When liberté, égalité, fraternité fails…

A response to the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls

Mr Prime Minister, during an interview with i24 news, you made the following remarks, “We regret the UNESCO vote, it was a mistake. No one can think France denies Jewish origins of Jerusalem”

But Mr Prime Minster, your cowardly country has contributed to thinking exactly that! France, to its great shame, is one of the countries who voted in favour of this vote of injustice. And by doing so, it has once again asserted itself as part of the growing problem of anti-Semitism in the world, because your country voted in favour of a resolution that said that my history, and the Jewish people’s historical connections to our holiest site – the Temple Mount – were nonexistent.

How dare you!

So when you say that you “regret” the UNESCO vote, we simply don’t believe you. We don’t believe your country’s sincerity. We don’t believe your so-called regrets. Your words are meaningless to us. For they are words that are as empty as the French soul, a soul sold for a fistful of dollars. And yet… you have the nerve, the gall, the sheer audacity, to dictate to us – us – about peace. We, who have been around for thousands of years before there was ever such a thing as France.  We, who worshipped in our holy city of Jerusalem, when Paris was nothing but a swampy mass of wet grass and dirt.  We, who brought to the world the laws of morality, must listen to you?

If there is one thing that the Jews know – it’s our history.  Because we are a people who do not forget.  We don’t forget our past – even if the world does everything in their power to try to make us forget.  We don’t forget the past – no matter how many meaningless resolutions get passed on bits of paper destined for the scrapheap of time.

And while we don’t forget our history, we also don’t forget yours. We remember all too painfully the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup in Paris where over 13,000 of my fellow Jews were rounded up by French police on the 16th July 1942 and imprisoned in the Velodrome d’Hiver without lavatories and without enough water. Can you even imagine the fear that the men, women and children felt, sitting for 5 days in conditions of unbelievable cruelty, unsure of their future – a future which ended when they were all shipped off to the death camps of Europe. And of those 13,000 Jews – a little over 800 returned.

It took your country 53 years to apologize for this atrocity.

We also remember how your country cut ties with the State of Israel after the Six Day War.  When Israel was faced with wolves at their gate, eager to rip us apart and drive us into the sea, leaving no one alive, we fought back for our survival.  And yet, your country decided that it was us who were the aggressors. Us! A people, outnumbered and surrounded by bloodthirsty masses of Arabs, wanting only to survive were judged guilty in your cold and uncompassionate eyes.

We also remember a couple of years later in December 1969, after your government placed an arms embargo on us, how you refused to deliver 5 gunboats that the Israeli government had paid for – gunboats that Israel needed for its defence – its survival.  You refused to honour your commitments, so the Israeli government was forced to take them in a daring night time raid.

And of course we remember all too well the case of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish captain in the French army who in 1894 was falsely accused of being a spy. He was first and foremost considered a Jew, not a Frenchman.  All the naked anti-Semitism of hatred of French society was unleashed upon him for this simple fact.  He was deemed guilty not because he was judged a spy – he was guilty because he was a Jew.  Dreyfus was subsequently exonerated 12 years later.

The French are proud of themselves, having proclaimed the principles of Liberté, égalité, fraternité, as their motto. But it is an empty motto, because where is liberty when Jews are afraid to display their Jewishness openly? Where is equality when Israel is held to a different standard than any other country – and where your government threatens Israel that it will recognise a Palestinian state if negotiations fail?  And where is fraternity – the brotherhood of man – when Israelis honour the victims of Islamic terrorism in Paris, but the French refuse to do the same for Israelis?

Prime Minister Valls, I don’t think you’re a bad person. In fact, I think quite highly of you.  I believe you’re a good person with a good heart.  I’ve watched the speech you delivered to the French National Assembly in January 2015 against anti-Semitism. I could see the shame in your eyes, and I could hear the passion in your voice and I could feel the sincerity you no doubt felt. I wish more leaders would speak out against anti-Semitism with the same vigour you did.

But words alone cannot help us. Jews today are not the Jews of yesterday, their safety subject to the whims and impulses of leaders who do not see Jews as people, but political pawns. For we are proud Jews, Jews with almost 4000 years of history behind us who will bow before no man and no country.  Whether you choose to support us or oppose us, know this.

We will fight for our past as strongly as we fight for our future – and against all who would deny us both.

About the Author
Justin Amler is a South African born, Melbourne based writer who has lived in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
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