France prepares a superfluous Peace Plan
Israel is accustomed to receiving advice from countries that cannot solve their own serious problems. France, in particular, excels at this. Its government has announced that it may present a peace plan for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, especially if President Trump does not.1
This century in France has been characterized for its Jews by antisemitism. It is a major factor explaining the emigration in the past ten years of tens of thousands of Jews from the country. In recent months there has been a spate of antisemitic attacks at French universities. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe has announced a new plan to combat racism and antisemitism for the current and coming two years. One component of this plan is legal strengthening of the obligation to suppress illicit content on social media.2 The plan does not however include the overdue appointment of a national Antisemitism Commissioner – as is the case in Germany — who would continuously expose and investigate the broad range of expressions of hatred against Jews.
The French government may not wish to recall the pioneer role of the country in the outburst of antisemitism in Western Europe since 2000 after the second Palestinian intifada. There were 450 antisemitic attacks in France in one and a half year.3 At that time the country’s socialist government of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin tried to hide what was happening. Police stations often registered antisemitic attacks as hooliganism. The Ministry of the Interior tried to repress information about the antisemitic character of the attacks in order to maintain a non-existent “social peace” between communities. This translates as deliberately not pointing out that Muslims were the main perpetrators of the antisemitic hate crimes.
Jews in France were even blamed for Israel’s reaction to the Palestinian uprising. Several French media outlets showed understanding of local Muslim reactions against the Jews. So too did the anti-Israeli Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine. He said, “One does not necessarily have to be shocked that young Frenchmen of immigrant origin have compassion for the Palestinians and are very excited because of what is happening.”4 This statement sounded like a justification for antisemitic attacks.
French academic Shmuel Trigano said, “Jewish citizens couldn’t understand that violent acts were being committed against them in the name of developments three thousand kilometers away… they considered it however outrageous that the French government and society did not condemn it immediately.”5
Center right President Jacques Chirac persisted as long as possible in denying the antisemitic character of what was going on. Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), mentioned to me in an interview that he and colleagues met with the President in May 2003. Chirac told them that there was no antisemitism in France, but rather it was young hooligans who attacked Jews.
Shortly after the delegation left the meeting with Chirac two SWC representatives were insulted on the street by several people saying “get out of France, you Jews.” Rabbi Hier said that it was an ‘eloquent’ answer to Chirac’s vain claim that there was no antisemitism in France.6 Ultimately, however even Chirac had to admit that substantial antisemitism did exist in his country.
Successive French governments did not succeed in developing measures to reduce the antisemitism. The situation continued to worsen. In 2003, a Muslim neighbor murdered Jewish DJ Sébastien Selam in a knife attack. It would take fifteen years, until 2018, when President Emmanuel Macron finally recognized this murder as antisemitic.7 Since Selam an additional eleven Jews have been murdered in France by Muslims. This accounts for the majority of all murders of Jews for ideological reasons in this century in Europe.
For the French government, the country’s economic problems are far bigger than issues of antisemitism. Both seem insolvable. Economic growth in the last five years has been low, at about one percent per year. Government debt is high at close to 100% of the gross domestic product (GDP). The unemployment rate in France averaged 9.27 percent from 1996 until 2018 and is currently close to that figure.8
President Macron’s popularity in September of this year fell to a 29% low, compared to 39% in July.9 In such an unpleasant reality, he is looking for projects outside of France to divert attention from his country’s domestic problems. A possible Middle East peace plan fits part of this agenda. Macron’s predecessor, socialist President François Hollande, convened a useless Middle East Peace conference in June 2016 to divert attention from his low domestic standing.10 He did not even seek reelection as is usual for a first round president. His socialist party, which held the majority in the previous parliament, was decimated in the 2017 elections.
A French peace plan cannot make any contribution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. France’s multiple condemnations and votes against Israel in international forums in the past fifty years make it totally untrustworthy in Israeli eyes. All France can do is maintain its image as a disturbing factor in the Palestinian-IsraeIi conflict.”11
6 American Jewry’s Challenge – Conversations Confronting the 21st Century, Manfred Gerstenfeld (Rowman & Littlefield, Oxford, UK, 2005) pg. 188, An interview with Marvin Hier, October 7, 2003
11 David Pryce-Jones: Betrayal: France, the Arabs and the Jews (NY, Encounter Books, 2006)