Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Trauma of France’s Jews

PARIS – “Death to the Jews!” In Paris and other French cities, the hate-filled words ring out. Attacks on synagogues have taken place for the first time since the Dreyfus Affair at the end of the nineteenth century. In suburban areas near Paris, such as the town of Sarcelles, known for its climate of religious and ethnic tolerance, groups of young people have deliberately targeted Jewish properties.

Faced with the spectacular rise of anti-immigrant populism in France, and now with anti-Zionist demonstrations (which often coincide with an updated version of anti-Semitism), the French Jewish community is anguished and puzzled. Some of its members are quietly asking themselves whether there is a future for them in the land of human rights.

French Jews are rediscovering the dual trauma that they experienced during the twentieth century: the death-camp deportations of World War II and their flight from Algeria following its independence in 1962. It is to be expected that these episodes color – and tend to exacerbate – the emotions of the present.

French descendants of Eastern European Jews have not yet fully come to terms with a continent – including Vichy France – that they still associate with the Holocaust, whereas Jews from the Maghreb tend to resent the fact that even in France, they remain surrounded by “Arabs.” Indeed, a significant portion of the Jewish community in the south of France votes for the far-right National Front, which, under the leadership of Marine Le Pen, has concentrated its xenophobia on Muslims.

In this tense setting, it comes as no surprise that the question of whether anti-Semitism has returned to France, after a seven-decade hiatus, is making international headlines. British and American media reports have made comparisons to the Nazi era, with some even referring, in the aftermath of attacks on French synagogues, to a French Kristallnacht.

Such hyperbole must be firmly rejected, for it offends the memory of those who suffered as a result of Vichy France’s collaboration with Nazi Germany. After the Gestapo arrested my father in Nice in 1943, he was escorted by French gendarmes to the transit camp at Drancy, in the Paris suburbs, before being deported to Auschwitz. In 2014, by contrast, the French state defends the synagogues and denounces any form of anti-Semitism.

But even if the French state is not anti-Semitic, anti-Semitism does exist in France – and probably more so recently than in the postwar period. And the worsening situation in the Middle East has, of course, played a key role in this, particularly the shocking images from Gaza. The asymmetrical war being waged there by Israel seems disproportionate to a majority of world opinion, not just Arabs and Muslims.

To be sure, no state can passively accept rocket attacks on its cities. And, yes, Hamas deliberately chooses to place its military arsenal in highly populated areas under the involuntary protective shield of innocent civilians – or those Israeli officials sometimes refer to, with barely concealed mistrust, as the “uninvolved.”

But the strategy of terror used by the Israeli authorities to deter further attacks or to restore a temporary “quiet” has been costly not only in terms of Palestinian lives lost and Israeli soldiers killed; it has also contributed to the deterioration of the security of Jews around the world. In France, too, many of them express – often quietly – both their deep love for what Israel is and their deep concern for what Israel is now doing.

It is one thing to say that the Middle East conflict should not be exported to France. It is another to recognize the inevitable impact of images of dead Palestinian women and children on communities in France that feel close to Palestine the way that Jews feel close to Israel. If the images from Gaza seem to resonate so much in France, it is partly a matter of sheer numbers: the largest Muslim community in Europe faces the largest Jewish community in Europe.

But it is not only a question of numbers. The young thugs who have attacked synagogues come mostly from the ranks of the unemployed and frustrated. They vent their rage at a system that does not integrate them. They even resent the Republic’s commemoration of Jews’ suffering during WWII. For them, past horror is abstract; only the present horror can be felt.

The encounter between the images of today’s Middle East and the discontent of Muslim minorities (sometimes influenced by radical fundamentalist ideologies) should not be allowed to obscure traditional French anti-Semitism, white and bourgeois, which still lingers and is never far beneath the surface. Thanks to the Internet, it, too, has begun to emerge more often.

But the French state does what it has to do to repress and contain anti-Semitism. Comparisons to Nazi-era Europe do nothing to reassure a community that, despite all of the major historical differences between then and now, cannot quite shake the feeling that it is dancing on the rim of a volcano.

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    1. CommentedElizabeth Pula

      Today I have been able to review some of the information available on the internet about the "Gaza Strip". I also remembered this article on Project Syndicate. So, I am commenting, probably as an uninvolved Westerner, an apathetic distant observer's opinion.

      In a way, I am one of the same people that is actually being affected by the discontent of Muslin minorities. If there is indeed an obscure traditional French anti-Semitism that lingers somewhere beneath the surface of the white and bourgeois society, then I think I am beginning to comprehend"WHY". I have read information from the UNRWA, Wikipedia, US sites, some international media sites- such as Der Spiegel, the Telegraph, Arutz Sheva, Al Jazeera- just to try to get a broad view of the GAZA situation, Hamas, Palestinian conflicts.
      Historically, the issues are complex and arise from the 1940's, 1960's, 1980's, and later different international and national agreements and "pacts". There is even a political conflict even within the Palestinian leadership- PA and Hamas, and even Egyptian passive supports of the border closure, and effectively then supporting the Israeli blockade. However, what is most interesting is that this Israeli blockade has been in effect since the 1980's. Since the 2000's the Israeli's have effectively made approximately 1.5 million Palestinian refugees relegated to surviving as effectively contained prisoners. Check the requirements for emigration. Can even human beings emigrate from the Gaza, based on Israeli controlled permits? I could go on and on about the food import restrictions, water, and electricity limitations imposed by the Israelis. So, because of political leadership conflicts between nations, Israeli and Arab, 1.5million people are probably being held effectively against their will in a prison. Sure sounds pretty familiar. Seems to me the Israelis are effectively repeating exactly what was done to earlier Jews by earlier Nazis. So, do two wrongs make a right? I can only expect that the conflict will eventually escalate into a larger war, with more destruction, and more inhumane conditions for more people, probably including me, unless I die pretty soon. So if some of the disenfranchised young in France are reacting, and venting their unrecognized fears, and young in other countries are doing the same, the real underlying reasoning, conscious, subconscious, or unconscious, may not be emotional mass reactions, The underlying reasoning may be extremely unreasonable, and internationally tolerated and supported political disregard and refusal to observe the results affecting real human beings.
      Today, I read Der Spiegel , which had a very interesting
      interview with an Israeli sociologist- Eva Illouz. She refers in a most excellent commentary about Israel as a nation needing to do some internalized soul searching. The "frame of reference" by the DS interviewer for her questioning was also quite interesting. The interviewer is a 21 century citizen from the nation that was criminalized for incarceration and deaths of millions of Jews. Eva's comments are jewels that add another perspective to balance out this article by Moisi. "The French state" as every other state only exists by the citizenry supporting positive political leadership. International political leaders have a supreme responsibility to their public. Political leaders need to not assume the roles of fools. Fools at one time played a positive role for royal courts. Fools won't dance very long on the rims of erupting volcanoes.
      If the international courts, UN and other international leaders recognize and publicly report that the Israeli blockade is fundamentally illegal, and against basic international agreements. Why is the blockade still in effect on August 17, 2014?
      Some people need to take off their fool's caps, and get their thinking caps functioning effectively. 30 to 40 years for this Israeli blockade to still be allowed to be enforced is criminal and is politically supported by international leaders. Hey, you can't fool everybody indefinitely.
      I'm just one little old lady in the US, and definitely identify with an old couple, Palestinians or refugees in GAZA, who just lost one of their sons in the latest 2014 skirmish. I can't throw any blame their way. I may have Jewish ancestors. I may also have Russian, Ukranian, muslim ancestors.
      So, who is going to pay to rebuild Gaza? Did the 1.5 million Palestinians cause the destruction? Is it reasonable for 1.5million to be allowed to emigrate? Which Arabic countries will take these people? Do they want to leave? Should they be forced to leave?
      Here's some other considerations:
      Let the destroyed areas sit indefinitely for the Israeli state to look at. Let the Israeli state ponder. Let the Israeli state support political and media debate so media can continue commentaries for another 40 years. Let the imprisoned people get on with their real lives. or let them go!
      Perhaps the state of Saudi Arabia can establish an effective 40 year blockade that affects the state of Israel. The Arabs are doing a great job of building in Abu Dhabi and other areas of the Arabic states. Israel is a drop in the bucket. They're bigger and meaner. So who has the bigger stick? And, who pays the ultimate price?
      Even if the Tel-Aviv airport is closed to Palestinians, the ebola virus could still escape from the Nigerian state, or any other state to the state of Israel. Maybe a little bug is a whole lot bigger and meaner than a bunch of people who think they're really powerful and in control of a bunch of other people.
      Maybe taking a good look in the mirror could get some people to see just how powerless they are, especially compared to a little virus.

    2. CommentedPhilippe Montagne

      I would definitely not compare the recent anti -semitic outbursts with the ones of the first half of the twentieth century.

      Although the major common factor-the econonomic crisis and middle class social maiaise- could lead to a similar anti-semitic situation, we are far away from that point.

      And more importantly, at that time France was not ethnically the same country as present, it was more like the italy,germany or spain of nowadays, a country mostly inhabited by local french people (with a sizable foreign minority,but which did not impact the image the french had of their own country,whileas now france has not only the usual 5-10% european-wide foreigner rate ,but also a 40% of its own citizens having foreign forebears) .

      At that time, the xenophobic fringe of society were also of french stock,and with relays and links within the french administrative and political is not the case now. The anti-semitic slogans and attacks stem mostly from those same non-integrated (or badly-integrated,depending how you see it) young male muslims, which are now strongly influenced by islamic fundamentalists,and are by the way ,also the main cause as to why france has become such a dangerous place to live on an every day basis. These young muslims do not have any support whatever in the french state apparatus,or in the french society at large.
      So, it is a very different situation.

      This will not mean that we will not have to see even more horrendous attacks,but we are absolutely not in the same premises as the pre-second world war french society.

      And concerning the lingering anti semitic sentiment in france, yes,it exists but it is very benign, and having travelled and lived extensively abroad, i would securely venture to say much less stringent as the anti semitic attitudes I have seen or heard with sô
      Me peole in the Usa and Italy.
      Philippe Colline

    3. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

      Mr. Dominique Moisi laments the "trauma of France's Jews". It's true that France has had a tide of anti-Semitism in history. In 1894, a high-flying Jewish officer in the French Army, Alfred Dreyfus, was convicted of spying for the Prussians and jailed for life. He and his supporters had been fighting for 12 years to expose anti-Semitic conspiracy. A huge scandal erupted when it emerged that he was innocent, provoking fighting in the streets. The former leader of Front National, Marine Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie had long harkened back to the days of Vichy France, the Nazi collaborators who allowed tens of thousands of French Jews to go to their deaths. But Marine Le Pen herself has focused her "xenophobia on Muslims", which helped her gain votes among Jewish voters.
      The Israel-Palestinian conflict reflects the presence of strong pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian camps in France, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe - 6 million out of a population of 62 million. While many Muslims side with the Palestinians during the Gaza conflict, the Jewish community in Sarcelles, a commune north of Paris, has got its act together, when violence broke out a few weeks ago. Young Jews formed a human shield in front of the city’s main synagogue, brandishing motorcycle helmets as weapons. Some of them belong to a vigilante group, a French offshoot of the Jewish Defence League (JDL), a far-right Zionist group that advocates the use of force to defend themselves against anti-Semitists.
      The French League models itself on the JDL in the US, which was founded in 1968 as an armed response to anti-Semitism in New York. The far-right Rabbi Meir Kahane advocated the expulsion of all Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The FBI listed the JDL as a terrorist organisation, because of activities like offering to pay someone to kill a Nazi and having an Arab-American murdered. In November 2001 the FBI arrested Earl Krugel and the JDL leader Irv Rubin, for planning an attack on the King Fahd mosque in LA. Rubin and Krugel had wanted to send a "wake-up call" to Arabs and to show that the JDL was "alive in a militant way".
      Founded in France in 2003, the French League is linked to the Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky. The roughly 400 members are predominantly young Sephardic men from working-class suburbs. Some are trained in krav maga, a hand-to-hand martial art used by the Israeli military. They are said to advocate violence and racism, calling the Arabs “rats.”
      Mr. Moisi said: "But even if the French state is not anti-Semitic, anti-Semitism does exist in France". Authorities do defend synagogues and denounce any form of anti-Semitism. Prime Minister Manuel Valls condemned anti-Semitic violence that broke out during a protest against Israel's action in Gaza. When protesters tried to storm two synagogues, it prompted the government to impose a ban on demonstrations in Paris. Recently the Afro-French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala had been banned for cracking anti-Semitic jokes.
      "Comparisons to Nazi-era Europe" may just be a "hyperbole". Yet recent violence does evoke memories of pogrom in the 1930s. It's understandable that the Jewish community in France - despite "major historical differences between then and now" - "cannot quite shake the feeling that it is dancing on the rim of a volcano".

    4. CommentedSnezana Lawrence

      There is a real danger to identify Jewish people with the state of Israel. There is currently a Facebook and other social media hysteria like that which can be seen on this page
      Let us hope Jewish people will not start apologising for being Jewish yet again.

    5. CommentedPaul A. Myers

      The entire western community is dancing along the rim of a volcano with regard to major future revolutionary upheaval extending from Central and West Africa, across North Africa and the Middle East to South Asia.

      To the extent that Israel is perceived as an incendiary fuse to the cries spreading across the Islamic world then their champions in the west are going to be uncomfortable with criticism aimed at the Israeli state's inability to reach peace with its neighbors.