France refuses ID cards unless Jews 'prove' faith
by Shirli Sitbon Paris
An Algerian-born Jewish woman has become a symbol of the French battle to secularise public affairs after refusing to provide authorities with proof of her religion in order to have her national ID renewed.
In June, a clerk in Montreuil, a suburb of Paris, asked Brigitte Abitbol, 57, to provide several documents, including a certificate to prove she was Jewish.
Ms Abitbol’s previous French ID document and her birth certificate were deemed insufficient, and the clerk said that since Jews in Algeria were granted French nationality in 1870 with the Cremieux decree, proving she was Jewish would be helpful.
After Ms Abitbol refused to provide it, court workers told her she would not get her documents.
"We’re in 2007, in a secular state and I am never going to provide a religion certificate,” said Ms Abitbol.
Ms Abitbol’s case has encouraged others to go public. On August 21, dozens of French citizens of Jewish or foreign descent testified in the Libération newspaper of similar treatment.
“My mother was born in 1919 in Poland and became a French citizen in 1921, after her family fled the pogroms,” wrote one reader. “When renewing her ID in 2001, she was asked to provide a nationality certificate. After she explained that she couldn’t get one because her family’s documents were destroyed when her village burnt down, my mother was told she would be ‘deported back to her country’. My mother showed the state worker her French ID from 1943, with the word ‘Jew’ labelled on it and she called me, crying.”
Others brought war medals and photos of family in French military uniforms to court. Even a deputy-mayor of Paris, Nathalie Kaufman, had to provide special documents.
“The case is upsetting, but we cannot consider it as antisemitism,” Sammy Ghozlan, the head of the Vigilance Bureau Against Anti-Semitism, told the JC. “This is a new trend of zeal within French bureaucracy towards all of those who renew their ID documents.”
The mediator of the republic office, handling the Abitbol case and several others, told the JC that it was perfectly legal to require religion certificates.
“We need to be certain of the person’s French identity and a certificate of religion is one way to get that confirmation regarding Jews who immigrated from North African countries,” a spokesman told the JC.
But describing this as “unthinkable”, Irit Spiro, a programme director at French Jewish Radio, told the JC: “We were shocked when Mrs Abitbol informed us of her case, and our station will broadcast a special programme in September with dozens of testimonies to denounce this measure.”