No one wants to be called an anti-Semite. The term conjures up the disgraceful persecution of European Jews, with the active participation of many and the passive acceptance of the majority. The ethical judgment on anti-Semitism has been rendered once and for all: it is wrong. But persecuting Israel, Israelis, and Jews in the name of humanitarian values is not seen as blameworthy. Today’s version is: “I am not anti-Semitic but there is nothing wrong with criticizing Israel’s policies.” After all, if Zionism is racism, apartheid, genocide, brutality, and Nazism -- the anti-Zionist has nothing to be ashamed of.
But anti-Zionism is no more about honest criticism of Israel than anti-Semitism is abut honest criticism of Jews.
Anti-Semitism, which does not mean “against Semites,” is an obsessive condemnation of Jews. It justifies attacks against Jews, from insults to genocide. Anti-Zionism, which is the obsessive condemnation of the Jewish state, justifies attacks on Israel, Israelis, and all Jews, from insults to genocide.
From the first outburst of attacks against Jews in the fall of 2000 to the latest episode in January of this year, we are repeatedly assured that France is not an anti-Semitic country. Daniel Vaillant, interior minister of the Mitterand government in the first years of this troubling development, refused to classify the attacks as anti-Semitic. Jewish organizations and media registered and publicized the incidents for those who cared to know. The Chirac government elected in 2002 began to acknowledge the existence of a problem. Measures were taken to protect synagogues and Jewish schools but nothing could stem the tide of attacks on French Jews and their property.
The slightest drop in the number of incidents was taken as a sign that the problem was temporary and about to disappear. Peaks were explained as circumstantial reactions to current events in the Middle East. The 2003 murder of the 23 year-old Jewish D.J. Sebastien Selam was explained away: a Muslim neighbor, Adel Amastaibou, lured Selam into the underground parking garage of their building in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, savagely murdered and mutilated him, and boasted “I killed my Jew I’ll go to paradise.” The killer’s motive was calculated as 1/3rd jealousy, 1/3rd folly, and a tiny 1/3rd anti-Semitic. Amastaibou spent a few years in a mental institution and has never stood trial.
Compared to the 1930s and ‘40s, France is certainly not an anti-Semitic country. Crimes against Jews are almost always committed by Muslims and/or Blacks. However, there is a law against the publication of statistics based on national, religious, or ethnic origin and a taboo against pointing the fingers: any accusation against criminals who, as members of “visible minorities” deserve victim status, is rejected as discrimination.
France is not an anti-Semitic country? For the victims and their families, as for Jews and non-Jews who recognize that Jew hatred is a sign of grave problems in the society, the disclaimer is irrelevant, inoperative, and misleading.
Jacques Chirac, who has admitted in the presence of journalists that he loves “his” Jews and doesn’t give a damn about Israel, made a rare public appearance this week at the launch of the Aladin Project, conceived to foster harmony by providing information about the Holocaust in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. The former president, who is one of the patrons of the project, declared: “I told the Israelis that colonization is wrongful. You do not build peace with your neighbor by grabbing his land, uprooting his trees, blocking his roads.”
President Nicolas Sarkozy declares publicly and privately that he loves Israel and the Jews. (Gutter-level detractors actually portray the president as a Jew and a puppet of the Zionists). His relaxed sincere approach over the years has endeared him to Jewish communities in France and abroad. He was also appreciated for his tough stand against crime, favorable attitude to free enterprise, friendship with the U.S., and firm opposition to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
What is left of this goodwill, two years after Sarkozy’s stunning electoral victory? Opinions differ. Some judge it intact, others feel betrayed, still others believe that he was never sincere. Whatever Nicolas Sarkozy might feel personally, he should be judged on his political discourse and action.
French state anti-Zionism is couched in terms favorable to Israel and presented with rhetorical devices that mask its contradictions. Moreover, this form of velvet anti-Zionism has become acceptable throughout the free world. Jews are attacked in France—a nation that is not an anti-Semitic—and Israel’s security is jeopardized by the foreign policy of France—a nation that is not anti-Zionist.
The recent Israeli military operation against Hamas-controlled Gaza was a prime occasion for the reaffirmation of France’s Mideast policy. Was the operation recognized as the appropriate response of a law-abiding nation to years of attacks launched by an Iranian proxy outspokenly bent on the destruction of Israel and the elimination of Jews everywhere in the world? Certainly not.
President Sarkozy engaged in whirlwind diplomacy from day one, determined to bring a halt to Israel’s “disproportionate” Cast Lead operation. Whether or not the French president was instrumental in imposing the premature halt that effectively protected Hamas from unambiguous defeat, his stance was harmful to Israel’s reputation.
The annual dinner of the CRIF (the Jewish umbrella organization of France) was held on March 2nd in the shadow of the Gaza operation. President Sarkozy dropped in for a brief hello; Prime Minister FranÃ§ois Fillon outlined the government’s policy in a lengthy speech filled with self-cancelling couplets.
Following some general introductory remarks, Mr. Fillon launched into “events in Gaza” that undermined hopes for peace between Israel and Palestine [sic]. “For weeks,” he said, “innocent people were victims of rockets launched by Hamas and of the bombings that responded to them.” The international community will not dialogue with Hamas, promised the prime minister, until Hamas takes the path to peace, negotiation, recognition of Israel.
But, he added, “We also are authorized by our friendship for the Hebrew State to express our doubts and disagreements. France will never accept that Israel’s existence be endangered. But we cannot approve the intensity of a military operation that leads to a catastrophic humanitarian situation...” Reminding the audience that President Sarkozy had met with President Mubarak that very morning at Sharm el Sheikh to discuss the reconstruction of Gaza, FranÃ§ois Fillon proudly reported the president’s promise: “We will not accept that the life of Gilad Shalit be endangered; his liberation in exchange for Palestinian prisoners is a priority for France.”
What does it mean to not accept that Gilad Shalit’s life be endangered? That Israel’s existence not be endangered? It means: “France is not an anti-Semitic country.”
The Prime Minister said the Gaza conflict shows there is no military solution to the “Israel-Palestine conflict. “Only the establishment of a moderate Palestinian state can stifle the embers of extremism” and ensure Israel’s security.
Welcoming the new hopes raised by President Obama’s commitment to peace and the new prospects of dialogue with Syria, FranÃ§ois Fillon declared: “Iran’s acquisition of military nuclear capacity is purely and simply unacceptable,” only to add that the new administration in Washington is ready to talk to Iran. “We count on the Iranian authorities to finally respect the UN Security Council Resolutions ” The upcoming “Durban II Conference” will also be subject to this rhetorical method: if the red lines are crossed, France and its European partners will withdraw.
Unlike the sociologist Laurent Mucchielli who berated the CRIF for complaining about anti-Semitism, the French Prime Minister agreed that it is a legitimate cause for concern. “Anti-Semitism and racism” should be severely punished, and public opinion should be amply informed. Unfortunately there is no evidence, public or private, of this severity. However, state-owned media have been fanning the flames of anti-Zionism, hiding the truth about Hamas, spreading lies about Israel.
Francois Fillon did not hesitate to repeat President Sarkozy’s promise that the RÃ©publique would block the path of those who try to import communitarian tensions in France. However, every Saturday in January tens of thousands of keffieh-draped fanatics shouted Death to Israel Death to the Jews in the streets of France -- No one stood in their way.
Government by rhetoric accepts the inacceptable, condones aggression against Israel, and replaces anti-Semitism with a velvet anti-Zionism that finds expression in attacks against Jews. What is that called?