Sarkozy Confronts French Anti-Semitism: Under Its President's Guidance, France's Bureaucracy Is Finally Being Pushed to Take Steps to Protect Holocaust Education

By Furchtgott-Roth, Diana | Moment, May-June 2011 | Go to article overview

Sarkozy Confronts French Anti-Semitism: Under Its President's Guidance, France's Bureaucracy Is Finally Being Pushed to Take Steps to Protect Holocaust Education


Furchtgott-Roth, Diana, Moment


French President Nicolas Sarkozy is changing France's prior reputation for anti-Semitism. Not only is Sarkozy, elected to office in 2007, a strong supporter of Israel, but he is also eradicating anti-Semitism within the French bureaucracy.

There is no better example than L'Affaire Pederzoli.

Catherine Pederzoli, a 58-year-old Jewish teacher of history in a public high school in Nancy, France, was removed from her job for referring to the Holocaust as "the Shoah" and for organizing a series of annual trips to see sites of concentration camps in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Pederzoli was rescued by Dominique Lunel, who works as an interface between Sarkozy and French religious groups, including Jews, Muslims and Catholics. Lunel worked with French officials to arrange for Pederzoli to be rehired into a different school in the same city. I was fortunate to meet Lunel on a trip to France in 2006, when she worked in the private sector. She is an activist par excellence who has worked on these issues for many years.

Pederzoli was immensely popular at her school, the Lycee Henri-Loritz. She had taken students to Poland and the Czech Republic for the past 15 years to see concentration camps. Last year, 144 students, mostly non-Jews, signed up to go with her on the trip, but, citing cost and security considerations, the school permitted only 80 to attend.

Some of those who had to stay behind protested during a visit to the school by the Minister of Education, Luc Chatel, a visit unrelated to the Polish trip. This led to an inquiry and an interview of Pederzoli by the inspector general of national education, who concluded that too much time was devoted to studying the Holocaust and that other parts of the year's curriculum were being neglected.

Perhaps that was a legitimate complaint. After all, this is France, and le programme is sacrosanct. Le programme refers to the national curriculum that is sent down by the Ministry of Education to all the public schools in France for each grade and each subject. Teachers have to get through le programme or their students will be behind the next year, when that year's programme starts.

But the inspector general went beyond neglect of the year's program. He also said that in his interview with her, Pederzoli had used the word "Shoah" 14 times. In contrast, the more neutral term, in his view, was "genocide," and that had been used only twice. Pederzoli was accused of brainwashing the students. …

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