Jews and France

Upholding France’s ideals against radical Islam will not only be good for the Jews – it will be good for all of French society.

French Jews in Tel Aviv commemorate victims of Paris terror attacks  (photo credit: BEN HARTMAN)
French Jews in Tel Aviv commemorate victims of Paris terror attacks
(photo credit: BEN HARTMAN)
It is no coincidence that the horrific massacre at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdon was played out on the backdrop of an increasingly hostile environment for French Jews. Nor is it surprising that the attack by Islamist extremists on freedom of speech – one of liberal society’s most hallowed values – was followed by the murder of Jews in a kosher supermarket.
Throughout history there has been a correlation between the condition and welfare of Diaspora Jews and the health of the broader society that hosts them. When Jews flourish, so does the surrounding culture. And when Jews’ safety is compromised or when Jews are persecuted, deep-seated societal ills and cultural and political decline are usually soon to follow.
Medieval Spain’s gradual political and economic sclerosis was preceded by the Inquisition and the expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula; Nazi Germany’s failure to beat the West in the race for nuclear weapons was the direct result of the purge of Jews from German universities (10 physicists and four chemists who had won or would win the Nobel Prize emigrated from Germany to the US or Britain shortly after Hitler came to power); the Soviet Union’s collapse was intimately tied to its self-destructive policies of totalitarianism that singled out Jews for special persecution.
Conversely, countries which have enabled Jews to thrive have tended to excel. The underlying logic is simple. When societies are built on egalitarian principles that provide all citizens with equal opportunities, free markets, basic human rights, and freedom of expression – in short when the cultural, political, economic and scientific playing fields are leveled – Jews (and other talented people) are able to realize their full potential, bringing prosperity and innovation to all. When these sorts of freedoms are not offered, Jews tend to emigrate to countries where they are.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a socialist, understands this. In an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg before last week’s murderous attacks, Valls rightly noted that if Jews were to flee in large numbers, the implication would be that “the soul” of the French Republic is at risk.
“To understand what the idea of the Republic is about, you have to understand the central role played by the emancipation of the Jews,” Valls said. “It is a founding principle…. If 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.”
Therefore, Valls says, France must recognize that it is at war with radical Islam and that a central part of this war is battling anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism.
“It is legitimate to criticize the politics of Israel,” Valls says. “This criticism exists in Israel itself. But this is not what we are talking about in France. This is radical criticism of the very existence of Israel, which is anti-Semitic. There is an incontestable link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.”
Unfortunately, too many of Valls’s fellow travelers on the Left see things differently. France’s educated classes tend to “understand” attacks on Jews as an extension of legitimate criticism of Israel and its policies.
As French philosopher and scholar of anti-Semitism Alain Finkielkraut noted in an interview with Army Radio on Sunday, the French intelligentsia sees Jews as “in some ways responsible for what is happening to them, because of Israel’s so-called racism and because Jews identify with Israel.”
The willingness on the part of the French intelligentsia to blame Israeli policies for attacks directed against French Jews, says Finkielkraut, goes hand in hand with a tendency to blame “Islamophobia” for triggering Muslim-inspired violence against French society, like the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
Valls, Finkielkraut, and many others in France – including an estimated million who joined in the “march of freedom” in the streets of Paris on Sunday, many of whom Muslims – understand the fate of the Jews in France and elsewhere is intimately linked to the “soul” of Western civilization.
An unequivocal and uncompromising reaffirmation of the French Republic’s values – things like freedom of the press, women’s rights, free scientific inquiry, and human rights – is the best answer to the violently reactionary, anti-Semitic offensive launched by radical Islam. Upholding France’s ideals against radical Islam will not only be good for the Jews – it will be good for all of French society.