Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What to Make of France's Violent Anti-Semitism: Should Jews Abandon France?

Ten years ago, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told France's Jewish community that it should leave its home country.  A series of shocking anti-Semitic crimes had shown an ugly turn among some Frenchmen against Jews.  France's foreign ministry replied with indignation, surely the world knows France's reputation for tolerance.

This week, Sharon's words proved prophetic.  A pro-Hamas demonstration spawned a rush by fanatics towards a synagogue; the malefactors had "murder on their minds."  They rushed toward a synagogue full of worshiping Jews, brushing aside "inadequate" police protection.  Only security posted by the synagogue itself blunted the attack.

Haaretz details the strident opposition of the French government to Israel since the leadership of Charles de Gaulle.  Part of this could be explained by France's search of a foreign policy to separate itself from American interests during the Cold War.  That country's government, however, has demonstrated institutional anti-Semitism dating back before the First World War.

The 1890s "Dreyfuss Affair" scandalized the French Army for decades afterward.  A Jewish and French officer, Alfred Dreyfuss, was accused of espionage.  While a number of individuals could have been accused with the same evidence, investigators focused on Dreyfuss's religion.  A secret tribunal sentenced Dreyfuss to Devil's Island.  Meanwhile, another investigator turned up more evidence that pointed conclusively to another officer.  Rampant institutional anti-Semitism pervaded the army; even the investigator who exonerated Dreyfuss was known to intensely dislike Jewish people.

While occasional German anti-Semitism still gets the most attention, France's looks most dangerous.  The government has taken consistent stands against Israel and the Jewish people, including an honor guard for the corpse of Yasser Arafat.  The vandalism and destruction of ten years ago has escalated into a riotous attack reminiscent of Kristallnacht and such comparisons should never be made lightly.  To what degree is the very long standing institutional anti-Semitism of the French government responsible? Difficult to say.

Unfortunately, the lesson that Jewish people have learned from history is that the best course may be to abandon a nation irretrievably gripped by hatred for their people.  France currently has the third largest Jewish community in the world.  The question for them is, at what point do they decide to go to Israel or the United States (the two nations in the world safest for Jews) or has that point already passed?

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