web analytics
December 22, 2014 / 30 Kislev, 5775
 
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
8000 meals Celebrate Eight Days of Chanukah – With 8,000 Free Meals Daily to Israel’s Poor

Join Meir Panim’s campaign to “light up” Chanukah for families in need.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

A Fearsome Test For French Jews

March in memory of the brutally murdered French Jew, Ilan Halimi.

March in memory of the brutally murdered French Jew, Ilan Halimi.
Photo Credit: HaGalil.com

France has a rich Jewish history and a vibrant Jewish community of approximately 500,000 souls. At the same time, France is a country where anti-Semitism has deep, seemingly immutable roots. Modern Zionism evolved partly as a reaction to the Dreyfus trial at the end of the 19th century, while in the middle of the 20th approximately 90,000 Jews were murdered during the Nazi Holocaust.

In our own time, France has provided fertile ground for Holocaust deniers, known in local parlance as negationistes. During the last 10 years we have witnessed a horrifying hate crime involving the kidnapping and murder of a young Jew, Ilan Halimi; an Islamist terror attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse that claimed the lives of three children and a rabbi; and a burgeoning anti-Semitic social movement that takes as its symbol an inverted Nazi salute known as the “quenelle.”

Small wonder, then, that French Jewish leaders are continually asked whether their community has a future in the long term. Nonetheless, it is a question French Jewish leaders answer with patience and good grace, as I discovered when I met in New York with a delegation from CRIF, the representative body of French Jewry.

At the head of the delegation is Roger Cukierman, the elder statesman of French Jews who was first elected as CRIF’s president in 2001. Sitting in the offices of the World Jewish Congress, where he also serves as a vice president, Cukierman was candid about the profound problems the community faces, while emphasizing its extraordinary durability.

“There have been Jews in France for the last 2,000 years,” Cukierman said, listing the names of Rashi, the great 11th-century rabbi; Michel de Montaigne, the 16th-century Renaissance author; and Marcel Proust, the 20th-century novelist. Even as he acknowledged the many instances of anti-Semitic persecution through the ages, Cukierman noted simply and proudly, “We are still here. And we are not the only country where anti-Semitism is developing. It may develop in America also.”

Still, there is a genuine urgency about the situation in France. A recent survey of global anti-Semitism issued by Tel Aviv University reported 110 violent attacks on French Jews in 2013 – the highest single number for any country. More alarming is the fact that though Jews make up just one percent of the French population, they are the target of 40 percent of racist assaults in the country. It isn’t surprising, then, that David Tibi, a Jewish leader in Paris, recently declared, “We no longer have a place in France.”

Cukierman is insistent that Jews do have a place in France, adding that anti-Semitism emanates from three distinct sources, rather than being a general phenomenon. First, there is the far right, traditionally the home of Holocaust deniers and Vichy-era apologists. Second, there is the far left, whose aggressive promotion of the BDS campaign against Israel “affects the comfort of living in France for Jews,” Cukierman said. Third, there are the banlieues, run-down suburbs that are home to disaffected Muslim youths who are frequently the executors of violent anti-Semitic acts.

Any mention of the banlieuesinevitably leads to a discussion of Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, the notorious comedian whose attempts at humor are often little more than crude Jew-baiting antics. It was Dieudonne who popularized the quenelle, the anti-Semitic gesture that became internationally known when it was performed by the French soccer star Nicholas Anelka, a friend of Dieudonne’s, during a match in England.

Among the numerous challenges in responding to Dieudonne is his appeal to young people in France, many of whom are attracted by his anti-establishment stance, his hatred of Israel, and his mockery of the Holocaust.

So brazen is Dieudonne that he recently suggested to Ilan Halimi’s mother, Ruth, that the two of them embrace the idea of “reconciliation” – this despite the fact that Dieudonne has openly defended one of the murderers of her son. Ruth Halimi, of course, rejected Dieudonne’s overtures, but his general appeal remains strong – and using conventional methods, like anti-discrimination legislation, to counter him merely boosts his reputation.

Dieudonne, Cukierman said, brings together the “extreme right with the black and Muslim population.” How to reverse this trend is an especially knotty question. Yonathan Arfi, a young CRIF leader traveling with Cukierman, observed that historically, European Jews have adopted a “vertical” approach to anti-Semitism, pushing for government agencies to address the problem. But nowadays, Arfi continued, the approach is becoming more “horizontal” – in other words, engaging and dealing directly with the twists and turns of public attitudes to Jews, their religion, their culture, and their political loyalties.

France, in that sense, increasingly seems like a laboratory for both contemporary anti-Semitism and our response to it. I left my conversation with the CRIF delegation with two abiding impressions: that the Jewish presence in France will be sustained, and that, as the young leaders accompanying Cukierman proved, there is no shortage of fine minds to take the community forward.

How they manage the persistence of French anti-Semitism will, however, be the most fearsome test they face.

About the Author: Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, Haaretz, and other publications. His book “Some Of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014), is available through Amazon.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

2 Responses to “A Fearsome Test For French Jews”

  1. To many muslims everywhere in the west !

  2. Ira Abramson says:

    Too many Muslims and the French do not have control of them!

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Eleven people were injured by a motorist who plowed into a crowd in southern France. The driver yelled "Allahu Akbar" as he attacked. Dec. 21, 2014
French Driver Shouting “Allahu Akbar” Plows into Crowd
Latest Indepth Stories
Knesset and Menorah

Israel projects global material illumination not always the light of “morality” meant by the Navi

President Shimon Peres receives the Congrssional Gold Medal.

“Mr. Prime Minister, declare a unilateral ceasefire! Remember, Blessed is the peacemaker!”

KidSport-Everybody-Is-A-Winner1

“D-e-t-e-r-m-i-n-a-t-i-o-n!”

This masked "soldier" carrying a machine-gun is not part of a terrorist organization, according to the European Court of Justice.

Hamas is continuing to prepare its next war against Israel instead of improving conditions in Gaza

If the UN Grants national recognition to Palestine, why stop there? Tibet, Chechnya, Basque…

The decision to not publicly light the Menorah in Sydney, epitomizes the eternal dilemma of Judaism and Jews in the Diaspora.

Am Yisrael is one family, filled with excruciating pain&sorrow for losing the 4 kedoshim of Har Nof

What is its message of the dreidel?” The complexity and hidden nature of history and miracles.

Police play down Arab terrorism as mere “violence” until the truth can no longer be hidden.

The 7 branches of the menorah represent the 7 pillars of secular wisdom, knowledge, and science.

Obama obtained NO verifiable commitments from Cuba it would desist from acts prejudicial to the US

No one would deny that the program subjected detainees to less than pleasant treatment, but the salient point is, for what purpose?

For the past six years President Obama has consistently deplored all Palestinian efforts to end-run negotiations in search of a UN-imposed agreement on Israel.

It’s not an admiration. It is simply a kind of journalist fascination. It stands out, it’s different from more traditional Orthodoxy.

More Articles from Ben Cohen
Ben Cohen

The coalition the US has assembled to fight ISIS is based on an immediate coincidence of interest.

Israel Palestine Flag

A growing chorus of influential voices is arguing that Israel needs to finish the job in Gaza.

Should Jews in Europe take more responsibility in self-defense of community and property?

As of this moment, the Kurds have little reason to hold back from declaring independence.

While Jews are just one percent of the French population, 40 percent of French racist assaults target Jews.

Even if Egyptian pressure lead to the collapse of Hamas, Gaza’s problems are unlikely to be solved overnight.

This new mood among Christian Arabs has worried the communists and Arab nationalist.

In this drama, J Street, much like other left-wing groups, is an enthusiastic cheerleader, nothing more.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/a-fearsome-test-for-french-jews/2014/05/15/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: