against its most precious thing: its children. Those who committed these acts therefore wanted in some way to jeopardize the very future of the Jewish community. The whole of France was shocked and it came together. I want to reaffirm today my determination to ensure that the children of Toulouse – our children, those of the French Republic – are remembered.
I went to Toulouse, together with the Israeli prime minister, so that we could share the same emotion and so that we could uphold the same commitment: a duty to remember and a duty to remain vigilant. And a duty to stand firm. The minister of the interior, who is alongside me, remains alert, every day, to any act that may be committed and exercises vigilance to ensure that such a tragedy cannot happen again.
Under these circumstances - as you are aware - in which France is taking action in Mali to fight against terrorism, we are being even more attentive and vigilant. We don’t need to be even more intransigent; we need to be more mindful of the safety of our citizens.
The government is, moreover, fully mobilized. We have been taking measures – for several years already – to guarantee the safety of Jews in France. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault will host a meeting in a few weeks with key government ministers in order to develop an action plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism.
It’s absurd that, at the beginning of the 21st century, we have to bring ministers together to develop a plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism, while the 20th century was marked by brutality. And yet we are faced with threats. We also know that the development of new technologies, the internet can be a means to spread hate. We are therefore exercising vigilance and we will stand firm.
You pay close attention to what’s happening in the world, but you also stand alongside Israel. Because I know what Israel represents for Jews all over the world. I also understand your fear, because it is also our fear, with respect to nuclear proliferation and Iran’s determination – which has so far not been denied – to acquire a nuclear weapon.
A few days ago I received U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden and we shared our views on what could happen in Iran.
We issued another warning, called for a negotiation, demanded transparency and above all demanded that Iran clearly renounce any activity that might allow it to acquire a nuclear weapon. The sanctions will be strengthened. They have a major impact on the Iranian people, we know that. They are necessary because we must force Iran to give in.
France also stands alongside Israel in order to affirm its right to security, namely the right to defend its own existence. We also stand alongside the Palestinians in their efforts to establish a state. It’s in Israel’s own interest because as long as Palestine doesn’t have recognized borders, neither will Israel. Until Palestine achieves stability, Israel will not achieve security.
We therefore want the negotiations to resume. But all parties must want to succeed, not just in opening the negotiations but in concluding them.
As I said, France is itself also involved in the fight against terrorism. We are in Mali, not in our capacity as a key power to defend any specific interests, but to act on behalf of the international community, to ensure that no terrorist group can conquer a country, because that’s what was happening in Mali.
What brings us together, ladies and gentlemen, are principles, those of democracy, the universal values of freedom, and this is what forms the basis of our friendship, the friendship between France and the United States and also the friendship between the organization that you represent, the Conference of Presidents, and the French Republic.
By welcoming you here, we welcome friends.
Thank you for coming.