The Tundra Tabloids first heard of Dr.Cammarella through a friend who spoke of “a French doctor contemplating a move from France due to the rise in anti-Semitism and violent attacks over the recent years”. The TT was of course interested in discovering more about the man’s situation, and contacted him to see whether or not he would be willing to be interviewed and have his story published here at the Tundra Tabloids. Dr.Cammarella kindly agreed.
During the interview Dr.Ami Cammarella discusses his childhood, growing up in a secular home, as well as his university years studying to be a doctor, the friendships he made with Arab colleagues as well as the rediscovering to his Jewish roots and the anti-Semitism that went along with it. Dr.Cammarella is planning on leaving France within the next few months.
TT: Welcome Dr.Cammarella to the Tundra Tabloids, thank you for agreeing to do this interview.
Dr.Cammarella: Thank you for offering, great to be here, your blog is GREAT indeed.
TT: Dr.Cammarella, Ami,..please tell my readers about yourself. I hear that you had relatives lost in the Holocaust (Shoah) during WWII, could you enlighten us a bit about that, and who these people were and how you, as a born Israeli, came to live in France etc.?
Dr.Cammarella: Indeed, in particular, the most important thing for me about the story of the Shoah, was that my grandmother was killed, she was taken in September of 1942 by some French policemen. These French policemen gave her to the Nazis, and she perished like other 76 000 Jews (out of 270 000 Jews who lived in France at this time) . So this is my family story with France, a very difficult story.
Dr.Cammarella: It wasn’t the Nazis that came during WWII to capture the Jews, it was the French policemen. France was a very anti-Semitic country . No one had to push them, really, they were very happy to collaborate with the Nazis, and they were very friendly with them . That’s the reality.
TT: What about him?
Dr.Cammarella: He’s my friend also, and a Jew with Polish roots who had many relatives die in the Shoah, but they were all in Poland when they died. None of his family was killed because of France during WWII, so for his family and him there is no difficult relations with France. For him France is a good place to live in, it’s very clear in his mind.
TT: What about your own childhood, while you were growing up? At what age did you become aware of anti-Semitism, did you have experiences where you were singled out for being Jewish or anything remotely related to that?
Dr.Cammarella: I was the only child, I grew up in a secular family, I didn’t feel anything towards religion, I didn’t feel that I was a Jew nor Catholic (his father being Catholic). I grew up in a completely secular area, I never went to Synagogue or to church. Until recently, the only thing that distinguished me, I was born in Israel, and until recently I didn’t have any contact with any religion. But the only thing in particular is that my name is Ami, it is a Jewish and Israeli name.
TT: When did that begin to cause you problems, your name I mean, because it both Jewish and Israeli?
Dr.Cammarella: I was a resident at the time in an intensive care department in the north of France, in Dunkirk. It was in May 2002, and one of the chief physicians of the department, but not the main one, who was French, came to me and asked “what is your name, what are the roots of your name?”I answered that it was an israeli name, because I was born in Israel .
TT: How did that make you feel?
Dr.Cammarella: Well for me it wasn’t a problem, I didn’t think of a real connection with Israel and Judaism at this time . A few days later this chief responded to me, helped by all the propaganda in the news on Israel that you know that didn’t just start now but years ago…
TT: Yes, I’m very much aware of it.
Dr.Cammarella: And he told me “You Jews”, he was referring to Israel but he told me “You Jews, you are like the Nazis”. So you see, for him, Jews and Israelis are the same. You’re a Jew, so you are an Israeli, and all Jews are Nazis . Just today, I was listening to the radio, and there was a song of one of the more well known singers in France. In this song, about twenty years ago, it’s not a recent song, he was singing in particular about the Palestinians, living a genocide organised by the Israelis …
TT: Committing a genocide against the Palestinians..
Dr.Cammarella: Yes, a genocide..so he (the physician in Dunkirk) treated me like that. I was very shocked. At this time I didn’t feel that I was a Jew, at this time I didn’t know anything about the story of my family, I just knew about my grandmother, because she was a Jew. At the time I didn’t know of all the other people who died in my family, I discovered it afterwards. I then thought of how was I to answer. Did I have to answer as a Jew?… But I didn’t know anything about Judaism, I didn’t go to the Synagogue, I was not even interested at this time, it was completely lost to me. But I thought of my grandmother and I wanted to defend her and to…eh…
TT: Honor her memory?
Dr.Cammarella: Yes, to honor her memory, I didn’t answer directly to this man, so I wrote a letter to the director of the hospital, and I told him what had happened and told that it was anti-Semitic, they were anti-Semitic words. So they took it very seriously and told me that I could file charges because there are laws in France to protect against anti-Semitism and for that to work. But I said no, I don’t want to go to trial, I just want him to shut up and not to talk to me no more. And that’s what he did. You have to know that Dunkirk is a twin city with Gaza.
TT: Ah… Gaza city..
Dr.Cammarella: Yes, yes, with Gaza city. It’s also true that the city of Lille (still in the North of France) is twined with Nablus. Palestinians have strong relationships with these 2 towns . Before I didn’t know all that much about politics.
That is why after I began going to Synagogue, not because I had some kind of revelation or became real religious but, I said to myself, ok, you are a Jew, go and see what they say about Judaism . So then I went to inform myself what is about Judaism and that’s how I came to know the friend of our mutual friend, and about Judaism and to be a part of the Jewish community in the north of France.
But that wasn’t the first anti-Semitic reaction that I had, it was the only one that I had from someone not an Arab, he was an ethnic French with an old fashioned French name. After WW II it was difficult to express anti-Semitism because of all the horrible things that had happened. If you were to say anti-Semitic things you would be attacked by the law. But I think that anti-Semitism is not dead, not all the people are anti-Semitic of course, but it does exist.
TT: Do you know of other friends of yours that are Jews have left France, are there of any significant numbers who have left for example, Israel or for elsewhere in the last 3-4 years, or you have no knowledge of anything like that?
Dr.Cammarella: Yes I know of some people who have left for Israel due to anti-Semitism, yes. Just recently, because only recently I became a part of a big Jewish community, before I didn’t know of anyone. So little by little my identity became a Jewish identity and little by little things changed for me, and I want to tell you of the other incidents of anti-Semitism I experienced which came this time from Arabs.
TT: Did these incidents take place in your private or professional life or both?
Dr.Cammarella: both professional and private life ; the first incident took place in (Dunkirk) by that high level physician, the next time was in the beginning of 2004 which took place in the intensive care ward, this time in Lille (the 4th town of France) . I was a resident like before and my colleague who was an Arab physician from Algeria who was doing his residency in cardiology and had a course in the general area of the intensive care department, and we worked together, very closely in a professional way.
He seemed to be very nice and we had discussions and told me that he came from Algeria, and being from Finland I know that you are more than likely not aware of a French Jewish singer know in France called, Enrico Macias. He’s pretty well known here in France but he was born in Algeria and he had to leave in 1961 due to the war in Algeria, and in particular, the father of his wife was killed by the Islamic extremists the same year.
This singer, who can be found on Wikipedia, came from the same hometown as this physician. My colleague even told me that his grandfther was a neighbour and a friend of the singer’s father . So we began discussing about it and I proposed that we have a drink together somewhere outside our department, we can see each other downtown, and do you know what he told me? It was difficult for him to answer, but what he told me was, “you know Ami, I would like to but I cannot”. He made me to understand that he couldn’t see me because I was a Jew.
TT: Was this doctor very religious or what?
Dr.Cammarella: He was not a religious man, he was secular in thinking concerning Islam, no problem with a Christmas tree and such like. But he couldn’t be seen with Jews, and that was anti-Semitic. You probably know that in Algeria they hate Jews,and they hate Israel. I recently read that they are probably only ten Jews left in all of Algeria. At the end of the WWII , there were more than 165 000. This french jewish singer I spoke about, Enrico Macias, tried to go to Algeria many times, and every time the Algerian government told him that no, he cannot enter their country.
TT: When did the next anti-Semitic incident take place?
Dr.Cammarella: That was something very strong that changed my life. It’s about my best friend for many years in north of France, Ali .He and I both arrived in Lille in 1998 (pictured right) and since that moment we began to be very close friends. He knew that I was born in Tel Aviv in Israel and that I was a Jew but at that moment I didn’t care.
He came from Beirut Lebanon at the age of nineteen to do all of his medical studies. And because France have particular links to Lebanon (like with North Africa) , he found with no problem a place in the first year of a french medicine’s university to stay ..
He was awaiting his specification in psychiatry in Lille as I did, when I was studying in Lille I took three years in psychiatry. And now he became a psychiatrist and works in Lille. We were very good friends for years and there were no problems. Once he told me, “you know Ami, in 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon and we were bombed where I lived and so on, but I don’t have any hate against Israel, I understand what they did because of the Palestinians and we had a civil war because of them, so I completely understand what the Israelis did, and I don’t have any hate against Israel “. There was no hate between us.
TT: Now when did things start to change and what happened next?
Dr.Cammarella: Things started to change in 2005. Ali was not married and had no girl friend for the years that I knew him. It was even a bit strange for me that I never found him having a girl friend. In 2005 after he finished his exams and became a specialized doctor, then he went to Lebanon where I think his family introduced him to a girl, and they were very quickly married . He came back with her to France. She didn’t know a word of French, she was ten years younger than him . She was always at home, she didn’t work, and for him it was not a problem. I was very shocked to see that, and he said, that’s ok, it’s in my culture. I thought he lived a western life, but in reality, no, he was completely Middle Eastern.
That shocked me. Even this physician of a very high level, very clever and with sensitivity. But he was very happy to be Middle Eastern and having such a young wife who was very quiet and didn’t say anything and stayed at home.Yes, I was very shocked. But the biggest shock happened the year later . Ali and his wife were in Lebanon in July and August in 2006 during the second war with Lebanon, and I sent to him an SMS at the end of August telling him that I was sorry of what happened to Lebanon because of the war and I thought that he would understand that what the army was doing was like in the war before. But he never answered my SMS.
TT: Did you ever here from him at all, what happened next?
Dr.Cammarella: Well, a mutual friend of ours called me in December of 2006 , and he told me “well Ami, he doesn’t want to have any contact with you, he doesn’t want to see you anymore.” I understood it was because I am Israeli and so in his mind I had links to the Israeli army and somehow I was responsible… and so he wanted to break up our friendship. At this moment I began to understand that it was not possible for me not to have links with Israel .
There is another possibility though, to be totally blind even when you see so many things, such reactions. It’s a big wish, a big desire to not believe that. I know many people, friends who think like that, they’ve decided that France was a good country .
But I decided to be committed .
TT: But Ami, do you feel that Ali’s decision to go back to Lebanon had anything to do with his change in attitude, that it influenced his becoming more fundamentalist in his outlook on life and on his friendship with you?
Dr.Cammarella: I think he changed due to his wife, I don’t think that he became radicalized, he doesn’t belong to Hezbollah…
TT: No I didn’t mean that, just his becoming more traditional in his approach to life.
Dr.Cammarella: Yes I think so, in particular with his wife. His wife didn’t grow up in France like he did for about 17 years, she just arrived in France with all her Middle Eastern traditions and values .
TT: Well this is just conjecture on my part, but do you think then that he would have broken off relations with you nonetheless, even if the 2nd Lebanon war never happened?
Dr.Cammarella: I think that it was just a question of time, during those years in school he was allowed to have a friendship with me, and in retrospect it was a time for me to grow up and realize what happens, because I come from a family that didn’t prepare me for that. It was a family full of love and humanity, a humanist family you know, ok, we all have to be friends we have to live together in friendship. No, that’s not life, and so I had to be more mature and understand what is our real world position and where I have to be and so on. So to answer you question, it only had to be a question of time.
TT: And what other thoughts might you have concerning France before we wrap this interview up?
Dr.Cammarella: Well the Gaza war is another wake up, what happened in Europe and what happened in France, the reaction was really strong. After that I was sure, absolutely sure that I had to leave France, because for me, France is the most anti-Semitic country in Europe . In particular during the Gaza war there were about 400 anti-Semitic attacks.
Three Synagogues were attacked with Molotov cocktails, about ten Jews were beaten (at least officially)*. I know of one guy, not personally, who was from Paris and he was beaten by ten Arabs in January of this year, in particular his nose was broken and he spent three days in the hospital…and that just because he was a Jew!
He was interviewed by YNET, an Israeli internet website, in which he stated that there is no longer a place for Jews in France and prepared for his immigrating to Israel. I don’t know if he has left already or not. All my friends, my Jewish friends didn’t want to believe what they saw, they said, “well that’s the way it is, Jews being beaten because they are Jews, that’s the history of the Jews through the centuries, no? It doesn’t happen every day, and it’s not Auschwitz so, you have to live with it.” It’s no problem if you hide your identity, to take off very quickly your kippa, immediately when you go out from the synagogue .
And why I wish to leave France, to answer your question , it has to do with the politics. In France they are very against Israel in the news, and for me, these very anti-Zionist positions are only anti-Semitic positions. Now since the birth of Israel, it’s a new way of being anti-Semitic and very politically correct. I you are anti-Israel then you are for the poor Palestinians who are said to be very oppressed by the very bad Israeli people. So that’s really what I feel with politics in Europe, and with France in particular. I can’t stand anymore all this almost daily propaganda .
My grandmother was killed because of French people who gave her away to the Nazis. And today I can’t stand to see Synagogues being attacked with Molotov cocktails and to listen to them say bad things about Israel and the Jews. 400 anti-Semitic attacks in France, like the one guy beaten up by ten Arabs just because he was a Jew, I can’t take that any more. It’s indefensible. That’s my position of why I’m leaving France.
TT: Dr.Cammarella, thank you for joining us here at the Tundra Tabloids, all the best to you.
Dr.Cammarella: Thank you KGS very much.
*Note: Click here for the Ilan Halimi incident.