From Paris, with love
By YONITH BENHAMOU AND ANTOINE CHELTIEL
Jacques Attali, French economist, prolific writer, high-ranking civil official and adviser to president François Mitterrand, dared to declare to Haaretz in October that anti-Semitism in France was a “nonexistent problem,” “a lie… not a problem at the national level… propaganda, Israeli propaganda.”
With all due respect to Attali, the demonstrations of hostility toward the Jews in France are not drying up. Besides the alarming character of the figures published by the French Home Office year after year (over the first nine months of 2009, 704 anti-Semitic acts – verbal and physical attacks, material damage and anti-Semitic graffiti – were listed compared with 350 in the same period in 2008), Judeophobia is promoted by the media. Anti-Zionism, which in their eyes never means detestation of Israel or Jews and always solidarity with the Palestinians, seems to have been promoted to respectability in France.
The echo of the Salah Hamouri affair, a French-Palestinian condemned to seven years in prison because of his 2005 plan to murder Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, is notable. He is an object of a worship in the leftist press and benefits from important support, to the point of being given the title of honorary citizen in three cities in France.
The campaign of boycotts of Israeli products since Operation Cast Lead in Gaza also has emulators. Organized by the EuroPalestine association, these “raids” in French supermarkets seize any product stamped “made in Israel,” while leaving customers gaping and shocked. Wearing green T-shirts labeled “Palestine will live” and “Boycott Israel,” they violently throw into their baskets fruits and vegetables from “territories occupied illegally by Israel.” This large-scale operation, publicized on YouTube and Dailymotion, has yet to arouse any reaction from the authorities.
France is the only European country to have witnessed the participation of an anti-Zionist list in the last European elections. The heterogeneous list consisted of radical Shi’ites, activists of the extreme Left, renegades from the National Front (the far-Right, nationalist party) and a rabbi from the anti-Zionist Natorei Karta. The figurehead of the list was Dieudonné M’balabala, a French stand-up comedian who has used satirical comedy to spread his self-described anti-Zionist views and has invited the high priest of Holocaust denial, Robert Faurisson, to join him on stage. Registered as the Anti-Zionist Party since March, the unlikely group gave as its mission to “free France from Zionism” by all means. One of its favorite slogans is “To fight against Zionism is to fight against anti-Semitism.”
THE VERY controversial book by Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People, which met with tremendous success in France, gave rise to important media coverage and attests to this obsessive Israeli-centrism. The editorial staffs of many newspapers, broadcasters, leftist intellectuals and pro-Palestinians activists took delight in it.
Finally, a Jew, an Israeli no less, who proclaims the truth and unmuzzles the media, which was for a long time under the heel of the Zionist lobby.
Esther Benbassa, head of the department of religious studies at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes and a specialist in Jewish history, did not stop doing the rounds of TV shows immediately after the publication of her book To Be Jewish After Gaza.
There is not a discussion involving the Arab-Israeli conflict in which the zealots of the liberation of Palestine do not mention these two authors, who serve as their alibi. How can they be named as anti-Semites, for they are referred to, with respect and admiration, as two Jewish historians?
Obviously, nobody hates the Jews, but the “Zionists” – which in a few years became a loathed term, a slanderous insult, a synonym for all the evils in the world: capitalism, imperialism, colonialism and racism. The compulsive hysteria provoked by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reminds us of the feat accomplished more than a century ago by a Jewish captain called Alfred Dreyfus, who for 12 years managed to capture the emotions and concerns of a nation, and to split the French population. Indeed, today, in the same way, anyone in this country, any individual, whatever his/her historical knowledge or political background, already has an opinion on the matter and claims he would be able to discourse learnedly about it.
Some neighborhoods of Paris are more prone than others to this kind of rejoicing, in particular in the northeast, where a large majority of Muslims live. Let us take for example the neighborhood of Barbès, fief of the Algerian community and during religious or sports celebrations, the point of convergence of all the people originally from the Maghreb. Here the setting does not allow any confusion of professed political beliefs: Open-air Friday sermons systematically emphasize the “monstrousness of the Zionist entity,” posters and stickers show Palestinian children burned or disemboweled with the slogans “Shoah in Gaza,” “Israelis Nazis,” “Let us free the world from the Zionist influence.” Here there are demonstrations in which Trotskyites mix with fanatical Islamists brandishing Hamas banners.
During the recent qualifying of the Algerian soccer team for the South Africa World Cup, gigantic festivities took place in the neighborhood. Several thousand people of Maghrebi origin, all generations together dressed in green and white, flocked to the neighborhood to celebrate their victory. Until, for some reasons, youth started shouting “Allahu akbar! Death to Israel! Osama bin Laden! Death to Israel!” It was soon repeated by the crowd. The following day, the press described a party where “a friendly atmosphere” reigned (Paris Match, Libération, November 19, 2009).
IF THE streets form an excellent indicator of the degree of hatred the Jews are subject to, there are others, less reported by the media, more insidious, whose impact is difficult to estimate. This story happened last February, in a big high school in a posh Parisian neighborhood, where Mr. K. has taught philosophy for 20 years. K., a “layman, republican and universalistic Jew,” as he likes defining himself, was born in Egypt in 1948 of communist parents. Experienced activists, they were imprisoned before being forced into exile. Anti-Zionists from the very beginning, they naturally chose France, whose culture and language they shared. If religion was absent from their home, the narratives of the deportations and the Nazi extermination had deeply affected the young K., empowering him with a “Jewish consciousness.”
Very concerned for the future of the Jewish state, K. is nonetheless a critical Zionist, close to Peace Now. He did not rest until he promoted peace in the Middle East by meeting personally the negotiators of the Geneva Initiative in 2005 and by introducing an ambitious educational project in partnership with Israeli and Palestinian high-school students: “It was about preventing the transfer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to France, to show that over there, there were also concerted actions, and the will of the Israelis and the Palestinians to work together,” he explains. However, at no time did this teacher, adored by his pupils and respected by his peers, take a position for one side or the other.
A filthy anonymous letter dropped off in his mailbox reminded him that all these qualities are very minor compared to the only decisive component of his identity: his Jewishness. With a perverted undisguised pleasure and a clear purpose, the author skillfully mixes Nazi references, terminology referring to a “Jewish conspiracy” and pornographic ignominies. It is specified that this love letter was especially written to celebrate of the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. “There are no words to describe what I felt when I read this letter… I felt dirty,” K. says, his voice still trembling.
The immediate and indignant reaction of the whole teaching community (interruption of work that morning, summoning of all the high-school students in the playground) as well as the numerous testimonies of solidarity and affection of his pupils, touched him a lot, but were not enough to give K. back his peace of mind and his characteristic cheerfulness. “Those are people who believe deeply in these disgusting ideas,” he assures us.
But the most gnawing agony of this professor, who had never stated his origins within the school and for whom to stay away during Yom Kippur would be close to impossible, is his new condition of public Jew, Jew for all, victim. “I feel in the same situation as somebody who has to wear the yellow star.”
Ten years after the outbreak of the second intifada, the ravages of the politically correct and diehard Palestinism keep the French Jews in a very uncomfortable situation.
The bad treatment of the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut throughout the French media is paradigmatic. Inflexible advocate of republican values and of secularism, he was for a long time the official swashbuckler of the left wing, before being thrown to the lions when he refused to follow the crowd, to condemn Israel without reserve.
In this war on a reduced scale taking place in France, within the intelligentsia and in the blighted neighborhoods, both parties do not get along anymore, do not listen to each other anymore, do not converse anymore, almost like the war in the Middle East.
Both sides are racked by the violence of ideology, with the radicals now questioning the legitimacy of the State of Israel. The hatred mounts, and nothing stops it because it now has a clear conscience.