France Waking Up to Its Anti-Semitism?
There is something intriguing about François Hollande, the socialist president of France. Many of his policies boil down to sheer liberal mantras in the style of Paul Krugman or the New York Review of Books. He indulges in overtaxation, big government, inflated social programs, and such cultural demagoguery as compulsory gender parity, gay marriage, and electoral franchise for resident aliens. On the other hand, he departs sharply from the left-wing agenda on some issues.
He seems to be serious about abiding by the EU free market rules, submitting to the euro’s deflationary discipline, cutting the national debt, and balancing the budget. And he is expressing, along with his Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls, genuine sympathy and concern for the French Jews -- and Israel.
On June 30, barely three weeks after Hollande’s election, the French President’s Office devoted a dignified obituary to Yitzhak Shamir, who had just passed away in Jerusalem, calling him a "builder of the state of Israel” and a “courageous man.” The French Left used to describe the late Israeli prime minister as a “former terrorist” and a “fascist.”
Then, on July 22, Hollande boldly linked current anti-Semitic violence in France, including the murder earlier this year of three Jewish children and one Jewish teacher in Toulouse, to the Holocaust. For over half a century, successive French administrations, both Right and Left, had been reluctant to acknowledge the role played under the German occupation by the Vichy regime apparatus and a subservient French police in the round-up of Jews and their subsequent transfer to Auschwitz. François Mitterrand, a socialist president from 1981 to 1995, had been particularly nervous about it, if only because of his close personal ties to René Bousquet, who had supervised the major Paris round-up in 1942 as the secretary general of the Vichy police. It was Jacques Chirac, his conservative successor, who first took full responsibility for these matters in 1995 in the name of the French nation. But at the same time, he held on to the anti-Israeli and pro-Arab policy inherited from Charles de Gaulle, as if France’s partial complicity in the Holocaust did not entail at least some understanding for the Jewish state’s travails.
What made Hollande’s statement on July 22 quite remarkable was not that he reiterated France’s responsibility -- “The crime committed in France and by France” -- and its duty to fight anti-Semitism and racism at large (as liberals in France and abroad, and the New York Review of Books, understood it), but rather that he described the Toulouse massacre as an eerie return to Holocaust times. Indeed, Toulouse’s Islamist killer, Mohamed Merah, had been trained to kill, and to kill Jews, just like SS men had been seventy years ago. The placards and banners at Islamist demonstrations all over Europe routinely warning of a coming “real Holocaust” were from now on to be taken literally, just like the ubiquitous Arabic slogan Itbah al-Yahud (“slaughter the Jews!”). And Hollande, while owing his own election in a large measure to the growing and increasingly assertive Muslim vote, was prepared to do so.
But Hollande went even further. On October 31, he welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu, the conservative prime minister of Israel, on a “working visit” to Paris. They had lunch at the Elysée Palace. The following day, All Saints Day, the two men went to Toulouse and attended a memorial ceremony dedicated to Merah’s Jewish and non-Jewish victims (the Islamist terrorist had also killed, presumably as “traitors” to jihad, three soldiers of North African or Caribbean origin in Montauban). French and Israeli flags were displayed. While Netanyahu had called on French Jews to come to Israel, Hollande insisted that French Jews’ security was “a national cause.”
The subliminal message: (a) Hollande saw Netanyahu as the legitimate prime minister of a legitimate democracy; (b) Hollande agreed that Israel, as a Jewish country, had a legitimate interest in the fate of Diaspora Jews; and (c) Hollande was not going to sacrifice the French Jews to mere electoral arithmetics.
French Jews (who have moved very much to the Right over the past thirty years) may or may not be convinced by Hollande’s attitude. Many of them note that for all that, his administration carries on with many anti-Israel policies: socialist prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault just bestowed the government sponsored Human Rights Prize to Michel Warschawski, a radical French-Israeli anti-Zionist activist; and the socialist-dominated Regional Council for Ile-de-France (Greater Paris) passed a cooperation agreement with the Palestinian "Jerusalem Governorate," a Palestinian Authority branch intended to take charge of "Arab Jerusalem."
Even those who are impressed wonder if it does not come too late. As an elderly gentleman of Moroccan-Jewish descent confided to me last week: “The yogurt’s expiry date is now." The gentleman elaborated:
Back in Morocco, we used to be members of the national elite. Right after independence, in the late 1950s, my father was seen as a close friend of King Mohamed V. He had access to everybody in the government. He held important positions. Then, one day, he told his stunned family that we were leaving for France. And forsaking the best part of our money and belongings. We, the children, were aghast: "What is going on?" we asked. And our father told us: "The yogurt’s expiry date is now. From now on, we have no future anymore in Morocco. We must go, as long as we can go.”
Indeed, most Jews left Morocco in less than twenty years, and most had to relinquish most of their goods upon leaving. There were 350,000 Moroccan Jews -- out of a global population of 10 million -- in 1956, when the French and Spanish protectorates were lifted and the “Sharifian Empire,” as it was then known, resumed full sovereignty. In the early 1970s, only a few thousand were left.
Some Jews left for Israel even before independence, when the French still ruled most of the country. Most left for Israel, France, or Canada during the first ten years of King Hassan II’s reign, from 1961 to 1971. Hassan II was then playing the “progressive,” pan-Arabist, and proto-Islamist card, and gave free rein to anti-Jewish intimidation or harassment.
He changed his mind when he survived two assassination attempts, in 1971 and 1972, and realized that some of his hitherto closest advisors were involved. Some say that he then remembered an old prophecy according to which the Alawi dynasty he belonged to would last as long as Jews would be found in Morocco. Some others more soberly say that he needed American aid to survive, and that America paid much attention to his attitude towards Jews. Whatever his motivation, the king made sure after 1972 that the last Jews still living in Morocco should stay, and that even some other Jews should be cajoled into starting business or buying property in the country. All in all, a residual three thousand-soul community has thus been maintained to this day.
As for Mohamed VI, who succeeded Hassan II in 1999, he has so far been a friend of the Moroccan Jewish community, both in and outside Morocco, and a genuine moderate in Israeli-Arab affairs. The 2011 constitution -- passed as the Moroccan answer to the so-called "Arab Spring" -- specifically mentions the Jewish heritage as part and parcel of the national Moroccan heritage, a noble and praiseworthy move on the part of an Arab country.
But the point is that at least 98% of the counted Moroccan Jews were induced to leave Morocco under very short notice. Which gave some weight to what the elderly gentleman had to say next:
I never thought anything like that would happen to me again, and in France at that, of all countries. ... But here we are. The expiry date has been reached again. We must go. My children and grandchildren must go. And I, an old man, must go too.
That most Jews in France feel utterly insecure by now and that many consider leaving for another country is an open secret. Interior Minister Manuel Valls -- who is seen as even more pro-Jewish and pro-Israel as Hollande -- insists that Jews are an integral part of the French nation, and that “France cannot countenance” a mass exodus of its “children”).
Which means that such a mass exodus is indeed being discussed.
French Jews certainly love France and are loyal to the French nation. On the other hand, they are either the survivors or the survivors’ children of two major cataclysms: the Shoah in the 1940s and the near-total expulsion from Islamic countries from the late 1940s to the 1980s. All of them know or were told by their closest relatives about previous “expiry dates.”
The Toulouse massacre was certainly a turning point. But more anti-Jewish violence was reported throughout the summer in France. It culminated in an attack against a kosher supermarket in Sarcelles, in the Paris suburbs, on September 19. Two weeks later, on October 6, the French police dismantled an Islamist cell that was apparently involved in the Sarcelles attack and was planning more attacks, including the assassination of several Jewish leaders. What was noteworthy about it was that its members were mostly converts to Islam rather than Muslims by birth.
Le Monde, the authoritative if somewhat left-wing newspaper of France, two days later published a landmark editorial:
A sinister fact was validated over the weekend. There are in France groups that are decisively engaged in anti-Jewish violence. … All in the name of Islam, and of an unbelievable ideological hodgepodge where the Muslim community’s concerns over the Middle East coalesce with questions over Afghanistan. … What is however really new and really frightening is that the anti-Jewish violence borrows a lot from the old European anti-Semitism that prevailed at the end of the 19th century. … And that the Internet spreads the anti-Semitic renewal through a myriad of anti-Western sites.
The link between anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, Islamism, and global anti-Western militancy is not breaking news, to say the least. What is important here is that Hollande (at least implicitly), Valls (much more explicitly), and Le Monde and the French intellectual and political establishment it stands for do not attempt any longer to deny it or to underestimate it. How come?
It may be surmised that somehow the French nation as a whole, starting with its police forces, realizes that networks who plan the systematic murder of Jews can just as well engage in a civil war. It’s not the Jews' yogurt, stupid, it’s ours.