Know Comment: J’accuse la France

France’s unbalanced approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict has created an altogether too-comfortable environment for the resurgence of anti-Semitic violence in France.

French President Francois Hollande enters the Elysee Palace in Paris (photo credit: REUTERS)
French President Francois Hollande enters the Elysee Palace in Paris
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to the United States, who was previously ambassador to Israel and to the United Nations, said this week that “what is happening in France right now, in a sense, has nothing to do with Israel and the Palestinians. It’s a general trend within Islam toward radicalization that is not coming from the conflict.”
He went on to suggest that anti-Semitism in France is isolated to its Muslim community, and that nothing in French policy imputes responsibility for the Hyper Cacher massacre.
Wrong. The attacks on Jews in France cannot be viewed in isolation from broader, nefarious intellectual trends in French society toward Jews and Israel. The attacks on Jews in France cannot be considered except in the context of increasingly hostile attitudes in France toward Israel in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When a discourse of delegitimization of Israel becomes mainstream, as it has in France; when Israel is portrayed as the enemy of all that is good and the repository of all that is evil, as it is in France; and when Paris raises its hand in favor of Palestinian pomposity and Israeli isolation, as it did at the UN Security Council last week – it’s no surprise that vestiges of anti-Semitism buried deep in French society come to the fore.
Put another way: Sustained anti-Israel propaganda, with which France is flooded, encourages terrorism.
My late father, former MK Zvi (Henry) Weinberg, was a professor of French literature and a respected scholar of sociocultural trends in France. More than 30 years ago, he wrote a book called The Myth of the Jew in France 1967- 1982 in which he dissected the techniques by which highbrow publications such as Le Monde and the upper echelons of French literary society pursued a long campaign of psychological warfare against the Jewish state.
Under the mask of high-minded objectivity and fealty to human rights, they adopted narratives fiercely hostile to Israel, ineluctably sliding into the murky waters of anti-Jewish prejudice.
My father chronicled the lifting of taboos on public expression of anti-Semitism in France – from Voltaire and the Encyclopédistes of the 18th century; to the French laboratories for “scientific” racism and National Socialism of the 19th century; to French collaboration with the Nazis under the Vichy regime; to President Charles de Gaulle’s notorious “Sermon to the Hebrews” in 1967; to French policies of appeasement toward Palestinian terrorism under presidents Georges Pompidou and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in the 1970s and 1980s; to lingering far-right French preoccupation with Holocaust denial; to the rhetorical excesses, vehemence and consistency of French attacks on Israeli policy ever since the First Lebanon War; to the malicious depredation wrought by the fashionable antagonism to everything Israeli peddled by French intellectuals.
Since he wrote the book, the “myth,” or defamation, of the Jew and the Zionist in France has only darkened and deteriorated. “Progressive” circles in the West, which dominate the discourse in France, are deep into a campaign of vilification against Israel and Zionism. They define what Israel “is doing” to the Palestinians as genocide and crimes against humanity, and as a threat to world peace and security. They promote boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
All this, alongside total disregard for the genocidal threats against Israel and Jews by Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, and deafness to willful distortions of history and current reality peddled by Mahmoud Abbas.
Just last month, the UN General Assembly passed 20 resolutions targeting Israel (supported by France); the European Parliament rejected a working group on anti-Semitism; and the European Court of Justice removed Hamas from its list of terrorist organizations. None of these august bodies had anything to say about the urgent plight of political prisoners under repressive governments in Iran, Venezuela, Mauritania and Saudi Arabia; or the desperate situation of refuges in Syria; or escalating suffering of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of Muslim regimes and radicals.
“The preoccupation with Israel has the effect of sanitizing other evils,” Prof. Irwin Cotler of Canada points out. Worse still, says the preeminent international human rights jurist, the obsession with Israel and the exaggeration of Israel’s misdeeds has the effect of legitimizing anti-Semitism against supporters of Israel, such as French Jews.
In a 2006 study, the European Jewish Congress demonstrated a clear correlation between one-sided media coverage of the Second Lebanon War, which emphasized the suffering inflicted by Israel on the Lebanese, and the anti-Semitic violence that ensued in France.
Roger Cukierman, the former president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), wrote that “There is an incompatibility between France’s foreign policy and its internal struggle against anti-Semitism.
It is not possible to fight effectively in France against anti-Semitism without doing all that can be done to seek to bring a greater balance in the appreciation of the situation in the Middle East among the general public.”
Dr. Tsilla Hershco, an expert on Franco-Israeli relations at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, is even blunter. “France’s unbalanced approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict – as reflected in de rigueur Elysee condemnations of Israel’s legitimate wars of self-defense, in media coverage of the conflict, and in slavish and blind support for destructive Palestinian initiatives at the UN – has created an altogether too-comfortable environment for the resurgence of anti-Semitic violence in France,” she has written.
"The Jewish question” has played a significant role in the cultural, social and political life of France in the modern era. French historian Patrice Higonnet has written that the fate of Jews in France is a touchstone for evaluation of French history and society as a whole.
We can now add that the increasing hostility toward Israel in French Mideast policy is a benchmark for the (im)morality of France, and, alas, a direct cause of attacks in France against Jews.