French President Emmanuel Macron was forced to defend his decision to allow a Jewish ritual at the Elysée after critics accused him of failing to respect France’s secular traditions.
Published on: 08/12/2023 – 4:40 p.m.Amended: 08/12/2023 – 17:04
Macron received an award for his stance against anti-Semitism during a ceremony at the Elysée in Paris on Thursday evening.
France’s Chief Rabbi Haïm Korsia lit the first candle of a menorah – a ceremony that opens the week of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah – as Macron looked on.
Religion and state are separated by law in France, and opposition parties were quick to criticize the president after a video of the event went viral on social media.
Far-left heavyweight Manuel Bompard said on X, formerly Twitter, that Macron had made “an unforgivable political error.”
Green MP Sandrine Rousseau, also on
Socialist MP Carole Delga declared that there could be no compromise with secularism.
“The Élysée is not a place of worship,” she declared.
Guillaume Lacroix, president of the Radical Left party, is of the same opinion.
“The Elysée is neither a church, nor a mosque, nor a temple, nor a synagogue,” he declared.
But the most striking reaction came from one of the most eminent Jewish representatives in France.
Yonathan Arfi, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF), said it was “a mistake” to kick off Hanukkah at the presidential palace.
“It is in the DNA of the republic to stay away from anything religious,” he told Sud Radio, adding that he was “surprised” by the incident. .
“The Jews of France have always considered secularism as a law of protection and a law of freedom,” he declared. “Anything that weakens secularism weakens the Jews of France. »
Asked about these criticisms during a visit to Notre-Dame Cathedral on Friday, Macron said he had “no regrets” and that he had allowed the celebration “in the spirit of the Republic and the harmony “.
He himself had not participated in any ritual or religious ceremony which, he admitted, would have been “disrespectful of secularism”.
But “that’s not what happened,” he said.
Signal of support
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne defended Macron, saying the president had wanted to send “a signal of support” to the Jewish community at a time of “rising anti-Semitism.”
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin added that the president “respects all religions”.
France has reported more than 1,500 anti-Semitic acts and remarks since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.
The police have also noted “an increase” in anti-Muslim acts in France, Darmanin. In mid-November, the Ministry of the Interior recorded “more than 140 acts since the start of the year”, even if the associations consider this figure to be far too low.
Macron has already sparked controversy on religious issues. In September, he attended a Catholic mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Marseille, southern France, at a time when the government was also pushing to ban the abaya garment worn by some Muslim women from schools.
Last month, Macron refused to take part in a major march against anti-Semitism, saying the event was being “exploited” by some politicians for their own ends. His absence was widely criticized across the political spectrum and by Jewish representatives.