By Annabelle Timsit
2014 saw a 91% increase in anti-Semitic acts (physical and verbal attacks and/or threats) perpetrated against Jews in France. The most significant rise in these attacks recorded that year happened in correlation with geopolitical events taking place thousands of kilometers away, in Israel and the Gaza strip. These two seemingly unrelated events, namely the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe and the intensification of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, are actually a reflection of an increasing “importation” of the conflict into France that is threatening the survival of the world’s third largest Jewish community.
This phenomenon is part of a progressive deterioration of French-Israeli relations that began shortly after World War II. After the Algerian War ended in 1962, the official direction of French foreign policy seemed to be a restoration of French-Arab relations. While this decision did not immediately translate into a worsening of relations with Israel, it did make a full endorsement of the new Jewish state a risky political move.
Relations deteriorated to the point of no return in 1967 during the Six-Day War. When Abdel Nasser announced the blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba on May 22, France warned all countries involved that the first to open fire would be considered the conflict’s initiator. On June 5, Israeli forces triggered hostilities and, that same day, the French government announced an embargo on arms to belligerents, which primarily affected Israel. On November 27, 1967, De Gaulle gave a famous press conference which harbored many of the dangerous anti-Semitic currents that we would see arise in anti-Israel criticism in years to come: he asked himself if, “Jews, hitherto scattered, but that had remained what they had been at all points in times, that is to say an elite people, sure of themselves and domineering”… “would not once again convert into ardent and conquering ambitions the very moving wishes they spent nineteen centuries forming.” The French government now portrayed Jews as aggressive antagonists with territorial ambitions.
This importation of the conflict had huge security ramifications in France; after the impressive but unexpected victory of the Israeli army in the 1967 War, Palestinian combatants realized they could not rely solely on Arab states. They opted for a strategy that internationalization of the conflict, using violent means of international terrorism to bring attention to their plight. Unfortunately, Europe was the theatre for much of that initial violence. In January 1975, for example, two rocket attacks targeted Israeli planes stationed at Orly airport in Paris. In 1980, the attack against the Copernic synagogue on the night of Shabbat caused 4 deaths and 46 injuries. The violence took place on both sides, as Israeli forces did not hesitate to retaliate on French soil, going as far as assassinating Palestinian officials, such as the representative of the PLO Mahmoud Hamshari during Mossad’s covert Operation Wrath of God.
The post-1967 situation illustrates the point at which the events of the Middle East began to directly reflect on the Jewish people as a whole, more specifically on the Jews of France. After 1967, the actions of the Israeli state were no longer seen as concerning Israelis; they now concern Jews around the world, and therefore French Jews were made to pay with their lives when decisions made in Israel affected Palestinians. The huge rise in anti-Semitic attacks in France and many other European countries, the resurgence of anti-Semitic extreme-right political parties in Parliaments in Greece and Hungary to name a few, and the rise in Islamist terrorism against France and its supposed ‘support’ of Israel are all symptoms of a much larger disease that has been growing in French society for 50 years.
The term “importation” itself did not emerge until the Second Intifada. Since October 1, 2000, more than 7,660 anti-Semitic acts were committed in France, according to concurring sources within the Protection Service of the Jewish Community and the Interior Ministry. The repeated hikes in violence linked to unrest in the Palestinian territories led the media to conclude that what affected Israeli Jews now had a direct effect on Jews all over the world and in France especially, hence the ‘importation’ of the conflict.
Coupled with the growing anti-Israel stance of the French government, this phenomenon is indirectly related to demographic issues. Indeed, the most pervasive anti-Semitic attitudes within any Muslim population outside of Gaza and the West Bank can be found in the Middle-East North Africa (MENA) region. The historically large French Muslim population from the MENA region and its issues of social and religious integration as well as social marginalization has led to a tense situation. The “no-go zones” mistakenly referred to earlier this month by Fox News, while not a reality for most French people, have become very real indeed for Orthodox Jews wearing kippas. For anyone doubting this reality, the new Time video of a Jewish man walking around the less developed neighborhoods of Paris and getting repeatedly insulted, spit on and followed for 10 hours should be evidence enough. What is all the more revealing however is the number of times he gets “Vive la Palestine!” screamed at him.
When Menahem Begin visited France in 1967 he gave a speech where he said, “we have nothing and no one to replace France, especially not in Europe. Our Europe is France. If we lose France, what is left? Germany? God forbid!” Yet today the thought that so horrified him may very well become true. As of 2013, 31% of French people think that “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to France”, 33% feel that “Jews think they are better than other people” and 26% think “people hate Jews because of the way Jews behave.” The ADL rates France as the most anti-Semitic country in Western Europe. Netanyahu issued a statement last month specifically encouraging French Jews to emigrate to Israel for their safety, a request which caused an uproar in the French political class but which resonated with the friends and family of the 7,000 French Jews who ‘made aliyah’ last year. If the Charlie Hebdo attacks of the past month and the desecration of hundreds of Jewish tombs in a cemetery in Sarre-Union a few days later have showed us anything, it is that as the Israeli-Palestinian continues to stagnate thousands of kilometers away, France’s Jews are suffering in the here and now and the trend is only getting worse.