TIME OF RECK­ON­ING

Robert Zaret­sky says France has to face its anti-Semitism.

Forward Magazine - - Front Page - Robert Zaret­sky Robert Zaret­sky is a pro­fes­sor of his­tory at The Hon­ors Col­lege at the Univer­sity of Hous­ton and the au­thor of “A Life Worth Liv­ing: Al­bert Camus and the Quest for Mean­ing” (Har­vard Univer­sity, 2013).

When a crowd of people took the Bastille, the hulk­ing prison in east­ern Paris sym­bol­iz­ing the power of the monar­chy, on July 14, 1789, they launched the French Revo­lu­tion. This ex­plains why pop­u­lar demon­stra­tions on be­half of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideals of 1789 — lib­erty, equal­ity and fra­ter­nity — most of­ten con­clude at the tow­er­ing col­umn on the site where the prison had for­merly stood.

On the eve of this year’s Bastille Day, the neigh­bor­hood hosted a dif­fer­ent kind of siege. Was it a re-en­act­ment of the tak­ing of the prison? Or was there a hol­i­day sale at a lo­cal depart­ment store? Un­hap­pily, it was nei­ther; in­stead, a crowd stormed the Syn­a­gogue Don Isaac Abra­vanel on the Rue de la Roquette. Rather than fram­ing the flare of fire­works and the singing of “La Mar­seil­laise,” Paris be­came the stage for clouds of tear gas and for the chant­ing of “Death to the Jews.”

Let us for­give those ob­servers who as­sumed that, rather than at­tend­ing the cel­e­bra­tion of the uni­ver­sal val­ues of 1789, they had wit­nessed the com­mem­o­ra­tion of their demise.

The con­fronta­tion out­side the syn­a­gogue was, depend­ing on one’s per­spec­tive, ei­ther the log­i­cal cli­max or a lam­en­ta­ble sideshow to a protest march that had be­gun at nearby Place de la République a few hours ear­lier. Ac­cord­ing to po­lice es­ti­mates, the demon­stra­tion num­bered about 7,000 par­tic­i­pants — many were young women with head veils. They had taken to the gray and damp streets to an­nounce their sol­i­dar­ity with the Pales­tini­ans of Gaza, as well as to de­nounce Is­rael’s mil­i­tary strikes. Walk­ing be­hind a lead ban­ner that de­clared “Full Sup­port for the Strug­gle of the Pales­tini­ans,” the demon­stra­tors were peace­ful, if par­ti­san. The air res­onated with the cho­ruses of “We are all Pales­tini­ans” — a tragic riff on the 1968 slo­gan “We are all Ger­man Jews” — as well as “Al­lahu Ak­bar” (God is great). As for chants con­demn­ing Ha­mas for the hun­dreds of rock­ets it had lobbed into Is­rael be­fore the govern­ment fi­nally re­sponded, there were none. Nor, for that mat­ter, have there been any demon­stra­tions of­fer­ing to­tal sup­port to the bru­tal­ized people of Syria, whose govern­ment has mas­sa­cred un­told thou­sands of chil­dren and women.

But vi­o­lence, ul­ti­mately, was not want­ing. When the marchers reached the Bastille, about 200 young men peeled off and surged along the nar­row streets to­ward the Abra­vanel syn­a­gogue. Named af­ter the Por­tuguese philoso­pher who tried to pre­vent the 1492 ex­pul­sion of Jews from Spain, the syn­a­gogue was host that same day to a spe­cial prayer ser­vice ded­i­cated to peace in the Mid­dle East. But in­stead, the war in the Mid­dle East came to Paris. The ram­pag­ing youths, many shout­ing “Death to the Jews,” swarmed out­side the barred gates of the syn­a­gogue. In­side, con­gre­gants and guests — num­bers range from 200 to 400 — quite sud­denly found them­selves pris­on­ers.

Only sev­eral hours later — a pe­riod that saw re­peated con­fronta­tions be­tween pro-Pales­tinian demon­stra­tors and mem­bers of the Jewish De­fense League — did the CRS (the riot po­lice) ar­rive, per­mit­ting those shel­ter­ing in­side the syn­a­gogue to leave.

Of­fi­cial de­nun­ci­a­tions of the vi­o­lence were as rapid as they were pre­dictable. Dur­ing the tra­di­tional July 14 in­ter­view, Pres­i­dent François Hol­lande con­demned the near-riot: “One can­not make use of anti-Semitism be­cause there’s a con­flict be­tween Is­rael and Pales­tine.” An odd

Politi­cians voice no de­sire to ‘im­port’ the con­flict — but it’s al­ready there.

phrase: Are there, af­ter all, other and more le­git­i­mate uses of anti-Semitism? Hol­lande sought to clar­ify: “The Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict can­not be im­ported.” Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls echoed Hol­lande’s dec­la­ra­tion: “France will never tol­er­ate the im­por­ta­tion onto its soil of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict.”

These sen­ti­ments are no­ble, but empty. This con­flict was ex­ported to France years ago: We need look no fur­ther than the 1990s and the wave of ter­ror­ist bomb­ings in Paris, no closer than 2012 and Mo­hamed Merah’s reign of ter­ror in Toulouse, to re­mind our­selves of this re­gret­table fact. Far from be­ing a net im­porter of Mid­dle East vi­o­lence, France has in fact be­gun to bal­ance this dreary deficit by be­com­ing Europe’s most im­por­tant ex­porter of Is­lamist vi­o­lence. French of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that sev­eral hun­dred French cit­i­zens have gone to Syria to fight along­side rad­i­cal Is­lamic groups.

The ques­tion for France is not how to pre­vent the “im­por­ta­tion” of the Mid­dle East to its soil, but in­stead how to dis­cour­age that im­por­ta­tion from tak­ing root. The head of CRIF, the um­brella or­ga­ni­za­tion for Jewish in­sti­tu­tions in France, Roger Cukier­man, has de­manded that the govern­ment out­law pro-Pales­tinian demon­stra­tions. Yet such ef­forts, as the govern­ment’s crack­down on the openly anti-Semitic comic Dieudonné last year re­vealed, are not only legally du­bi­ous, but also po­lit­i­cally near­sighted. In a re­cent in­ter­view, the new chief rabbi, Haim Kor­sia, in­sisted that Jews still have a fu­ture in France. But such a fu­ture re­mains de­sir­able only if the French Repub­lic re­mains fully com­mit­ted to its in­creas­ingly em­bat­tled repub­li­can ideals.

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