Thursday, January 15, 2015

Anti-Semitism in france; Some personal thoughts

I have always been a lover of Paris. I think it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world with something for everyone. Museums, architecture, history, shopping, food. Did I mention food? What about pastry? Did I mention pastry? Wine! I forgot wine.
I have never found the stereotype that Parisians are snooty or unfriendly to be true. While sadly I have only visited a few times it has been my, and my families, experience that politeness is always met with politeness and on most occasions warmth. Trust me, its not due to my French speaking skills which range from non-existent to, on a good day, poor.
The events in Paris, the killing of the journalists and those in the kosher supermarket are obviously horrendous. But what has greatly saddened me has been reading the many articles on the Jewish communities reaction.  I am not in Paris and do not have family there so my reactions are based solely on my reading and my limited personal interactions.
Two major themes seem to emerge from my reading, both of which are disturbing. One is the large migration of French Jews moving to Israel. The Jewish Agency in France is anticipating a dramatic rise in Aliyah. In 2014 there were nearly 7000 olim from France, more than double that from 2013 and triple from 2012. In 2015 they expect that number to rise to 10-15 thousand.
I believe having a variety of cultures and religions strengthens a country. Imagine American society and history without the cultural influence of its Italian, Irish, Chinese, and Hispanic populations. (At a minimum imagine how lousy the restaurants would be!) A France without a Jewish population would be a lesser France. Another consideration is the effect of this huge population on the state of Israel. One can only imagine that absorbing such a large influx of immigrants, who will need jobs, housing and language training could present a strain on the country.

The second theme focuses on the reactions of the French government to the killings. The French government has issued statements in support of the Jewish community, and deployed almost 5000 troops to guard Jewish schools. However, many feel there was a stark difference between the way the country rallied in condemnation to the attack on the journalists vs the lesser response to the murder of the Jews in the supermarket.
The fact that there was a lesser response cannot be denied. The fact that this is upsetting to Jews is understandable. But is it really an example of anti-Semitism? Imagine that on the same day in New York City there were two terrorist attacks, one at a major metropolitan newspaper, and the other at a prominent Jewish deli. Yes, all life in sacred and no life should be more valuable than another. But would it surprise anyone that the newspaper attack would garner more local, national and international attention?

During my last visit to Paris my family had the opportunity to spend several hours wandering with a twenty-something Jewish woman. Her grandparents had come to Paris to escape the Russian revolution and two generations later they were a large, wealthy and educated family all still living and working in Paris. Of course, we asked her about anti-Semitism in France. Her response was that the French were not ant-Semitic but simply opposed to public demonstrations or discussions of religion. She said that she wouldn’t wear a Jewish star in public but neither would her Christian friends ever wear a cross. This was her opinion, of course, but seems supported by fact. In 2010 the wearing of any kind of face coverage, including a hajib, headscarf or burka was outlawed in France. In 2004 the wearing off all conspicuous religious symbols in public schools was banned. While as Americans we may not care for these laws but I do not believe it makes French society anti-Semitic anymore than it makes it anti-Muslim.

Religious hatred of all kind is intolerable and we should speak out against it both abroad and at home. But we need to be careful not to see only ourselves as the victims.

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