French olim arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport, July 10, 2017..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
It has been 125 years since the arrest and conviction of Alfred Dreyfus. Although Jew-hatred had been present for thousands of years, this French event was a vivid example of antisemitism – a term coined merely 15 years earlier. Rather than remember the tragedy of the Dreyfus Affair, the French chose in 2019 to accelerate discrimination and intimidation of their Jewish population, which is the largest in Europe.
France was the first European nation to grant civic and legal parity to Jews. However, this emancipation was preconditioned on Jewish assimilation. Dreyfus was a French career military officer. He was also a Jew, wrongfully charged with spying, and based on falsified evidence, convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. His trial and subsequent retrial were replete with accusations that his allegiance was to Judaism rather than to France. World Jewry was stunned that this could occur in France, which symbolized the cradle of enlightenment. High-ranking members of the military, the government, the nobility and the clergy saw Dreyfus as an outsider, forcing Jewish liberals to re-assess the doctrine that societal assimilation was enough to curb antisemitism.
Jew-hatred has deep roots in France. After the Nazis occupied Paris in 1940, France established a new autonomous government in Vichy to rule in unoccupied France and its territories. Simulating German Aryanization techniques, Vichy France dismissed Jews from civil service and barred their entry into professions, appropriated Jewish private property and interned Jews in detention camps. Years later, France officially acknowledged its participation in the Holocaust, its deportation of Jews to death camps located in Poland and its collaboration with the Nazi regime’s atrocities.
On July 26, 2014, a swastika was painted on the Goddess of Liberty Statue in the Place de la République and angry mobs proceeded to terrorize the Jews of France.
In 2015, two days after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, four Jews were murdered at a Paris kosher supermarket, Hypercacher.
Since then, violence against French Jews has become commonplace. Senior citizens have been murdered, stabbed, beaten, burned and thrown out of windows. Children on their way to school have been assaulted. Street corners and metro stops abound with antisemitic graffiti. Last week, swastikas defaced scores of gravestones in one Jewish cemetery alone.
When crimes are committed by perpetrators who shout “Allahu Akbar,” it appears obvious that their antisemitism is Islam-related. Muslims comprise 9% of the French population, an appealing voting block to political parties on the Right and Left. French Judeophobia today is far wider than jihad-based. The yellow vests movement initially protested high fuel prices, but evolved into one of violence and antisemitic hate speech, calling President Emmanuel Macron a “whore of the Jews.”
In addition to the ancient ethnocentric Christian hatred, the new French antisemitism encompasses the Left as well as the Right. The progressive elites go well beyond defaming Israel as a proxy for the Jews, chanting “Death to the Jews,” not “Death to the Israelis.”
At the bookstalls lining the left bank of the Seine, neo-Nazis, progressives, communists and jihadists buy French and Arabic translations of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to justify scapegoating Jews as economic and political power seekers. Both sides repudiate Western values and democratic institutions; and these bedfellows, despite major religious and ideological differences, find unity in their antisemitism and their conviction in a vast Jewish conspiracy to enslave humanity.
France has forgotten that its revolution promised liberty, equality and fraternity. In the 2017 French presidential election, Jean-Marie Le Pen, a known antisemite who had labeled the gas chambers a “detail of history,” won 34% of the vote. A quarter of the French believe that 10% of the world’s population is Jewish (actually, it’s only 0.2%), reinforcing the trope that Jews hold excessive influence.
French antisemitic crimes have risen by 74% this past year. When Jewish schools, synagogues and nursing homes must be guarded by soldiers with automatic weapons, when fearful parents do not allow their children to publicly wear yarmulkes or Star of David pendants, and when entire Parisian neighborhoods are ethnically cleansed of Jews, is it any wonder that 55,000 Jews have already left France? Israel is formulating absorption packages to facilitate aliyah for the additional 200,000 who have similar aspirations.
Alfred Dreyfus was ultimately freed. Theodor Herzl, then a young reporter covering the trial, believed that in order for Jews to be safe, they required a state of their own. Fulfilling Herzl’s dream, France’s best and brightest will emigrate to Zion.
Ziva Dahl is a senior fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center.
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