Unable to sleep one night I surfed through the TV channels I sometimes watch and came across a debate about anti-Semitism on France24 (in English, fortunately).
The trigger for this was President Macron’s tweet about the existence of an ‘old anti-Semitism’ in France alongside a new form of the phenomenon, and an open letter signed by some 300 religious leaders and leading intellectuals condemning the rise of anti-Semitism.
The people engaged in the debate were drawn from various communities (unfortunately I did not get their names), one of them was even located in Tel-Aviv, and all seemed to be making a effort to keep the dialogue on an even tone, not always with complete success.
We all know about the ‘old anti-Semitism’ in France, which goes back to before the Dreyfus affair at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth. That was in fact the spark that set Theodore Herzl, who was a journalist covering the trial, on the track that led eventually to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. However, according to President Macron (and also the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel), the new form of anti-Semitism in France is associated with the influx of immigrants from Moslem countries.
The individual representing the Moslem community tried to play down the aspect of that religion that denigrated all other religions, but was forced to confront the representative of CRIF, the umbrella organization of French Jewry, who cited chapter and verse of the Koran and the Hadith stating that all other religions were inferior to Islam, and their adherents would have to convert or be slain.
This representative and others were at pains to point out that not all Moslems adopted that radical view, yet it remained part of that religion’s beliefs. All the participants in the debate agreed that it was impossible to rewrite the ancient texts (Old Testament, New Testament, Koran) on which the various religions were based, and that it was necessary to shift the focus away from them.
The gentleman in Tel-Aviv tried to move the debate away from the role of individual religions, stressing the overriding French doctrine of secularism and seeking to expunge sectoral differences. He asserted that the struggle should be against ignorance and poverty rather than any specific religious beliefs, that he regarded all French people as his community and that the problem lay in the indoctrination of vulnerable young people by religious leaders. He also insisted that until all religions gave equal standing to women and men (women rabbis, female imams, even a woman Pope) there would be no true equality and secularism in France.
The representative of CRIF pointed out that the people who were being radicalized were not necessarily drawn from the poorest and least educated sections of the population, agreeing nonetheless that education in the poorer areas was sadly lacking. How can a teacher hope to teach a class of fifty pupils? he asked, amid general agreement that more money should be devoted to education and improving living conditions.
This all comes at a time when throughout Europe Jewish people are being attacked on an almost daily basis. What is different this time, however, is that Jewish communities are coming out and standing up for themselves. In Berlin a demonstration of several thousands attracted Jews and non-Jews alike, who stood together wearing skullcaps (kippot) to protest such attacks. In France, following assaults on individual Jews, a march to voice disapproval of such acts attracted many supporters.
And in England, my England, where criticism has been leveled primarily (but not only) at the stance of the opposition Labour Party, the Jewish community organized a demonstration to express its disapproval of the failure to act to repress anti-Semitism on the part of the leader, Jeremy Corbyn. The bottom line in the UK is that it has become far more multi-cultural than before, with a large Moslem minority, which is exerting influence on the political scene.
Part of the opposition stems from the fact that Jews are being attacked for wearing identifying clothing (skullcaps) in public. In addition, in France, Germany and England no Jewish institution (synagogue, school, social club) can risk not having strict security at the entrance. This is not the case with Moslem or Christian garb or institutions, as the CRIF representative in the debate was quick to point out. I might add, on a personal note, that when I was a youngster in England some fifty years ago I moved in orthodox circles and absolutely no-one wore a skullcap in public. There are alternatives, such as hats of various kinds, but neither should one be vulnerable to attack because of one’s religion.
As the TV debate came to an end, the sociologist on the panel was given the floor. She derided the tenor of the debate, claiming that the issue was in fact a political rather than a religious one, and that what really lay behind contemporary anti-Semitism was the settlement policy of the current Israeli government and, by implication, the plight of the Palestinians. Her name had an Arabic ring to it, so that explains her opinion.
What this means, essentially, is that Israel is being expected to act in accordance with what some people in the West, including those holding anti-Semitic views, think is right, rather than with its democratically elected government’s policy. There is no doubt that anti-Zionism is being deployed as a tool against Jews in Europe and the USA, but however critical of Israel one may be, there can be no justification for attacking Jews wherever they are.