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Monday, June 10 2013
The Three Sources of French Antisemitism
Why do French Jews feel unsecure and consider emigration ?
A leading rabbi in Paris recently said that 80 % of the young people getting married at his synagogue do not see their future in France (1). Quite disturbing news, considering that the French Jewish community, with over half a million souls, is the largest and the most vibrant in Europe.
Admittedly, everybody in France is pessimistic about the country’s future now, not just Jews. According to a recent poll, 38 % of the French – more than one citizen out of three – are considerating emigration. The breakdown by categories is even more significant : 50 % of the French under 35 and 45 % of the working class say they are ready to leave for another country (2).
Still, French Jews and especially young French Jews seem to be even more pessimistic than the average. The reason for that is antisemitism : the rise of anti-Jewish prejudice, anti-Jewish harassment and anti-Jewish violence. Early 21st century French Jews are either Holocaust survivors or refugees from Islamic countries, or the children and grandchildren of such survivors and refugees. They know by personal experience how it happened in the past, or heard about it from irrefutable witnesses. They are afraid things may repeat themselves.
Three factors explain the surge of antisemitism in France.
Factor One is a resilient endogenous antisemitic tradition – just like in other European countries -, both at highbrow and popular levels. Call it classic antisemitism. During World War II, it culminated in the Vichy regime’s racist policies and complicity with the Holocaust. After the war, it was rejected, at least in the public sphere – as was the rule, again, in almost all other European and Western countries. Then, in 1967, it was revived by a most unlikely person : Charles de Gaulle, the former charismatic chief of the French Resistance against Vichy and the Nazis.
De Gaulle, who was serving his second teerm as president, sided with the Arabs in the wake of the June 1967 Six Days War. His primary purpose, as in other bold decisions, from France’s withdrawal from Nato in 1964 to the pro-Communist declaration on Indochina in 1966 to support to Quebec separatism in Canada in July 1967, may have been to assert France’s geopolitical independence against the United States and the American-led Western world. However, during a press conference held on November 27, 1967, he vented a bitter hostility not just against Israel, whose legitimacy as a State he questioned, but against the Jews as a whole, whom he described, much in the fashion of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion , as an « elite, self-confident and domineering people » with « vast resources in terms of money, influence and propaganda » (3).
Even if he was criticized or reviled at the time for such words, he was de Gaulle, and wielded enormous influence. Just as the pro-Arab and anti-Israel line he initiated was to remain an essential tenet of French foreign affairs until this day, and to spread virally in global European policy making, his remarks on « the elite people » were to provide over the years an incentive or an excuse to hidden or not so hidden antisemites of all stripes, both rightwing or leftwing.
Since 1967, France passed antiracist laws with special provisions against antisemitism, explicitly admitted to the role of the French State in the Holocaust under Vichy, extended public recognition to a Paris and Drancy Shoah Memorial Museum, created a National Shoah Memory Fondation, stepped up Holocaust awareness education at school, made July 16, the anniversary of the round-up of thousands of Jewish families in 1942, into a national memorial day, and joined the other EU countries in celebrating January 27, the anniversary of the Auschwitz camp’s liberation by the Red Army, as a continental Shoah memorial day.
For all that, antisemitic outbursts are more and more frequent. To mention only some very recent developments in this respect, Jean-Luc Mélanchon, a former socialist minister and currently the leader of the neocommunist Left Front, wondered last March whether « bastard » Pierre Moscovici, the socialist minister of the Economy, who happens to be Jewish, « still thinked in the French language… or just in internationalfinancialese » (Words « straight from the 1930s », noted Harlem Desir, the socialist party chief) (4). In April, a play about the current economic crisis authored and staged by a creative writing workshop at La Rochelle University in Western France (under the supervision of a Quebecan writer), which centered on villainous « international Jews », the Goldbergs and the Cohens (5). In May, Protocols-style obsession about « Jewish power » resurfaced even more explicitly – and was routinely promoted by some of the main French media, at least for a while - in L’Oligarchie et le Sionisme (Oligarchy and Zionism), a TV « documentary » by Béatrice Pignède (6).
Factor Two in the rise of antisemitism in France is exogenous. It is the impact of mass immigration and more specifically mass Islamic immigration.
The global French population, overseas territories included, is 67 million. Seven to ten millions – 10 to 15 % - are non-European and mostly Muslim immigrants or children of immigrants. However, when it comes to the younger brackets of the population, the figures are much higher : 20 to 25 % of the French citizens or residents under 25 are of non-European and Muslim origin. Unless the ethnic French engage now in some new baby boom of their own, or immigration stops, or the immigrants fertility drops, France is thus bound to become a multiracial, multiechnic and half-Islamicized nation within the next half-century.
Unfortunately, most French Muslims tend to suscribe to the unreconstructed forms of judeophobia that are prevalent in the Muslim world at large. Most of them are impervious to any kind of Holocaust-related information or education. And most current anti-Jewish activities, from street or school harassment to arson and murder, are the doing of Muslims. The Toulouse massacre in March 2012 – three Jewish teenage children and one Jewish teacher shot at point blank by Mohamed Merah, a Muslim terrorist – was a chilling experience in this respect.
Factor Three is the rather confused state of mind of the ethnic, Christian French, who are still, for the time being, a majority in the country.
They feel threatened by Islam, no less than their Jewish fellow citizens. According to a Tilder/Institut Montaigne poll released in April, 73 % of the French entertain « a negative view of Islam ». It is in fact the only religion or civilization that a majority of French citizens explicitly reject as such. All other religions rate « positive » : from Buddhism (87 %) to Protestantism (76 %), and from Catholicism (69 %) to Judaism (64 %). (7)
The reason for such rejection, according to a further Ipsos/Le Monde poll also released in April, is Islam’s overassertiveness and radicality. 80 % of the French think that Islam is « forcing its own ways on the global French society ». 74 % think that it is « intolerant » (8).
A logical conclusion would be for French Jews, other non-Muslim French citizens, and those among the French Muslims who suscribe to Western democratic values, to face the challenge of radical Islam together. Indeed, some members of the three groups work to that end.
However, many ethnic French resort to a quite different approach. Instead of entering into a close alliance with Jews against radical Islam, they point to some external similarities between Judaism (or at least traditional Judaism) and Islam : from the use of related Semitic languages, Hebrew and Arabic, to ritually processed food (and ritual slaughtering), circumcision, or gender separation. And they campaign against both religions or communities.
Some political leaders have been eager to condone such attitudes, evidently in order to win over voters. François Fillon, then the prime minister of France in the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy administration, urged both Islam and Judaism on March 1, 2012, to renounce « ancestral traditions with not much meaning nowadays » like kosher or hallal slaughtering (9).
Marine Le Pen, who ranked third in the 2012 presidential election as the leader of the National Front, a Far Right party with an anti-immigration platform, suggested on September 21, 2012, in an interview with Le Monde, that both the Islamic female veil and the Jewish male kippa (yarmulka) be banned in public (10). On the same day, she conceded in a TV interview that « kippa was not a problem » in France, but still urged Jews to consent to its banning it as « a small sacrifice » in order to ban the veil as well, since « laws must apply to all » under a Republican constitution (11).
Classic antisemitism may be at play here. But so are French idiosyncratic Revolutionnary traditions. From Edmund Burke to Jacob Leib Talmon, scholars have stressed the many differences between the English and American Revolutions of 1688 and 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789. While the former ones focused on political liberty, the latter one was obessesed by social equality. While the former ones accepted or advocated freedom for every church and religious group, the latter one undertook to curtail or destroy all churches and religions, from the formerly estabblished Catholic Church to the minority Protestant and Jewish denominations.
The French Revolutionary excesses in social and religious matters gave way in the early 19th century, under Napoleon, to more moderate policies. Still, the twin concepts of uncompromising equality under the law and of the State’s supremacy over the churches have stayed. They led to laïcité, a specific set of Church and State separation laws enforced from 1905 on, which is widely invoked nowadays as the last ditch against Islamicization, but may in fact hurt the tamed traditional religions as well or even more than Islam.
Equally indiosyncratic are the ambivalent provisions under which Jews were accepted as citizens in 1790 and 1791 : they were supposed to forego their religion, or at least many of its essential rituals, and any notion of a common Jewish destiny or identity. As the Count of Clermont-Tonnerre, one of the main artisans of the Jews emancipation, had it : they should get « everything as individuals » and « nothing as a community ».
Indeed, such was the French Jews status (known at times as Franco-Judaïsme) for one hundred and fifty years, until the Vichy regime antisemitic laws in the early 1940s. From a midly anti-Jewish angle, it worked very well. Throughout that period, Jews constantly dissolved into French mainstream society, either through conversion to Catholicism or Protestantism, or by amalgamating with freemasons and atheists : were it not for a constant replenishment through immigration from more traditional Jewish communities – Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Balkans and the Orient -, they might have disappeared altogether.
After World War II and Vichy’s betrayal, however, the Jews insisted on recovering full human rights, not just as citizens but as Jews as well. They openly supported Israel, something they would not have dared to do under Franco-Judaïsme. And a final immigration wave from the Maghreb and the Levant, from 1956 on, brought about an unprecedented Jewish demographic, cultural and religious revival. Supporters of laïcité and of the Clermont-Tonnerre line were dismayed. Or even incensed.
For most French Jews, Factors One, Two and Three are worrisome enough, either taken separately or together, and may warrant emigration plans. All the more so an interpenetration or interplay of all three Factors. On the face of it, a merger of classic antisemitism and Muslim antisemitism may look preposterous. Classic antisemites are supposed to cling to an exclusivist Christian or pagan culture, and Muslim antisemites to an exclusivist Islamic culture.
But real life is very often circular : the furthest you go in a given direction, the closer you come to the opposite direction. In the case of French antisemitism, there is an ominous precedent : many French antisemites started as fierce anti-German patriots in the 19th century and ended as pro-German activists or collaborationnists in the 1930’s and the early1940’s. « Better Hitler than Blum », the French pro-German appeasers used to say at the time of Munich (a reference to Leon Blum, the French socialist prime minister, who was Jewish). Many rightwingers may feel closer today to « virile » and « anti-Western » Islam than to « Zionism » and « globalist America ».
In addition, Muslim antisemitism has been intimately connected to classic European antisemitism for more than one century, and has massively borrowed from it, from blood libels to the Protocols conspirationnist craze to Holocaust negationnism. They have a common language, and each sees a mirror image in the other. And much money has circulated in between them. Fascist and Nazi money helped Arab and Iranian anti-Jewish activists in the past. Arab and Iranian money and support has been lavished on European antisemites in our time.
>> A modified version of this article was presented on June 9, 2013, at « Europe’s Last Stand », an American Freedom Alliance conference held in Los Angeles.
© Michel Gurfinkiel, 2013
Michel Gurfinkiel is the Founder and President of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a conservative think-thank in France, and a Shillman/Ginsburg Fellow at Middle East Forum.
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