French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Roger Cuikerman, president of The Council of French Jewish Institutions, addressed questions from leaders of American Jewish organizations in a conference call arranged by the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations last Thursday.
Questioners expressed gratitude for the strong security response in the wake of the horrific attacks in Paris, but voiced concerns that it would only be provided for a short period of time.
“There is always a risk that, as time goes by, measures will not be implemented as well. But after the killing of 17 people, we have a newspaper that needs more protection than ever. The Jewish community as well remains a target for terrorists as well as any representative of the French government,” answered Valls. “I told parliament that France did not mobilize sufficiently after Toulouse and other anti-Semitic attacks. Today, the defense minister is committed to protect Jewish institutions for as long as there are serious threats. But, I fear that it will be needed for many months.”
Manuel Valls, a member of France’s Socialist Party, has served as prime minister since March 2014. He has been a consistent voice for the need to fight anti-Semitism in France. Over the course of the conference, Valls spoke in a formal and authoritative tone, his words translated by an interpreter.
Responding to a question about whether the French government had been working with Muslim clergy to combat the incitement of violence, he lamented that lack of official structure in Islamic religious hierarchy makes this a particularly difficult task.
“Many Imams protested what happened, and a lot of Muslim people were shocked and are scared what could happen to them as a consequence,” said Valls. “I told parliament that there is a debate for the heart of Islam, and it is not easy. We need to train Imams that work in prisons and re-consider which mosques the government funds. Those that carry out attacks get radicalized in prison and on the internet … Everything must be mobilized; religion, culture, and media.”
Pressed on France’s U.N. vote to recognize a Palestinian state, Valls responded that he felt the Israel-Palestinian conflict and international Islamic terrorism are unrelated, saying that even if this issue would be resolved, the west would still face attacks from al-Qaida and ISIS.
“What happened on the streets over the last few days makes me very optimistic,” he said in reference to the marches in Paris attended by millions. “We need a mobilization and awareness. We are ready to lead the fight together with you. What I said two years ago [following the Toulouse killings] was not agreed upon by all at the time, but because of these terrible acts the mood has changed.”
Roger Cuikerman opened his remarks saying that Jews in France are not asking “if there will be another attack, but when.”
“It is terrible to think that France will lose its Jews,” said Cuikerman. “For those that are staying, which is the vast majority, we must continue going to synagogues, kosher restaurants, and groceries. We have to fight.”