Forward Thinking

France's Rising Star Takes on Extremists

By Robert Zaretsky

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty images
Manuel Valls

The French media are feasting on this week’s revelation that the fading star Gérard Depardieu, who brought to the screen such icons of French patriotism as Astérix and Cyrano de Bergerac, is settling in Belgium. The move, it appears, is dictated less by the scenery (there is none) than the lower tax bracket, an issue of sharpened interest now that the Socialist government has introduced a new marginal rate on the nation’s wealthiest citizens.

Amidst this distraction, the press has scanted the most recent triumph of a rising star: the Socialist Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls. This week the country’s parliament overwhelmingly voted in favor of an anti-terrorism bill that Valls had championed since he took office in May. The legislation reinforces an already impressive array of police powers, allowing the state to arrest anyone who has attended terrorist training camps abroad even if they have not yet committed a crime on French soil.

The law was a direct consequence of Mohammad Merah’s horrific murder spree earlier this year in Toulouse. Merah had trained at such a camp in Pakistan — a fact apparently know to France’s intelligence service, yet not acted upon. The government of Nicolas Sarkozy, in power at the time, had proposed a similar law, but it was shelved then abandoned during the elections that brought the Socialists to power.

Though many French Jews worried at first if the Socialists would act with the same vigor as the Gaullists, they were quickly reassured. In part, this was the work of François Hollande, who has repeatedly reassured French Jewry that his government will do everything in its power to repel the growing tide of anti-Semitic activities and rhetoric. His recent speech at Drancy, marking the 1942 round-up of French Jews under Vichy, was one notable instance of this commitment.

Standing by Hollande’s side at Drancy was Valls.

The Interior Minister, who was born in Spain and, in 1982, became a French citizen, has in fact overshadowed Hollande and the rest of the government. Valls’ physical presence plays a role in his growing prominence: he is a boyish 50, handsome and at ease in crowds and television studios. Last week, he appeared on the French news program Des Paroles et des Actes (Words and Acts), in which he not only charmed the youthful audience, but made a mockery of Marine Le Pen during a brief debate on immigration. (To her demagogic claim that immigrants were the source of France’s economic and social ills, Valls responded: “When unemployment grows, it is not the fault of immigrants—in fact, they are its victims.”)

More important, though, Valls has revived the role played by earlier Socialists who served as interior ministers. Unlike its apparent American counterpart, the French Interior Ministry is responsible not for the nation’s forests and rivers, but for its security against domestic dangers. It is, in essence, what our own Department of Homeland Security was designed to become. Ever since the Socialists first came to power in France, its interior ministers have demonstrated that they were determined — indeed, more so at times than the conservatives — to protect the Republic.

This was the case with Georges Mandel, who served as interior minister in Léon Blum’s Popular Front government. It was Mandel, who like Blum was a non-practicing Jew, who broke up the fascist leagues in 1936; and it was Mandel, who because he was a Jew and fervent republican, was murdered by the Vichy milice in 1944. More recently, the Socialist Jean-Pierre Chevènement, who served as interior minister during the late 1990s, proved to be more Gaullist than the Gaullists in his harsh policies towards illegal immigrants. Eventually, Chevènement was forced to quit the government and saw his political fortunes wane.

Valls’ popularity, for the moment, is rising. Public opinion polls repeatedly identify him as the government’s most popular minister. His popularity surged in October with his announcement of the arrest and deportation of a Tunisian imam, Mohammed Hammami, whose sermons in Paris were laced with anti-Semitism and advocated violent jihad against the West. During his appearance on Des Paroles et des actes, Valls warned against the appeal of “romanticism”—namely, the tendency, especially on the Left, to believe in our better angels and overlook the harsh realities that often face governments. If the Left is not realist, he suggested, it will not be at all. This seems a message the French are increasingly willing to hear: not only words, but acts are called for.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: toulouse, manuel valls, muslim, gerard depardieu, jewish, france, extremist

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.