France's Macron criticised for Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony at Elysee

FILE PHOTO: French President Macron takes part in G20 leaders meeting via video conference
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

By Dominique Vidalon

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron has been criticised by opponents for what they said was a violation of the principle of secularism after attending a ceremony on Thursday to mark the start of Hanukkah, a Jewish religious holiday, at his Elysee palace.

He had earlier on Thursday received the Lord Jakobovits Prize, awarded to European heads of state who fight against antisemitism, at the palace.

But a short video clip later published on social media that also shows France's Chief Rabbi Haïm Korsia lighting the first candle at the Elysee as Macron watches, stirred the controversy.

France's laws on state secularism, passed in 1905, give everyone in France the freedom to worship as they wish, but specify that religion should play no part in the running of the state.

Hard-left Les Insoumis party deputy Manuel Bompard wrote on social network X: "Saturday, we are celebrating the anniversary date of the 1905 law on the separation of Churches and State. Macron is trampling it when organising a religious ceremony at the Elysee. An unforgivable political fault."

Even Yonathan Arfi, president of the Jewish Council in France, described the ceremony as "a mistake".

"It is not the place of the Elysee to light a Hanukkah candle, because the Republican DNA is to stay away from anything religious. This is not traditionally the role of the public authorities," said on Sud Radio.

Macron told reporters during a visit to Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on Friday that he did not regret his gesture, adding he was "respectful of secularism" but that "secularism is not about wiping out religions".

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne also defended Macron's gesture, saying it was intended to "show support" of the Jewish community at a time of mounting antisemitism in France.

Macron's decision not to attend a Nov. 12 march to condemn a surge in antisemitic acts in France since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and the resulting conflict in Gaza, had raised questions at the time.

David Lisnard, the LR conservative mayor of Cannes and head of the French Mayors Association said: "How can one refuse to participate in a civic march against antisemitism on the incongruous and fallacious grounds of safeguarding national unity, and celebrate a religious holiday in the presidential palace?"

(This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of the mayor of Cannes to 'Lisnard' from 'Lismard', in paragraph 11)

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Elizabeth Pineau; Editing by Benoit Van Overstraeten and Alison Williams)