In the past several days we have experienced the same repeated shocks as all our fellow citizens. As Jews, we were profoundly upset by the horrible attack carried out on Jews solely because they were Jews. This can only evoke memories of the worst periods of Judaism in France. All we believe in as activists, citizens, and human beings, and all that we struggle for – the value of life, equality among human beings, and ta’ayush (living together) – was trampled in the editorial office of a magazine and in a kosher market. We are convinced that freedom of expression is a fundamental value of any democratic society and that it must be defended at all costs against obscurantist violence.
We are also conscious of the rise of a formidable anti-Semitism in France. But we seek to analyze it and understand its causes, because, like all racisms, it breeds blindness, hatred and bloodshed. For years, our association has been denouncing the trap set for French Jews and it is important to describe this trap again in the wake of this murderous attack.
This trap has been laid by several different instances, at several different levels, yet not without coordination. It began with Ariel Sharon’s provocations on the esplanade of the al-Aqsa Mosque, which unleashed a second Intifada in 2000. The Israeli government decided that France, which is home to the largest Jewish community of Europe, was a necessary and indispensable tool of its policies. The executive arms of these instances in France was made of the Israeli embassy, the Jewish Agency and the CRIF, that is, the so-called representative council of Jewish institutions in France. Their aim is to embark all Jews of France in a current of unconditional support for all actions of the Israeli government, including the worst. The CRIF seeks to impose the image of a totally homogeneous Jewish community in full support of a flawless Zionism and unequivocal support to the regime’s actions.
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The same mission is then pursued within the network of secular Jewish associations, from which our organization was bound to be quickly ejected because the orthodoxy says there is no salvation outside Zionism. To imagine a collectivity of nearly 600,000 French Jews speaking with a single voice is just as stupid and insane as attributing a similar unanimity to five or six million Muslims, among whom there are, obviously, religious observers, secular or otherwise and in varying degrees, and even a few friends of Zionism! Such reasoning promotes the assimilation, in everyone’s mind, between Jews and support for Israeli policy whatever it may be. And this is policy which occupies, colonizes and kills Palestinian Arabs every day.
Israel’s successive governments have addressed themselves over the same period of time to French Jews, urging them to leave France, with all its supposedly anti-Semitic Muslims, and make their aliyah to Israel.
To complete the picture, there is a family of French intellectuals who espouse a “clash-of-civilizations” view of the world. Caroline Fourest, Pierre-André Taguieff, Jacques Tarnéro, Alain Finkielkraut and others lead the charge both against Islam and for Zionism. Successive French governments, for their part, have continually confused legitimate criticism of Israel and Zionism with anti-Semitism and racism. Most French media have taken up the same chorus. After the massacre of Toulouse in March 2012, one could even hear some journalists who, when speaking of Israel to Jewish citizens of France in front of the school targeted by the assassin, called it “your country.” And let us not forget the Rufin report on racism and anti-semitism (2004), which called for penalization of anti-Zionism, described as a new form of anti-Semitism.
Many Jews have fallen into this trap, given their emotional and familial ties and their identification with Israel, and given Israel’s history as presented in Zionist mythology. Little by little, they have become the potential “representatives” in France of the Israeli soldier or the Israeli settler, abandoning their critical judgment in the heat of increasingly problematic confrontations. They have at the same time sacrificed their own capacity for empathy with others, including occupied peoples, people deprived of all their rights and subjected to massacres, as in Gaza last summer. Their only concern is to preserve at any cost this “small, fragile state surrounded by enemies” and alone capable, they believe, of protecting them from anti-Semitism.
Any criticism of that state has thus been defined as an act of anti-Semitism; any meeting in solidarity with Palestine becomes a gathering of fanatics who are seen as a threat to them personally. Local Jewish communities, at the urging of the CRIF, have thus tried to prohibit such meetings, thereby reinforcing the animosity against themselves. The vicious cycle is only reinforced over time; each new attack on the occupied territories only worsens the tensions and contributes to the syndrome of sectarian withdrawal.
In these same years, the social crisis has deepened in the working-class districts where Jews, Arabs and Africans could often be found together in the same public housing, confronting similar difficulties. In these ghettos of poverty, the young French post-colonial citizen who undergoes job discrimination and is prevented from entering certain night clubs because of his physical appearance, tends to identify with that last non-decolonized pocket of the Arab world – oppressed Palestine. Sometimes he wears the keffieh, a symbol of resistance. Each time he seeks to express his solidarity, his free speech is infringed upon and assimilated to anti-Semitism.
His wish to take part in political debate is thereby negated, rejected and likened to racism. He’s designated as the racist one, in addition to having to undergo racism and social exclusion as a black or an Arab. Little by little, a resentment develops within him against that community which the government claims to protect against him and the likes of him. (It may be noted in passing that Jews are recognized as a legitimate community while the pejorative term “communautarisme,” with its strong connotations of “clannishness,” is reserved for others, Muslims in particular.)
And do not wearers of skullcaps also often bear the insignia of the Israeli paratroopers? They can demonstrate without fear their support for the Israeli army and its massacres in Gaza, and can even take part in those actions – the French government and the national press will say the same nice things about them as about “Operation Protective Edge.” They’re on the side of the good guys: they’re white and western and have the law of the strongest in their favor. Violent groups such as the Jewish Defense League may insult Palestine and Arabs, beat them up and commit acts of vandalism and never be brought to justice; the police just watch them and remain silent, as we witnessed in July 2014 near the synagogue on Paris’ rue de la Roquette (there are plenty of videos to prove what actually occurred).
At the same time, young Arabs were not allowed to demonstrate for Gaza. We cannot forget that young man who was arrested – like others, on the basis of his appearance – while on the sidelines of a demonstration this past summer and as he was leaving for home, simply because he was wearing a keffieh. He was struck by a police office and was sent immediately to a hearing before a judge. A journalist from Libération, witness to the scene, saw the young man break into tears before a partial and inflexible judge and wrote an angry article. The young man was sentenced to three months in prison and is still today under house arrest with an electronic bracelet in his outlying suburb.
The French justice system operates with a double standard: stigmatization for some to the dubious benefit of others, thanks to an official discourse which depicts the Arab world as the backward, barbaric, terrorist Axis of Evil, while Israel is a model of democracy; young Arabs and Africans are painted as potential dangers to society while Jews are a protected category, fully integrated into a West recently redefined as Judeo-Christian. Here too is a source of anger.
The powerlessness of those unable to transcend their miserable condition has sent hundreds of youths of all horizons – even a handful of Jews it seems – into the arms of IS and al-Qaeda. Thus the trap closes shut. Jews, reduced to a homogenous body, will be taken to task for all these injustices, humiliations, muzzlings, and all that arrogance displayed while under the protection of successive French governments: don’t touch our Jews, you eternal foreigners, you barbarians unassimilable into our republic.
If you can’t harm Israel, some tell themselves, at least you can try to harm its Jewish supporters. The festering wound of the Palestinian question, unresolved because the powerful of the world refuse to resolve it, contributes to the emergence of a desperate and suicidal terrorism.
A powerful mechanism for assigning people to their supposed identities of origin has arisen in the context of the post-1989 world. The Jews of Europe, and those of France in particular, have served as footsoldiers in this new formation.
It is with a sense of gravity that we undertake to remind our fellow Jews that we are French; we can live at home here and be “happy like Jews in France” (according to an old saying transformed by historian Elie Barnavi), and we can achieve this happiness with our fellow citizens of all origins. The importation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of your doing because you have been manipulated into serving an unjust cause. The rising terrorism of IS and al-Qaeda, against which we must all struggle because it is a murderous and suicidal dead-end, will require us to wage struggles in common against all forms of racism and exclusion and for the expression of opinions in all their diversity – including those of Muslim and Jews – in a spirit of exchange and dialogue. Freedom of expression cannot be limited to a single world view.