Dr.Gerstenfeld’s interview with Shmuel Trigano was published two days ago at INN, and republished here in full with his permission.
Contemporary French Anti-Semitism: A Barometer for Gauging Problems in Society
An Interview with Shmuel Trigano
“The possibility of the renascence of an anti-Semitic (anti-Zionist) current in French opinion merging with a classical Islamic anti-Judaism, mirrors the situation of French society. Newcomers, as well as citizens showed how – for a decade now – to instrumentalize the symbolic and mythological position of Jews in French society and European mentality in order to advance their own agenda. Several different political parties, politicians and publicists also used Jews as a tool in various domains.
“There was a major anti-Semitic wave in French public opinion when the second Palestinian uprising broke out in 2000. Israel was painted as monstrous, a Nazi state intent on killing children. This anti-Israeli discourse has deeper roots. Anti-Semitic stereotypes were already present – albeit in the background – during the Oslo process. Jews were then often accused of having ‘memorialized the Shoah too much,’ to exploit it for prestige, power and appropriation.”
Shmuel Trigano is Professor of Sociology at Paris University, President of the Observatoire du Monde Juif and author of numerous books focusing on Jewish philosophy and Jewish political thought.
Trigano remarked that in order to understand the current situation, it is essential to remember not only how the major increase in violent anti-Semitism in France started in 2000, but also the public’s reaction to it. “It was, as far as the post-war period is concerned, unprecedented. Its main perpetrators were French citizens from Muslim Arab and sub-Saharan African immigrant backgrounds. There had been similar incidents – although not as many – during the first Gulf War at the beginning of the 1990’s.”
Trigano recalled that anti-Semitic violence went largely unreported by both the press and public authorities for several months. “Even Jewish organizations remained silent, most probably at the request of the socialist-led government of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin as we discovered later. This silence was another factor why the Jewish community felt abandoned by both the French authorities and complacent society.
“The situation of the Jews in France was aggravated as various media expressed opinions claiming that the violence and hate was quite understandable in view of events in the Middle East and Israel’s policies. This implied that the destiny of French Jews was determined by Israeli policies and French criticism of it.
“During the first months of attacks, French Jewry requested help, but no one listened. This led many French Jews to realize that their place and citizenship in the country was now questionable. They understood that the authorities were willing to sacrifice the Jewish community to maintain social peace. This attitude was reinforced by the French pro-Arab policy in the Iraq War.
“Jewish citizens could not understand that violent acts were being committed against them in the name of developments 3,000 kilometers away. Today, there are those who still remember the words of Hubert Védrine, former Socialist Minister of Foreign Affairs, which have been repeated in different variations by several politicians: ‘One does not necessarily have to be shocked that young Frenchmen of immigrant origin have compassion for the Palestinians and are very agitated because of what is happening to them.’”
Trigano remarked: “Individual Jews reacted according to experiences from the past. A well-known French Jewish psychoanalyst, the late Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel told me that for her it recalled the 1930’s. It seemed to me initially an exaggeration, because France is supposed to be a democratic and open society. Yet it was difficult to understand how the discourse of a liberal state’s free press could uniformly follow the government. Thereafter I understood the Soviet Union’s reality better.
“My own associations were with our family’s flight from Algeria in June 1962, when we waited for two days in a military airport with only two suitcases. We had closed the door of our home and left, as the public authorities had abandoned us. We had to save ourselves in order not to be killed in the chaos.
“These traumatic feelings have not left French Jews since despite that two years later Nicolas Sarkozy as Minister of the Interior started to try to combat anti-Semitism. Perhaps public awareness of the problem came too late. In France, self-censorship concerning anti-Semitic discourse has broken down. Once finds frequent anti-Semitic expressions in the public domain. A democratic government cannot change this phenomenon in any way. The media and the government falsely call anti-Semitism ‘inter-ethnic tensions.’
“One consequence of hostility directed at Jews is the increasing development of a Jewish mental and behavioral ghetto. They feel marginalized and subsequently withdrew from broader society to be among Jewish friends. Another phenomenon in the new century is the increasing number of students and teachers in private Jewish schools, because they feel vulnerable and defenseless in public schools.
“The ideological process of promoting anti-Jewish hatred, however, has continued for more than ten years against a background where Islamists, extreme left and right-wing circles meet. Jews are too feeble an electorate to expect change from any political current. Generally speaking, there is little sympathy for the Jews and Israel in French public opinion.”