Macron sparks backlash across political spectrum over Hanukkah celebration

Hanukkah: Jewish festival of light explained

Emmanuel Macron has triggered a heated political controversy in France after allowing a Jewish ritual at the Élysée Palace.

The French leader is under fire for allowing France’s Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia to light the first candle of a menorah in the presidential palace as part of Hanukkah celebrations.

Politicians across the political spectrum condemned the gesture, saying President Macron had failed to respect France’s secular traditions.

Even prominent French Jews disagreed with the decision.

Yonathan Arfi, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF), said it had been “an error” to kick off Hanukkah in the presidential palace.

He said: “It’s in the DNA of the republic to stay away from anything religious. Jews in France have always considered secularism as a law of protection and a law of freedom.

“Anything that weakens secularism weakens the Jews of France.”

The idea of ‘secularism’ has been enshrined into French law since 1905.

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It established freedom of belief, but ended state involvement in the Church and removed all signs of religion from public buildings.

David Lisnard, a prominent right-wing opposition figure who is also mayor of Cannes, said: “As far as I know this is the first time this has ever happened. It is a breach of secularism.”

Far-left heavyweight Manuel Bompard said on X, formerly Twitter, that Macron had made “an unforgivable political mistake”

Green party deputy Sandrine Rousseau echoed this: “It would have been possible to support France’s Jewish community without allowing a religious ceremony into the Elysee”.

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The Socialist president of the Occitania region, Carole Delga said: “The Elysée is not a place of religion. You cannot compromise with secularism.”

Alexis Corbière of the far-left France Unbowed added: “Will Macron now do the same for other religions? Some yes, some no? It’s a dangerous spiral.”

The incident took place during an award ceremony on Thursday – at which the French president was handed a prize for his stance against anti-Semitism.

Footage of the ceremony showed President Macron watching on as France’s Chief Rabbi started the celebrations.

Asked about the criticism during a visit to the Notre Dame Cathedral on Friday, Mr Macron said he had no regrets “at all” and had allowed the celebration “in the spirit of the republic and of harmony”.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne defended the president, saying he had wanted to send “a signal of support” to the Jewish community at a time of “rising anti-Semitism”.

France has reported over 1,500 anti-Semitic acts and comments since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.

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