French PM: Israel and Palestine Just Pretext for Local anti-Semitism

France will no longer be France if Jews leave, PM Valls tells the Atlantic.

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French President Francois Hollande, right, and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, left, speak with Jewish leaders after an attack at a kosher supermarket, Paris, Jan. 11, 2015.Credit: AFP

France's prime minister recently expressed grave concern about the prospect that substantial numbers of Jews might leave Franceamid the rise of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment.

In an interview with the Atlantic magazine prior to the terrorist attacks last week, Manuel Valls said that in addition to the traditional anti-Semitism from the extreme right wing, France is now plagued by a new version, "from immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, who have turned anger about Gaza into something very dangerous.

"Israel and Palestine are just a pretext. There is something far more profound taking place now."

Valls is a member of the Socialist Party, and author Jeffrey Goldberg suggests that he is almost unique on the European left wing when he calls anti-Zionism a form of anti-Semitism.

"It is legitimate to criticize the politics of Israel," Valls told Goldberg. "This criticism exists in Israel itself. But this is not what we are talking about in France. This is radical criticism of the very existence of Israel, which is anti-Semitic."

Valls told the magazine that during the French Revolution in 1789, Jews were recognized as full citizens. "It is a founding principle," he said.

And if the Jews were to leave the country in large numbers, "France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure," the premier said.

On Saturday, in the wake of the terror attacks on a Paris satirical magazine and a kosher supermarket, Valls told the media that France was declaring war on radical Islam.

French President Francois Hollande has promised to step up protection for Jewish sites.

And French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the country would take a firm hand against anti-Semitic violence. 

At the same time, the government of Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has taken flak for calling on France's Jews to emigrate to Israel.

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