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Life Still Uncomfortable For Many Of France's Jews


Benjamin Netanyahu isn't the only foreign Jewish leader in Washington today. Roger Cukierman is here, too. He's not a government leader. He's the president of CRIF. That's the French acronym for the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions. The French Jewish community has recently experienced the attack on a Paris kosher supermarket and the murder of French Jewish hostages there. And French Jews have heard Benjamin Netanyahu's appeal to leave France and move to Israel. French immigration to Israel is up in recent years. So there's a lot talk about. Mr. Cukierman, welcome to the program.


SIEGEL: Mr. Cukierman, what is it like to live as a Jew in France today? Do you feel fear on a daily basis?

CUKIERMAN: It's not very comfortable because you cannot wear a kippah in the subway.

SIEGEL: That's a skullcap.

CUKIERMAN: Yeah, we have in front of the French Jewish schools, or the synagogues, not only police, but even the army. And for a father or mother to bring its child in a fortress guarded by people with machine guns is frightening.

SIEGEL: And the appeal of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to say give it up, come to Israel.

CUKIERMAN: You know, people who decide to leave France do not leave France because a prime minister of a country advised them to do so. They do so because they find that their situation is difficult.

SIEGEL: You have come here to urge the United States to join in an effort to somehow band anti-Semitism from the Internet and to filter out anti-Semitic calls on the Internet. Given that we cannot seem to filter out beheadings and murders committed by ISIS from the Internet, is that really practical?

CUKIERMAN: Well, you were able to eliminate pedophilia from the social networks. Why wouldn't we be able to eliminate racism and anti-Semitism from the social media? What I've seen is that the people who killed our kids in Toulouse or our people in the grocery store or the people who were killed in the Jewish Museum of Brussels or in Copenhagen, recently. They were all educated not by the press, not by the mosque, not by the television. They were educated on the social network. And I think that it's the responsibility of the people who are owning these companies to see to it that they are not helping the hate propaganda which brings people to become jihadists.

SIEGEL: You recently provoked some criticism certainly from French Muslims and from other people in France by saying that Marine Le Pen - the head of the far-right National Front - is irreproachable on the count of anti-Semitism. Do you see no threat to the Jews at all from the far-right National Front?

CUKIERMAN: No, I'm very worried by the threat that the far-right is representing. What I said is that Marine Le Pen is very careful not to pronounce anti-Semitic words like her father used to do.

SIEGEL: The founder of the National Front.

CUKIERMAN: Yeah, she's extremely careful. And she does it very intelligently. But in reality, she is really in front of a party where all the Holocaust deniers, all the people who were collaborating during the Second World War, are behind her. And this is why I will never vote for her party. And I think that it is a real danger. And we know through a recent poll, which was published, that the prejudices against Jews are very high in her party in the same way that they are high in the Muslim population in France.

SIEGEL: You sound more critical today of Marine Le Pen than you sounded in an interview with...

CUKIERMAN: No, I said...

SIEGEL: Did you misspeak in that interview or...

CUKIERMAN: No, I said one word, which was misinterpreted because I added that she is in front of a party where all of the Holocaust deniers are there. And that I would never vote for her because it's a party which doesn't share the same values that the Jews are sharing.

SIEGEL: You also said that while only a small minority of Muslims are terrorists, all the terrorists are Muslims. And this earned you some criticism from your Muslim counterpart in France, the head of the Islamic Council.

CUKIERMAN: Yeah, but, you know, I think that you have to name facts. And it's a reality. All the terrorists are Muslims.

SIEGEL: I assume you mean in France.

CUKIERMAN: Well, the ones who have hit us, yes.

SIEGEL: Who have struck at...

CUKIERMAN: Yes, who struck at the children in Toulouse, at the grocery store in Paris. It doesn't mean that all the Muslims are terrorists, of course. But I think that it's a duty of the moderate Muslims to say that they reject all these who are adopting these jihadist attitudes.

SIEGEL: Roger Cukierman, president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions - CRIF - thank you very much for talking with us.

CUKIERMAN: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.