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French Jews Celebrate 200 Years of Freedom, Claiming Full Equality

French Jewry, the fourth largest Jewish community in the world, celebrated the bicentennial of its emancipation here this week with expressions of pride in its French and Jewish heritage and confidence in its acceptance as full-fledged members of French society.

Yet President Francois Mitterrand saw fit to remind the assembled leaders of France’s 700,000 Jews that a resurgence of European anti-Semitism is not impossible.

The chief of state flew to this ancient city in eastern France, long a center of Jewish life, to address a commemorative conference marking the anniversary. He used the occasion to question whether tolerance and the cause of human rights have really triumphed in the half-century “since the martyrdom of French Jewry.”

“Some words one hears, sacrilegious inscriptions and the desecration of Jewish graves lead us to believe that the filthy beast (of anti-Semitism) still lurks in the shadow,” Mitterrand said.

The president came here as the guest of CRIF, the Representative Council of French Jewish Organizations.

Defiance as well as vestiges of unease were apparent in the remarks of former Justice Minister Robert Badinter, who chaired the conference.

“The times of the shameful Jew are over. There will never again be a shameful Jew in France,” declared Badinter, who is Jewish.

“It so happens we are French. That’s the way we are, born of French parents or French by the right of soil. The way we are seen by others does not bother us anymore, except when we find in that look a hidden spark of hatred.”

The bicentennial commemorates the Sept. 27, 1791 decree by the French Revolution’s Constituent Assembly that granted citizenship and full rights to French Jewry after centuries of oppression. At the time, there were barely 40,000 Jews in France, mostly peddlers and shopkeepers.

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