Dr.Gerstenfeld’s latest article about the structural fears of French Jewry first appeared in the Jerusalem Post and is republished here with the author’s consent.
THE STRUCTURAL UNEASINESS OF FRENCH JEWS
Many Jews in France feel ongoing unease about French attitudes toward them. This is due to an array of problems that go far beyond anti-Semitic statements. When one speaks to French Jewish experts they cannot come up with a plan for a viable long term Jewish community.
The relative importance of the various issues which worry Jews in France change with the political party in power. Yet one threat is always there: that of violence, sometimes lethal, emanating mainly from parts of the Muslim community.
All lethal attacks on Jews in Western Europe in the 21st century have been carried out by Muslims. Most have taken place in France. Jews represent less than one percent of the country’s population, but amount to a substantially higher percentage of those killed. Sebastien Selam, a Jewish disc jockey, was murdered by his neighbor, Adel Amastaibou, in 2003.1 In 2006, a young Jewish man, Ilan Halimi, was kidnapped and tortured for 24 days before being murdered by a group of Muslims.2
The 2012 murders of four Jews, three of them children, in Toulouse was carried out by Mohammed Merah.3 In 2015, Ahmed Coulibaly murdered four Jews in the Paris Hyper Cacher supermarket.4 In April 2017, Lucy Halimi was murdered in Paris. The suspect is her Muslim neighbor.5 The summer 2014 attacks on synagogues in Paris and Sarcelles by bands of Muslim hooligans are unprecedented in post-war Western Europe.
France’s new President Emmanuel Macron wants the existing EU open border policy to remain.6 This facilitates additional terror attacks. The attacks and threats have led to greatly increased security in synagogues, schools and other Jewish institutions. Such protection also has a tendency to enhance fear. Some may even stay away from Jewish gathering places. Furthermore, many Jews are reluctant to show their identity in the public domain, especially in areas where there are many Muslims.
Another troublesome issue concerns political attacks on Jewish customs. In 2012, François Fillon, the center right candidate in the recent presidential elections, said that Jews and Muslims must drop their ancestral traditions of slaughter which are not relevant in modern times.7 Macron said that more and more parents send their children to religious schools which teach them hatred of the [French] republic. He added that Muslim religious schools teach only in Arabic and Jewish schools teach only the Torah and leave out basic secular education.8 In 2012, when calling for a ban on Muslim headscarves in public, Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front (FN), said that kippot should also be included.9
Attacks on the Holocaust are yet another subject of unease. Two of the original Holocaust deniers were French: the fascist Maurice Bardèche, and Paul Rassinier, a communist before the war, a member of the French Resistance, and later a socialist.10 Jean Marie Le Pen, the founder of the FN and father of the current leader has been condemned a number of times for Holocaust denial.11
Marine Le Pen has called the concentration camps the summit of barbarity.12 She laid a wreath on a Holocaust monument in Marseilles.13 However she also introduced a negative element into the Vichy responsibility debate which had by now been considered closed. She said that France is not responsible for the anti-Semitic acts of the Vichy government. This has been a long standing false claim held by successive French Presidents. The last one to say this was the socialist François Mitterrand. His center right successor, Jacques Chirac, was the first to apologize for Vichy anti-Semitism. Subsequent presidents did the same: center right Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist François Hollande. Macron reacted to Marine Le Pen’s statements saying that France was responsible for Vichy’s acts.
The recent socialist presidential candidate Benoît Hamon has a substantial record of anti-Israel remarks. After the Gaza flotilla, he accused Israel of having caused a bloodbath.14 He was one of the main instigators of the recognition of the Palestinian state in the French parliament in 2014. Hamon has expressed his happiness about the anti-Israeli UN Security Council resolution 2334.15 Hamon’s position can be summarized as – being anti-Israel is a very good way for the socialist party to recoup French Muslim voters who were lost during the Hollande presidency.16
One major reason why France has taken anti-Israeli positions is to please Muslims originating in countries with majority percentages of anti-Semites or their descendants. This is another important reason that France is a country with major social and economic problems. The British Daily Telegraph has called France ‘the sick man of Europe,’17
In such a reality the leaders of the country need not only to please Muslims but also to find a scapegoat to convince themselves that France counts more than it really does in the world. The initiative which led to the failed Paris Middle East Peace Conference at the beginning of 2017 should be seen in this context.18
Gerard Araud, the French Ambassador to the United States — and a former Ambassador to Israel—has falsely claimed that Israelis are neurotics concerning France.19 The reverse is far more true.
Macron seems to understand that radically healing France’s social/economic situation is an important step toward reestablishing France’s position in the EU and the Western world. If he succeeds, which is doubtful, this may even alleviate part of the pressure on French Jewry.
1 Brett Kline, “Two Sons of France,” The Jerusalem Post, January 21, 2010.
2 “Trial Begins of French ‘Gang of Barbarians’ Accused of Killing Young Jew after 24-Day Torture,” Daily Mail, April 30, 2009.
3 Edward Cody, “Mohammed Merah, face of the new terrorism,” The Washington Post, March 22, 2012. See also:
Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelism in Western Schools,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, 112, November 1, 2011.
10 Henry Rousso, Le dosssier de Lyon III: Le rapport sur le racisme et le nיgationnisme à l’universitי Jean-Moulin (Paris: Fayard, 2004). (French)