French President Emmanuel Macron was criticized this week, even within his own ranks, after he attended a Hannukah lighting in the Elysée, the presidential palace in Paris.
Macron had been invited to receive an award for fighting antisemitism and safeguarding religious freedoms. During the event on Thursday evening, France’s chief rabbi Haïm Korsia lit the first candle of the menorah as part of the Jewish festival of light and members of the audience sang traditional Hanukkah songs in Hebrew.
Because of the French state’s sacrosanct principle of being strictly secular, Macron’s presence at a religious ritual in an official building had sparked criticism from all sides including from some Jewish groups.
But he French President said on Friday that he didn’t regret what happened “at all.”
“I think that on this point we need to keep our heads cool,” he said. “Secularism isn’t about erasing religions. It’s about the fact that everyone has the right and freedom to believe and not to believe.”
Yonathan Arfi, president of Crif, the umbrella representative group of French Jewish institutions in France, who attended the event, said that the lighting of the candle was “a mistake” and “should not have happened.”
“The Élysée is not the place to light a Hanukkah candle because the Republican DNA is to stay away from anything religious,” he told reporters.
Faced with the criticism, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that the French president “is a defender of religions … he respects them all as head of state, and there is no violation of secularism.’’