The controversy has been swelling for several hours. A video shared on social media by Mendel Samama, a rabbi in Strasbourg, shows Haïm Korsia lighting the first candle of the traditional Jewish holiday of Hanukkah on Thursday evening in the banquet hall of the Élysée Palace, under the gaze of Emmanuel Macron.
Songs in Hebrew accompany the scene. "Secularism is not the negation of religions. We have to make sure that all religions can live together," Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told franceinfo when asked about the scene, which has been targeted by the opposition.
Lighting of the 1st candle of #Hanouka at the Palace of @Elysee by the Chief Rabbi of France @HaimKorsia with @EmmanuelMacron
The little light chases away a lot of darkness!@PinchasRabbi @ElieKorchia pic.twitter.com/or58WGDhKY
— Mendel Samama (@EURORabbi) December 7, 2023
"I have always believed that religions can express their convictions as long as they do not interfere with the convictions of others and as long as they do not turn into political ideology," Darmanin added. According to him, Emmanuel Macron remains "a defender of religions". "I think it's quite normal for him to stand with his Jewish compatriots," the interior minister said.
This scene took place on the occasion of the ceremony of the European Conference of Rabbis (ECR), in the presence of the Chief Rabbi of France Haim Korsia. The head of state was presented with the annual CER prize, which aims to reward the fight against anti-Semitism and the safeguarding of religious freedoms.
"We don't compromise with secularism"
Since then, reactions from all sides of the political spectrum have multiplied. The failure to respect the principle of secularism is being pointed out, two days before the 118th anniversary of the 1905 law on the separation of church and state. "We don't compromise with secularism. This commonality is precious but fragile," the president of the Occitanie region, Carole Delga, quickly reacted on X (ex-Twitter).
"No elected official of the Republic should participate, like any religious demonstration," the Socialist Party's national secretary for secularism, Jérôme Guedj, had earlier said.
1) With 2 days to go until December 9th, the anniversary of the 1905 law, I'm going to put my foot down. As nice as it is, Hanukkah is a religious holiday. In which no elected representative of the Republic should participate, like any religious demonstration. https://t.co/IaUgZSZp5i
— Jérôme Guedj (@JeromeGuedj) December 7, 2023
For the Socialist Party senator for Val-de-Marne and vice-president of the upper house, Laurence Rossignol, "Macron as president is a 10-year-old kid with a little chemist's outfit, but real nitroglycerin and real matches."
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"Tonight, the Élysée Palace has become a place of worship. And Sunday morning, Mass in Latin? Adrien Quatennens, an LFI MP from the North of France, also protested on X. "An unforgivable political mistake," said the movement's coordinator and MP Manuel Bompard. For Alexis Corbière, LFI MP for Seine-Saint-Denis, this is a "variable geometry of secularism" and a "dangerous spiral".
On Saturday, we will celebrate the anniversary of the 1905 law on the separation of church and state.
Tonight, #Macron the crowd by organizing a religious ceremony at the Elysée Palace.
An unforgivable political mistake. https://t.co/gTXAmkJqb2
— Manuel Bompard (@mbompard) December 8, 2023
"With this act, Emmanuel Macron is breaking with his role as guarantor of the neutrality of the state. I strongly condemn this attempt at religious preference," said Pierre Henriet, a Renaissance MP from the Vendée region.
On the set of BFMTV, RN MP Laurent Jacobelli, said he understood that this scene "could be surprising". "By not participating in the march against anti-Semitism, Emmanuel Macron has sent a disturbing signal to our Jewish compatriots (...) Maybe he wants to counteract this image that he may have given to our Jewish compatriots," he said. "Macron has despised our Jewish compatriots and at the same time our secularism. This president will therefore never have understood France, "added the spokesman of the RN Julien Odoul on X.
By lighting a candle for the religious holiday of #Hanoucca at the Elysée Palace to make people forget his pitiful absence from the march against anti-Semitism, #Macron despised our Jewish compatriots and at the same time our secularism. This president will therefore never have understood France. pic.twitter.com/AoFBJsrvA5
— Julien ODOUL (@JulienOdoul) December 8, 2023
Faced with the war situation in the Middle East, Gérald Darmanin had called for "extreme vigilance" from police prefects for this Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. "The very high level of the terrorist threat that continues to weigh on our country, as well as the persistence of tensions at the international level, particularly in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, require the maintenance of extreme vigilance," the interior minister wrote.