Armed French soldiers stand in front of a Synagogue during a visit of French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve after an attack in front of a Jewish school in Marseille's 9th district, France, January 14, 2016..
(photo credit: REUTERS/JEAN-PAUL PELISSIER)
Many Jews in France feel ongoing unease about French attitudes toward them. This is due to an array of problems that go far beyond antisemitic 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. In 2006, a young Jewish man, Ilan Halimi, was kidnapped and tortured for 24 days before being murdered by a group of Muslims.
The 2012 murders of four Jews, three of them children, in Toulouse was carried out by Mohammed Merah. In 2015, Ahmed Coulibaly murdered four Jews in the Paris Hyper Cacher supermarket. In April 2017, Sarah Lucy Halimi was murdered in Paris. The suspect is her Muslim neighbor. 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. This facilitates additional terrorist 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, Francois Fillon, the center- right candidate in the recent presidential elections, said that Jews and Muslims must drop their ancestral traditions of ritual slaughter, which he said were not relevant in modern times. 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. In 2012, when calling for a ban on Muslim head-scarves in public, Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front (FN), said that kippot should also be included.
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. 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.
Marine Le Pen has called the concentration camps the summit of barbarity. She laid a wreath on a Holocaust monument in Marseilles. However she also introduced a negative element into the Vichy responsibility debate, which had by now been considered closed. She said that France was not responsible for the antisemitic acts of the Vichy government. This has been a longstanding false claim of successive French presidents.
The last one to say this was the socialist Francois Mitterrand.
His center-right successor, Jacques Chirac, was the first to apologize for Vichy antisemitism. Subsequent presidents did the same: center-right Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist Francois Hollande. Macron reacted to Marine Le Pen’s statements by saying that France was indeed responsible.
The recent socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon has a substantial record of anti-Israel remarks.
After the Gaza flotilla, he accused Israel of having caused a bloodbath. 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. 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.”
One major reason why France has taken anti-Israeli positions is to please Muslims originating in countries with majority percentages of antisemites, or their descendants. This is another important reason France is a country with major social and economic problems.
The British Daily Telegraph
has called France “the sick man of Europe.”
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.
Gerard Araud, the French ambassador to the United States and a former ambassador to Israel has falsely claimed that Israelis are neurotics concerning France.
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.The author is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, and the International Leadership Award by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.