French Jews object to comparing immigration measure to Vichy policy

PARIS, March 3 (JTA) — While France has been up in arms over a hotly disputed immigration bill, the Jewish community is attempting to maintain an even-handed position. Weighing in on the controversial bill, the community has stressed the need to control illegal immigration while warning against legislation that could impinge on basic freedoms. But the main sticking point for Jewish leaders has been the comparison the bill’s opponents are making with the anti-Jewish measures adopted by the wartime Vichy regime, which collaborated with the Nazis. Many of the bill’s critics have drawn a parallel between the opening clause of the legislation — which requires French citizens to report to local authorities their foreign guests’ departure — and the legal obligation during World War II to denounce Jews and Resistance fighters. French Jews were shocked last month, when, during a mass demonstration against the legislation that brought 100,000 people to the streets of Paris, a core group of protesters carrying suitcases gathered at the Gare de l’Est rail station. It was at this same station that tens of thousands of Jews came with their suitcases during the war and began their journey to Auschwitz. During the recent demonstration, some protesters carried photographs of Vichy leader Marshal Philippe Petain with the slogan, “Refuse to collaborate!” “The comparison is unacceptable,” said Jean Kahn, president of the Consistoire, which tends to the religious needs of French Jews. It “deeply offends Jews, deportees and their families,” Kahn said. “Comparing the incomparable in this way leads to the minimization of Vichy and the Shoah, which remains a unique tragedy.” CRIF, France’s umbrella group of secular Jewish organizations, recognized the need to “fight illegal immigration while respecting human rights, but rejects all simplistic and shocking amalgams between our democracy and Philippe Petain’s anti-Semitic regime.” The legislation, which aims to stiffen France’s already tough immigration laws, is widely seen as an attempt by the conservative government to capture votes from the extreme right National Front, which recently gained control of a fourth town hall in municipal elections. As a result of the huge turnouts in the recent protests, the government has introduced an amendment to the bill scrapping the hosts’ obligation to report their foreign guests’ departure, leaving it to the visitors themselves to notify the authorities of their whereabouts. The new, slightly watered-down version was adopted by the National Assembly last week after three days of debate. The French Senate is expected to give its stamp of approval later this month. The references to Vichy in the protests are not the first time that the collaboration period has been evoked during postwar political or social strife. During the 1968 student revolt, protesters made a similar comparison when they shouted, “CRS equals SS!” The CRS is France’s riot police, who turn out in large numbers for public demonstrations. Serge July, editor of the daily newspaper Liberation, said such references were symptomatic of a nation that had “never fully rid itself of Vichy, and not yet overcome the guilt that has weighed so heavily on all postwar generations.”

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