Wednesday, June 16, 2004

A law tragically unenforced, by Pierre Lellouche

French MP Pierre Lellouche was one of France's only elected officials to propose that France participate in the war on Saddam Hussein. He met with rebuffs then and again when he proposed that France send troops to Iraq to help stabilize the country.

Last year, Lellouche also introduced a bill, unanimously passed, to stiffen penalties for racially motivated crimes. On Monday, he published the following essay.
LE MONDE | 14.06.04 | 13h02  •  UPDATED 14.06.04 | 15h32

Over the last five years in France we have witnessed not only a banalization of anti-Semitic insults, including in the schools, but, what is more serious, an explosion of violence against our fellow citizens of the Jewish persuasion.

The level of violence of this nature recorded by the National Advisory Committee on Human Rights (CNCDH) was 743 acts in 2000, 216 in 2001, 932 in 2002 and 558 in 2003. There have been 180 since the start of this year! Not a day goes by, in our Republic, that one of our fellow citizens isn't assaulted, sometimes seriously, for the sole reason that he is Jewish.

All observers agree that this situation, which arose with the start of the second Intifada in the Occupied Territories, is directly related to the Arab-Israeli conflict and to the failure of integration in our country. Nevertheless, this completely insufferable state of affairs is literally unprecedented in our country.

Even in the 1930s, when the anti-Semitic press was particularly ferocious, Jewish children were not attacked and beaten in the Republic's schools. Students were not stabbed. School busses were not attacked. Synagogues were not burned. In brief, we were not witness to this sort of latent pogrom that is complacently "understood" if not justified by a certain elite and a certain press, not in the name of anti-Drefyfusism or of fascism but this time in the name of the rights of the Palestinian people and of Arab "humiliation."

In sum, one can be pleasantly anti-Semitic in the France of 2004, with the added bonus of a clear conscience, resulting from the struggle for human rights! How can we fail to see that, in such a climate, some youths in search of their identity will take vengeance against the "feuj,"* a priori an accomplice, and therefore guilty, in the "massacres" imputed to the Israeli army in the Palestinian territories?

Because I felt that it is essential to react to this entirely unbearable and disgraceful state of our Republic, I took the initiative, as long ago as 2002, of drafting a parliamentary text seeking to stiffen the penalties for violence with anti-Semitic or racist intent visited on persons or property. This bill, personally supported by the president of the Republic and by the prime minister, was passed — and this is rare enough for me to emphasize it — unanimously by all of my colleagues, MPs and Senators, right and left alike. I would like to thank them again.


The only problem — but it is a sizable one — is that this law is quite simply not enforced. Not only is violence of an anti-Semitic nature continuing at an incredibly high pace in France, but, according to the information at my disposal, the law passed in the beginning of 2003 was used to bring criminal prosecutions only 20 times last year and led to convictions in only six cases out of 588. In 2004, prosecutors have so far pressed such charges in only seven cases...

This situation is at the very least preoccupying and results in a deep feeling of unease among many people in France. An unease worsened by other recent law-enforcement decisions that, contrary to their stated aim, seem to demonstrate what we'll call a certain tolerance, if not a thinly veiled complacency for certain statements that qualify as incitation to racial hatred or for certain violent, anti-Semitic acts in a given Paris institution of learning. As Alain Finkielkraut has said, "when they fall victim to anti-Semitic violence, France's Jews are quite firmly, and with dreasing courtesy, advised to address their grievances to Sharon."

How can one fail to understand that many French people, threatened, insulted, attacked everyday for being Jews, feel they have been abandoned by the Republic? That some are planning to leave their country or, as I have seen in my constituency in Paris, are leaving for the United States, Canada or Israel?

From many French citizens of Jewish persuasion I receive letters in which they express their astonishment that "the five assailants of the son of the rabbi in Boulogne-sur-Seine were released (for one of them, this was his second assault against a young Jew). Does this mean that our children and grand children can be struck for the sole reason that they are Jews and that their aggressors won't be pursued by the police? I don't know very well the words in the act you passed in Parliament but I thought it dealt with these assaults." Indeed...

Let us be clear: I have no intention of serving as a good-conscience alibi or as support, neither with my name nor with the legislation I introduced, for a situation in which, far from retreating, anti-Semitism is every day taking stronger hold of our country.

The first urgent measure that is required is to begin a precise evaluation of the conditions under which the law, both in police reporting and in the magistrates' decision-making, can be applied. Such a system exists for other laws (I am thinking of the law on household indebtedness, of which the follow-up has been entrusted to the presiding judge at the appellate court). The same must quickly be done for the law of February 3, 2003.

Accepting anti-Semitism in school in the name of the supposed ignorance of students who indulge in racism is not acceptable.

Once, there were yellow stars. Seeing swastikas affixed to France's Jews or their cemeteries is not tolerable.

Pierre Lellouche is member of parliament for Paris, and deputy secretary general of the UMP.

*"Jew" pronounced backwards in the slang code known as Verlan, itself the word l'envers ("reverse") reversed.

UPDATE: For those who are interested, a draft version of Lellouche's bill is available here and in PDF here.

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