So brazen is Dieudonne that he recently suggested to Ilan Halimi’s mother, Ruth, that the two of them embrace the idea of “reconciliation” – this despite the fact that Dieudonne has openly defended one of the murderers of her son. Ruth Halimi, of course, rejected Dieudonne’s overtures, but his general appeal remains strong – and using conventional methods, like anti-discrimination legislation, to counter him merely boosts his reputation.
Dieudonne, Cukierman said, brings together the “extreme right with the black and Muslim population.” How to reverse this trend is an especially knotty question. Yonathan Arfi, a young CRIF leader traveling with Cukierman, observed that historically, European Jews have adopted a “vertical” approach to anti-Semitism, pushing for government agencies to address the problem. But nowadays, Arfi continued, the approach is becoming more “horizontal” – in other words, engaging and dealing directly with the twists and turns of public attitudes to Jews, their religion, their culture, and their political loyalties.
France, in that sense, increasingly seems like a laboratory for both contemporary anti-Semitism and our response to it. I left my conversation with the CRIF delegation with two abiding impressions: that the Jewish presence in France will be sustained, and that, as the young leaders accompanying Cukierman proved, there is no shortage of fine minds to take the community forward.
How they manage the persistence of French anti-Semitism will, however, be the most fearsome test they face.