Barbier, Beelzebuth, and Anti-Semitism: The French Socialists' Conundrum

These words were written by Christophe Barbier, the publisher and leading editorialist of France’s flagship left-of-center magazine, L’Express:

How will Jews who fear an antisemitic upsurge in France and opt to leave behind them those other Jews who cannot or do not want to go away clean themselves from an accusation of cowardice?

French Jews have been subjected to unprecedented violence and intimidation for weeks. Many of them are losing heart and considering emigrating, or are actually emigrating -- by the thousands -- to Israel or other places, including North America and Australia. Still, in the eyes and under the pen of the country’s leading journalist, they should be reviled as "deserters."

In fact, Barbier goes even further. He blames French Jews for many more sins beyond emigration: indulging in self-defense, "bunkerization," support for the Benjamin Netanyahu government in Israel, and, last but not least, an alleged growing sympathy for Marine Le Pen and the far Right. French Jews, as he sees it, are becoming a threat to France as a nation and as a republic.

He warns them: "If they think that it is problematic to be Jewish while French, they vindicate those who say that it is problematic to be French while Jewish."

Then there is the headline under which he runs his piece: "Les Nouveaux Baal Zebud" (New Baal Zebuds). That Barbier or L’Express are unsure about the spelling of Baal-Zebuth (or Beelzebuth) is one thing (in the editorial proper, the correct, biblical orthography is restored). That they rhetorically and yet blatantly associate French Jews with Canaanite gods -- described in the Hebrew Bible as sanguinary and deceptive, and widely identified in the Christian and post-Christian tradition and culture with the Devil himself -- is another.

I will always remember how shocked I was in 1967 when General de Gaulle, the former head of the French Resistance and the founder of the French Fifth Republic, whom my French Jewish family venerated, blamed Israel for the Six-Day War. He also characterized the Jewish people as a whole as "an elite, assertive and domineering people," with large resources in "money, influence and propaganda" in many countries, especially AmericaMutatis mutandis, I feel the same about Barbier today.

For years, I have wondered -- and so have many other citizens of France -- why de Gaulle indulged in anti-Semitism, or took up again with anti-Semitism, at the very end of his administration. I found some answers, from his education and early military career; grand strategy calculations. I now wonder why Barbier, the diminutive media de Gaulle of 2014, is turning against the Jews, too. I see at least one answer.

Anti-Jewish violence and abuse have been endemic in France ever since the early 2000s. As in other European countries, this has to do primarily, albeit not exclusively, with the growth of Muslim immigrant communities, where a casual, unreconstructed, almost candid anti-Semitism is part of everyday life and culture. Muslim anti-Semites are virulent by themselves. In addition, they grant French anti-Semitism at large a "critical mass," and a new veneer of respectability or acceptability. Witness the success of Dieudonné Mbala Mbala, the French-Cameroonese anti-Semitic humorist and agitator.

In many ways, Muslim-linked anti-Semitism fluctuates according to the situation in the Middle East and the way it is covered both by Muslim media, either foreign or domestic (satellite TV channels from Arab countries, internet websites), and the mainstream French media (which, for various reasons, tend to be pro-Arab or pro-Islamic). A first peak of Muslim and non-Muslim violence was reached in the years 2000-2002, as a reaction to the so-called Second Intifada. Further outbursts occurred in 2006 (the Israel-Hezbollah war), in 2008-2009 (the first confrontation between Israel and Hamas), and in 2012 (the second Israel-Hamas confrontation).

Muslim and non-Muslim anti-Jewish violence may happen as well in between Israel-related conflicts. Although incidents may be fewer, they are often more lethal. Both the kidnapping and torturing to death in the Paris area of Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish salesman, in January 2006, and the murder in cold blood of a Jewish teacher and three Jewish preteen children in Toulouse in March 2012 occurred during periods of relative calm between Israel and the Palestinians. The same is true of the massacre at the Jewish museum in Brussels last May, presumably by a French Muslim terrorist.

Everyone expected the third Israel-Hamas confrontation this summer to translate into anti-Jewish violence. What came as a surprise, however, was the level of violence. BNVCA (the National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti- Semitism), a private agency founded and directed by Sammy Ghozlan, a former police commissioner and a board member of Consistoire (the National Union of French Synagogues), reported at least one hundred anti-Semitic aggressions in less than three weeks. They ranged from verbal abuse to attacks on persons or property, including shops, restaurants and synagogues. Some attacks were carried out by just a few individuals; others were conducted by mobs in the wake of pro-Hamas demonstrations, and were very much like pogroms, a completely unprecedented outcome.