(JTA) – The soul of the French republic would be at risk if there were a mass exodus of Jews from France, the country’s prime minister said.
In an interview published Saturday, Manuel Valls said that the emancipation of the Jews was a “founding principle” of the republic and that if they were to leave, “The French Republic will be judged a failure.”
“If 100,000 French people of Spanish origin were to leave, I would never say that France is not France anymore,” said Valls, who is the son of Spanish immigrants. “But if 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.”
In the interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, Valls acknowledged that many Jews have left for Israel and other countries in recent years, but remained confident that most Jews will remain.
“The Jews of France are profoundly attached to France but they need reassurance that they are welcome here, that they are secure here,” Valls said.
In the interview, conducted before the attacks on a French satirical magazine and a kosher supermarket near Paris last week, Valls said that Jews may have been “marginalized” at times in France, but they were never expelled as they were from Spain and other countries.
Valls has spoken out about the threat of anti-Semitism to France’s Jews. He also has worked to ban performances by French anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne, who invented an inverted Nazi salute called the quenelle.
“There is a new anti-Semitism in France,” Valls said. “We have the old anti-Semitism – and I’m obviously not downplaying it – that comes from the extreme right, but this new anti-Semitism comes from the difficult neighbourhoods, from immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, who have turned anger about Gaza into something very dangerous. Israel and Palestine are just a pretext. There is something far more profound taking place now.”
Valls stressed that it is legitimate to criticize Israel’s politics and policies. But what is taking place in France, he said, “is radical criticism of the very existence of Israel, which is anti-Semitic. There is an incontestable link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Behind anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.”