Vol. 5 / August 2004 A JOURNAL OF POLITICS AND THE ARTS
In November 2001, a tract entitled “Zionism, the True Image of the Devil on Earth,” was distributed in several mosques of the Parisian region. Mixed in with fantastic refutations of the Shoah, with arguments about the domination by Jews (“May they be cursed,” we find at each reference to those who address their prayers to the devil), we note: “They set the fire of the Second World War.” “The Zionist criminals had to massacre the Christian and Muslim population of Jerusalem in order to establish themselves there.” In France, “the judges are either Zionists or their agents.” “In September 2000, the intifada broke out, the war between truth and the devil.” “They want to rule the world from holy Jerusalem.” “The attacks in New York and Washington, as well as the one in Oklahoma City, were their work, while the Muslims were accused without proof.” etc.16
Beyond remarks and motivational writings of this kind, there was a more broadly disseminated, widely shared incitement. Some French people may have felt themselves inspired by it, even believed themselves authorized to organize their own mini-pogroms and mini-intifadas by imprudent accounts and commentaries of unbalanced persons. Television stations and newspapers allowed the Palestinians to repeat ad infinitum that the Israelis were massacring them. The same tunes were played endlessly. The provocation/visit of Ariel Sharon, for example, was one of the several “keys” that opened many sluice-gates. During a television broadcast on Judeophobic violence, the journalist Bruno Masure, called out: “But there was the visit of a certain general Ariel Sharon...” “Did this visit on the “esplanade” – “of the mosques”, supposedly – justify the burning of synagogues in France? On various occasions, particularly 14 months after the “provocation,” to “explain” the bloody day of December 1, 2001 in Jerusalem and Haifa, a television network rebroadcast for the nth time the classic scene of the now historic visit. During the second anniversary of the war, in September 2002, the television networks rebroadcast the “provocation” once again.
This is one case among others of broadcast incitement. As Meir Weintrater wrote, “making history begin at the precise moment when an Israeli reacted to an attack, a moment earlier, by a Palestinian, accusing Israel of having unleashed hostilities, claiming that the Israelis shoot unarmed demonstrators, affirming that the IDF soldiers deliberately kill children, is to state a series of lies that inevitably generate feelings of hatred among the public, the effects of which we see every day.”17 The effects of anti-Israeli propaganda, too much spread by the media, were immediate, both among the man in the street and among the educated elite. These were serious effects which will not, besides, be dissipated very soon. A public opinion poll taken in France in 2001, showed that the majority of 20-30 year-olds, chosen at random in the street, believe that Palestine was a sovereign state until it was conquered in 1948 by Jewish survivors of the Holocaust who had spent World War II in German concentration camps. On June 3, 2001, during an interview with journalists in Israel, Jacques Lang, minister of culture, said he was unaware that Palestinian school textbooks inculcated anti-Jewish hatred. If a man as well informed as a minister was unaware of this crime, what can we expect from the broad public?
The Television is Their History Book
The televised images, the tone of the commentaries, were challenged by many observers.
Henri Hajdenberg asserts the responsibility of the televised image in unleashing the violence. The TV image “broadcast repeatedly of little Muhammad dying in his father’s arms is certainly an example, as recently were the televised reports of on Israeli reprisals... It would not be useless for the officials of television news programs to ask themselves about the repercussions of their own deviations in regard to the anti-Jewish climate that is developing in certain circles.”18
“The hostile tone of the media and the political statements,” Shmuel Trigano commented, “can play...as an indirect legitimation of incidents of which (the Jewish community) is victim and thus as encouragement.”19
Chief Rabbi Joseph Sitruk openly accuses “extremely bad and single-voice communications about what is going on in the Middle East... Few people know the history of the recent decades. When the Palestinians are shown to them as victims and the Jews as aggressors, they believe it.”20 Some Frenchmen have thus demonstrated and acted against the “representatives” of the Israelis, the French Jews.
“Disinformation,” the psychiatrist Marc Reisinger wrote, “generates in the uninformed or insufficiently critical reader a kind of ‘anti-Semitism of good faith’, based on an accumulation of false information.” He recalled that “the pogroms were also unleashed by ‘news’ concerning the murder of children by Jews, most often coming from elsewhere.”21 We are not at the stage of a pogrom, but a pogrom, like the Shoah, does not begin with killing, but when someone wants to kill, when he is given the desire to kill.
“The media,” Daniel Dayan added,
revealed new possibilities of action to teenagers who are having difficulty asserting themselves. Burning synagogues made it possible to give a heroic coloring to acts of vandalism now commonplace. It is difficult to enter History by spray painting on a supermarket. But the violence we are talking about only showed up because it already existed in Gaza.22
Personalities in the Jewish community were not the only ones to make this observation. The major press did it too. Thus Le Monde: “The peak of violence observed in October 2000, just after the broadcast by the television networks of reports on little Muhammad, seems to indicate that the perpetrators of these acts are very sensitive to the images conveyed by the media about the Middle East.”23 Moreover, these perpetrators confirmed it themselves. Questioned by a journalist, a young Jamal recognized this: “Not a racist against the Jews, but the massacres that I see on TV provoke hatred within me in regard to the Jewish community.” The article reporting this admission is entitled, significantly, “How the youth of the suburbs were won over by Judeophobia.”24
Inquiring about the hot heads of Goussainvile, a journalist observed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so much present in their lives and “on the screens of their TVs, that they no longer make the difference between here and there... The TV screen serves as a history book... their great struggle is played out on the 20:00 news broadcast...” Some aspire to “join their ‘Palestinian brothers’ by appearing themselves on the TV screen.”25
Major newspapers ratified the observations of their reporters. A editorial by Denis Jeambar in L’Express brought up, to explain the sense of insecurity and neglect felt by the French Jews, “the almost exclusive compassion that our leaders and the press show for the Palestinians.”26 “The force of the images that we receive every day from the Middle East,” wrote Michel Schifres in an editorial in Le Figaro entitled, “The Poisons”, “make us forget the necessary perspective... These images also nourish the imagination of young Muslims.”27
Of course, the inciting role of the image was far from being universally recognized. On April 1, 2002, France 2 brought together in a quick mini-debate, the mufti of Marseilles and Roger Cukierman on the Judeophobic terrorism of the weekend. The president of CRIF observed that the reports on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the network whitewashed Yasser Arafat and besmirched Israel, contributing to fostering an anti-Jewish climate in France. The anchorman, both judge and party in the case, replied in an unanswerable tone that his network did not whitewash or besmirch anybody, and ended the debate.
“The Intifada of the Suburbs” also took inspiration from France’s Middle Eastern policy. If the government, if so many major voices, took the side of the Palestinians, the part of society closest to them felt encouraged to do the same. “We can understand why the young Beurs [North Africans] are in their moods,” a French minister said. After tens of attacks against synagogues, the French did not go down to the streets, but would they have stayed home if tens of churches or even tens of mosques were involved? The anti-Jewish epidemic developed in a sick climate which put Israel outside the law.
Minimizing a Big, Dramatic Affair
How did France react to “the intifada of the suburbs”?
In the first stage, during the first wave at the end of 2000, the media hardly reacted. One might have the impression that “that” did not interest them, that they did not want to be interested in it. Several months later, the attacks on synagogues became a major subject. Pillaged locations were shown, as was the burial of charred Torah scrolls and the Jews’ protest marches. Official declarations of rebuke were heard as were promises of protection from the authorities. Theses confronted each other on the op. ed. pages of the dailies. Talk was heard of Jewish victims and young North Africans. The periodicals made it their front pages. Investigations of 4, 8, 12, and 16 pages were published. The headlines followed in large letters, often across the width of the pages: “The number of anti-Semitic attacks suddently increased in recent weeks,” “Anti-Jewish raid in Seine-Saint-Denis”, “Molotov cocktails, stones, insults and intimidations...”, “The government is deploying a thousand men,” “Jewish schools and synagogues under high protection”, “Chirac and Jospin come to the defense of the Jewish community,” “The Muslims between condemnation of anti-Semitic acts and support for the Palestinians”, etc. There was no effort to muzzle the Jews. But the Israeli “aggression” against the Palestinians and “the al-Aqsa intifada” simultaneously swarmed over the screens and rubbed shoulders with articles on “the intifada of the suburbs.”
The verbal condemnations burst out everywhere. After the first incidents, especially the throwing of Molotov cocktails, the president of the Republic denounced “displays of intolerance” that “unacceptably challenged the values and traditions of the French Republic.” Lionel Jospin, two days later, expressed his indignation, calling however for not overdramatizing the attacks which were “not systematic” and “do not take an organized form”. He was firmer on October 19, exhorting the members of various national communities “not to import the passions of the Middle East into our own country.”
During the April 2002 election campaign, which also corresponded to the peak of attacks on Easter, tongues became totally loose. The candidate Jacques Chirac multiplied his position-taking statements, expressing his “indignation”, his “emotion” after “totally unacceptable acts, unspeakable and unforgivable. These acts unworthy of France and the French.”28 When a synagogue is burned, it is France that is humiliated, when a Jew is attacked it is France that is attacked.”29 He said, before Dalil Bubakr, rector of the Great Mosque of Paris: “These attacks, whatever their nature may be, are unworthy of our country. Racial or religious hatred, under any form, must be pursued [by forces of law] and repressed with exemplary firmness.”30 In the Progres de Lyon, he denounced the “scandalous acts that contradict the very foundations of French identity, doing damage to the republican pact [and] must be combatted with the greatest vigor.” He enjoined “all officials, parents, elected officials, directors of educational institutions, religious authorities, to forecefully state...the civic necessity for tolerance and freedom.”31
Lionel Jospin, after the attack on the synagogues in Marseilles, Lyons, and Strasbourg, announced the deployment of 1,100 extra men in twelve cities and instructed the minister of justice to repeat to the prosecutors “the general penal instructions for extreme severity in regard to every act of anti-Semitic aggression... Any return or any display of anti-Semitism, whatever the excuse might be, will be extremely firmly pursued and suppressed by the forces of law of our country.”32 The situation in the Middle East “was already enough of a heartbreak so as not to accept the evil passions of that antagonism being imported among us.”33
Minister of the Interior, Daniel Vaillant, asked the prefects [police commissioners] to mobilize “all local means available of the police and gendarmes [special police] to reinforce supervision” and asked the judicial police to “seek the presumed perpetrators of these criminal acts and bring them to justice.”34 Elisabeth Guigou, Minister of Employment, indignant, promised “the Jewish community that they will find [her] always at their side when they are victims of acts of violence which must not be accepted in our country.” All the religious authorities, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim, made condemnations. Even the officials of a National Collective of Young Muslims in France, rebuked “criminal acts” aiming at Jews, and called on “the citizens as a whole to be on the watch for attempts to exploit the events linked to the Israelo-Palestinian war.”35
Vichy Comes up from the Sewers
To what extent were these resolute declarations translated into action on the ground?
“The Jospin government [told] us that we were exaggerating, while our children were being threatened,” Roger Cukierman remembers. “After the incident of Bondy,” Patrick Gaubert added, “I said to Jospin that he should go out to the place and talk to the parents. He sent a little note and it was an advisor to Lang who came to facilitate the transfer of traumatized children to other schools.” Eli Barnavi confirmed: “I begged Jospin to take a clear position, to name what was happening, but he could only drown the matter in a general discourse on racism. The height was that Leila Shahid [PLO spokesperson in France] would have been firmer than they were.”36 The ambassador of Israel added, “There was an incredible lack of reaction on the part of the government and the highest authorities of the state... Starting from the first synagogue burned down, from the first Molotov cocktail... a cry of national indignation should have been raised. Now, this was not the case and it was there that everything slipped.” Certain North Africans “were encouraged to do it by the very ‘understanding’ attitude of the authorities.”37
Jews are Attacked, Nobody Moves
A tendency appeared to attenuate, to minimize the actions – condemned in words rigorously and vigorously – to mildly describe them, to take away the legal significance of the actions, to modify the nature of the criminal act, to reduce its degree of seriousness. Stones can wound, mutilate; they are not “incivilities” [rudeness]. The attempt to murder, willful arson, are crimes in the jurisdiction of the criminal court. The driver and pupils in a school bus were struck, yet the attack was described as “breaking glass”. The attempt to break into the synagogue of Creteil – the perpetrators caught in the act – was punished by three months in jail, sentence suspended. This minimizing sometimes went to the extreme of making absolutely nothing out the actions, expressed by the total passivity of certain witnesses to the attacks. A boy was attacked on a bus, a Moroccan attacked the rabbi of Rouen with a club, a pupil was called “dirty Jew” in the schoolyard, nobody budged. In a high school, pupils called a teacher “dirty Jew-girl”; the principal did not expel them. After Vichy France, cries of “Never Again” came from all sides. Here the metastases of Vichy came up from the severs.
There was an attempt to deny the ideological motivation of the perpetrators of attacks, despite the evidence; to see them merely as “thugs”, as “wild kids”, who supposedly act without knowing why and in particular, not out of anti-Semitism, who “are letting themselves go”. Michel Tubiana, president of the League for Human Rights, spoke of “some acts due to marginal persons or structureless dummies”. One had the impression that the correct analysis was not being made that was required by the nature of the perpetrators, the victims, the targets of the attacks; they refused to call a spade a spade, while they did not designate the guilty, nor the pro-Palestinian motivation nor the anti-Israeli inspiration. The minister of interior described the actions as “phenomena of sad fashion,” perpetrated by “idle youth.” “As we were speaking several years ago of the ‘feeling of insecurity’ to deny the reality in the poorer neighborhoods,” the investigators of Nouvel Observateur noted, “certain policemen do not hesitate today to expound on the ‘feeling of anti-Semitism’. They claim that ‘It is not because a rabbi’s Mercedes was stolen that it is an anti-Semitic act.’“38
However, Beauveau Square well knew the facts and anatomy of their causes. Marc Knobel, in a study of “The Anti-Jewish Attacks”, mentioned a police report based on the interrogations of 48 suspects, which does not entirely avoid the true motivations and correctly shades the profile of the attackers:
It involved for the most part individuals mostly involved in delinquency and not advocating any special ideology. They seem nevertheless motivated by a feeling of hostility to Israel more or less diffuse, exacerbated by the media treatment of the confrontations in the Middle East. This facilitated their projection into the conflict, which in their eyes, reproduced outlines of exclusion and failure of which they felt themselves victims in France.39
A curious minimizing was made by the mayor of Creteil, where the Otsar haTorah school was burned on December 31, 2001 by unknown persons, at the same time as three individuals tried to break into the synagogue. The second act should not have been considered anti-Semitic:
On January 25, 2002, at La Courneuve, a first took place. Someone shot a rifle at a school bus of the Schneour school of Aubervilliers. No child was hit. A window was broken. The year before a bus had been attacked in the same vicinity. The driver had been threatened with a pistol, windows had been broken with large objects. It was in this incident, as we said above, that the prosecutor’s office had made the charge of “breaking glass.” The description was no doubt correct juridically. But shooting at children... In the summer of 2002, all the parents of the children attacked brought a complaint to the police.
The demographer Michele Tribalat spoke of “voluntary blindness.” She mentioned a radio journalist questioning Jean-Pierre Chevenement about the events and presenting them as follows: “...tensions between the Jewish community and youths of whom it is said that they were beurs...” She mentioned again those who spoke of “small annoyances”, those who deny “the meaning of their acts against all evidence” and let it be understood that they “burn synagogues and Jewish schools...as they burn cars, without knowing why”.41 Some may not know why. But can we imagine that those who describe, comment on, and judge their acts do not know why? Why is it that they don’t burn churches or Catholic schools out of idleness? And if they only burned churches, would you say that they were anti-Christian? If they only burned German cars, wouldn’t you say that they were, at the least, suspect of being anti-German?
The synagogue of Duchere at Lyons was attacked by a gang of some 15 persons. One Friday evening, at the end of March 2002. A teenager, Fatima, explained that “Those who did that were clowns.” But an employer at LaDuchere who hired some of the youths, said the same: “The Muslim fundamentalists use neighborhood hoodlums,” who “know nothing about Palestine or about the Jews. Their solidarity with the Palestinians... is above all, the occasion for doing some dirty business.”42
Three youths admitted having thrown fire bombs against the Mazal Tov synagogue of Montpellier on the night of April 3-4, 2002. A magistrate explained that “It was an isolated act caused by idleness and alcohol,” rather than a political act, “a limited act occurring on a night of wandering”. However, brochures were found in their car published by a mosque where harsh speeches were given, as well as mobile telephone carrying the manufacturer’s logo and the word “Palestine”.
These attitudes were bitterly resented by the Jews. They felt themselves very alone, when they should have felt around themselves the warmth and consolation of a France that shared their unhappiness. Cases were reported of people whose walls had been disfigured by racist graffiti. When they went to the police or the mayor’s office, they were told that it was up to the owners to clean their facade. No doubt that is the law. But there was a kind of symbolism in this response. Instead of washing the walls, they were washing their hands.
A caricature by Plantu, who has never been tender toward Israel, perfectly illustrates the situation. Six identical synagogues are burning, smoking, more or less damaged or completely destroyed. Three policemen are there. One smokes his pipe, another has his arms hanging down; a third speaks, asking: “Chief! ... How many synagogues have to be burning before we can talk of anti-Semitism?”43
France, a Judeophobic Country?
The question of the anti-Semitic character or not of the attacks caused tension between Israel and France, at the highest level.
In January 2002, Michael Melchior, Israeli deputy minister for foreign affairs, cited France as “the worst Western country for anti-Semitism”, that the authorities “did not take [it] seriously”, and even “hesitated to stop” [it]. In February, Ariel Sharon observed in turn that “the Jewish community of France is facing a dangerous wave of anti-Semitism. There are six million Arabs and the Jews might be in danger.”
Abraham Burg, speaker of the Knesset, one of the most pacifist of Israelis, more stubborn than Shimon Peres in the search for a rapprochement with the Arabs, farthest “left” of the Labor Party, made a severe judgement, identical to the words of Melchior, who is situated to the “right”: “Anti-Semitism...at its highest level in 30 or 40 years, is especially high in France... [The] government turns its attention away from it... I cannot say that certain statements made by French officials at the highest levels discourage this phenomenon.”44
The French reactions were very lively. At the beginning of 2002, during the presentation of New Year greetings to the press at the Elysee Palace, Jacques Chirac had thundered: “There is no anti-Semitism in France. There is no anti-Semitism.” In May, he telephoned the Israeli prime minister to complain about “the anti-French campaign” that was supposedly raging in Israel, which “is not acceptable and cannot continue without consequences.” The Quai d’Orsay [French Foreign Ministry] used even stronger language: “Denouncing France as an anti-Semitic country is odious,” a word taken up by Hubert Vedrine during an interview with Radio Classique: “France is absolutely not an anti-Semitic country. It is even odious as an idea,” since the attacks occur “in the suburbs” among “populations coming out of immigration who very badly experience what is happening in the Middle East.” Bernard Abouaf ironically commented in Actualite Juive: “It remains to be explained to the victims of the anti-Jewish attacks that they cannot complain that they were attacked by racists, on account of the supposed state of excitement of the attackers. If we understand the minister well, the latter are attacking their Jewish neighbors because they are Jews, but they are not anti-Semites.”45
Of course, France is not an anti-Semitic country. Emmanuel Levinas recounts that his father gave as an example France during the Dreyfus Case, a country that went so far as to divide itself in two camps in order to defend a Jew unjustly attacked, where, therefore, a Jew had to immigrate in an emergency... But could one say that there was no Judeophobia, that there were no Judeophobes in France in 1894 and that there aren’t any in 2002? Isn’t saying it attacking the patient instead of treating the disease that he is complaining about? When the Jews are spit on, when their synagogues are burned, aren’t those Judeophobic acts? Would it be reprehensible to cry wolf? To denounce those who reveal the situation, isn’t that practicing appeasement? Isn’t it a new form of Holocaust denial? Some “historians” have denied the reality of Judeophobic persecutions of yesterday. some politicians deny the Judeophobic brutalities of today.
Not only were the motivations and acts minimized, but the attackers and their victims were included together within the same shadow of guilt.
There was talk of intercommunal confrontations, appeals for calm, for tolerance, for not making confrontations, but to both communities, Jews and Muslims alike. An editorial by Pierre Georges notes that the authorities are on the watch “for acts of anti-Semitism or anti-Palestinianism which may be committed here or there.”46 What anti-Palestinian acts imputable to Jews were committed in France? Combining the violence of members of one community with the violence supposedly committed by the other, which did not exist, was another way of minimizing the real violence.
Nothing can be validly amalgamated. The radio stations of the Jewish community did not broadcast sermons by rabbis piling up pejorative labels for the Muslims and bringing down God’s curses on them, sermons that could hardly be found even in the most conservative rabbinic literature. The Jewish radio stations did not propagate calls for violence against the Muslim community. Jews did not march from the Republic to the Bastille screaming: “Death to the Muslims!” “The Muslims will die!” The Jews did not attack Muslims; they did not burn stores run by Muslims nor mosques.
Let us imagine that this were the case. Let’s imagine Jewish students or “Betar youth” – often pointed to when Jewish extremism is alleged – having perpetrated hundreds of attacks on Muslims in France. We can imagine the madia coverage, the public reactions. But since the imaginary did not occur, why invite both communities to not make war? One was attacked, the other was not. The violence was directed without exception against the Jewish community alone. It was not Jews who extended the “al-Aqsa intifada” to France.
It should have been clearly stated, instead of accusing the Jews of communalism. The French Jews are Frenchmen whom France had the duty of defending against criminality, as all French people should be defended, since it was everyone’s security that was threatened. If tomorrow, a situation in the Middle East or elsewhere involved Christians and agitated certains Frenchmen or foreign residents, could it be tolerated for churches or mosques to burned? And if Christians or Muslims, if the Christian or Muslim religious authorities protested, could they be accused of stirring up communalism and dividing united, republican France?
Some went so far as to insinuate that the French Jews were not innocent in the violence that they were undergoing.
Let us recall only briefly the vile accusations that “the Jews” or “the Mossad” plotted to set fire themselves to synagogues. A journalist, investigating the attack by Molotov cocktail on the synagogue at Goussainville, quoted the remarks of the father of a family (not some young Ahmed who advised his pals: “We can’t bring the TV anymore by torching a car. No, now the good trick is to set fire to a synagogue’), the words of a mature man: “At this time, who are the evildoers in Israel? The Jews! So then, they do something here in order to seem victims. It was them. They set fire to their own synagogues in order to have the Arabs accused.”47
It does not mean interpreting extreme remarks, but some thoughtful Frenchmen asked, in veiled terms, about Jewish responsibility. Yvan Rioufol, for example, in his weekly “Note Pad” in Figaro, regretted the “support of the CRIF for Israel in its war against Arafat.” It seemed to him that the Jews of France should practice an “obligation of restraint” and he asked “how the Muslims... could feel obliged to a similar neutrality towards Palestine if the example is not given elsewhere” [i.e., by the Jews].48 It has to be repeated that the CRIF’s commitment in favor of Israel is not displayed by burning mosques in Paris.
An Israeli filmaker living in France, Eyal Sivan, carried this kind of reasoning even further. The community and its chief rabbi had supposedly closed themselves up “in unconditional support for the colonial and murderous situation that has prevailed for more than fifty years in Israel-Palestine.” They pose thereby a danger for the Jews and for “coexistence between Jewish and Muslim Frenchmen.” The Jewish institutions and the synagogues display the Israeli flag and collect money for Israel, and their security is provided by Zionist guards. The political and religious domains mix in that manner, “the synagogues and community centers become, in this confusion, targets of criminal attacks,” communal institutions are “themselves vehicles of violence”! The exclamation mark is ours.49
600,000 Jews and 6 Million Muslims
How can we explain these confusions of victims and aggressors, these silences and the minimizing?
We have to be just. They should be attributed first of all to the general rise of violence and criminality and of widespread laxity towards delinquency, which the public complains about and which is also condemned by many magistrates, policemen, and politicians. But to minimize the situation does not eliminate it. A chronicler summarized somewhat carelessly one of the imprecise causes of a situation which, however, was perfectly obvious: “France is afraid of its youth.”
More specific political considerations were at play in the case of anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist violence. In the international arena, the mass of 22 Arab states explains the attitudes of the Powers towards Israel. In France, the Jews are 600,000 and there are supposed to be 5 to 6 million Muslims: 10 times as many. With such a large community, Marc Knobel notes, France has more Muslims than Bosnia and Albania together.50 Some observers have alleged electoral motivations to explain official attitudes and restraint. For Jean Kahn, president of the Central Consistory: “The Jospin government made an electoral calculation by favoring the Muslim minority against the Jews, because it has more weight.”51 “It is clear,” noted Chief Rabbi Joseph Sitruk, “that the Muslim community is taken more into account. There is an unconscious but real calculation made by the authorities.”52
Unconscious? Would not that be entirely a Jewish fantasy?
A call to take the Muslim community in France into account was in fact formulated in a “Note” drawn up in Spring 2001 by Pascal Boniface, director of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations, entitled, “The Middle East, the Socialists, and International Equity: Electoral Effectiveness.” The author had made a career in the Socialist Party and he was in particular a spokesman and expert of the Socialist group in the National Assembly. The “Note”, according to the analysis by the journalist Martin Perez, was a kind of action plan for the presidential elections. The plan would enable the Socialists to “win the favor of the North African vote” by adopting a firmly pro-Palestinian line. Pascal Boniface seems persuaded that the Socialist Party was courting the Jewish community and that this was a bad calculation. Also, “By wanting to keep an equal line between Israelis and Palestinians,” he wrote,
the SP and the government are perceived by a larger and larger part of public opinion as “unjust”... A number of young beurs who call themselves leftists...referring to the situation in the Middle East, state that they do not want to vote Jospin in the presidential elections... The Arab family is not taken into account and even rejected by the Socialist family... The timidity of the Socialists in condemning Israeli repression reinforces a retreat [by Arabs in France] to a Muslim identity... It is high time that the SP leaves a position that, while wanting to be balanced between Israelis and Palestinians, becomes, because of the situation on the ground, more and more abnormal.53
Pascal Boniface alluded to the same argument in an article criticizing Israeli policy: “The community of Arab and/or Muslim origin is, to be sure, less organized [than the French Jewish community], but it would like to be a counter-weight, and will have a heavier numerical weight if this is not already the case.”54
Boniface’s “Note” and his article agitated the Jewish community. The author responded by another article, published in Le Monde, in which he did not disclaim his previous argument, but asserted that his analysis was well founded and justified it: “Today, one cannot call oneself a leftist and accept the fate given to the Palestinians, even for illusory electoral reasons.”55
This remark confirms that what was involved was spurring the Socialist Party, which was in power, towards more “electoral effectiveness”. Of course, however, this kind of display of arithmetical electoral considerations at the front of the stage is extremely rare. Usually, it is the adversary who makes accusations of electoral considerations. One does not frankly admit one’s true considerations. In fact, both on left and right, the same calculations were being made.
Immaterial and Physical Zones of No Law
The French Jews, but for rare exceptions, protested against minimizing or misdescribing the attacks.
Of course, it must be said again. France is not an anti-Semitic country!
But a virulent current of Judeophobia is flowing through it, provoked and set in operation by Judeophobes who hate Jews so much that they attack them with knives and Molotov cocktails. Of course, France of 2002 is not Vichy France! But no one better than the Jews knows what this Judeophobic brutality resembles, and what it can lead to. They have therefore felt the attacks by the “youth of the suburbs” as very deep wounds. These attacks have at once crystallized a feeling of insecurity and a true insecurity. The French Jews resented the minimizing and the weak reaction of the political class as a wound.
Marc Knobel cited several reactions by politicians as “limited”, “homeopathic”, and contrasted this half-silence with the many “warnings and calls to order” that were uttered in France after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 2001, in the United States, in order to warn that “the Republic cannot agree that Muslims should suffer racism or discrimination, and that no one should connect true Islam on one side with Islamism on the other.” Knobel observes that “our leaders express themselves more easily on the subject than they expressed themselves on or condemned the anti-Jewish attacks.”56 For Denis Jeambar, “the political eagerness to relativize these attacks and minimize them in the media...this big silence...translates a weakness of national solidarity” towards the Jews.57
Jacques Chirac denounced a so-called anti-French campaign carried on by Israel. The accusation was unfounded. Did he mean to blame the Jews of Israel for being interested in what was happening to the Jews of France? Did he mean to speak to the Jews of France? Clement Weill-Reynal brought up that there was no anti-French campaign. “Were some insulting or inaccurate remarks made by Israeli officials? Did the Israeli press go wild against Paris? Were French diplomats the object of measures of intimidation or harassment? Were threats made against French citizens? Were there cries of ‘Death to the French’ on the streets of Jerusalem? No.” Then Clement Weill-Reynal asked: “And if this revelation of an anti-French campaign in Israel had no other goal than to make people forget the anti-Israeli campaign carried out by French diplomacy for nearly two years?”58
Roger Cukierman was, as often the case, the suitable spokesman of the Jews of France, because of his simple, effective speech. The authorities chose “to minimize the anti-Jewish acts...to see it as only everyday violence.” The organs of justice did not punish these acts “in an exemplary manner.” And he asked: “Why this laxity?” “Because this violence does not come from the extreme right. Because it comes from the North African suburbs...because the Muslim population is significant from all respects.” But the president of CRIF did not want to “forget the past”.59
The attitude consisting in “always minimizing things out of fear to see them develop,” added Maurice Levy, “gives a feeling to those who perpetrate these acts that they are acting with total impunity,” that they can perform these acts “with no more than mild condemnation.”60
The minimizing sustained the anti-Jewish violence. A government that allows establishment of territorial or immaterial zones of no law, mortgages the future of the country, of all social classes, of all its components. It is true that few societies in the grip of a social and political cancer have reacted in time. Europe in the 20th century is the proving example of this failure. The lesson should have been learned.
“The Intifada of the Suburbs” and the French Population
The effects of tolerance toward the violence of the “suburbs” could only be disastrous. The Jews felt themselves alone. Now, the Jews are an organic component of France. When an organ, a limb of the body is abandoned by the rest of the body, the whole body is ill. Shmuel Trigano mentioned “a symbolic wavering of the Jews’ citizenship. Their security becomes problematic without civil society making, on that account, any rebuke, without the government emerging from an apparent indifference.”61 Their state of mind was heard in the outcry of the president of the LICRA, during a public demonstration: “Let us not wait for a young kamikaze to penetrate into a Jewish school to murder Jewish children.”62 And if there had been a death, would the thinking and the reaction been fundamentally different?
In fact, if the French Jews were justified in feeling themselves alone and abandoned by a broad section of the political class and the media, perhaps they were less so in public opinion than they believed or imagined. Glued to their televisions, their flayed sensitivities slowed down the effect of this and increased their perception of the official and media discourse that was overwhelming Israel.
Certain signs, however, said that the ideas coming from Gaza or from the European foreign ministries which crucified them, had not infected the French as deeply as it seemed. On July 4, 2001, nine months after the demonstration of October 7, 2000 which had made so much noise, a collective of organizations had called together, at the Place de la Republique, another demonstration against the coming of the “butcher” Ariel Sharon, to Paris. Posters showed bloodied Palestinian children and displayed a slogan: “Decolonization of all Palestine.” There were 40 – not 40,000 but 40 – demonstrators. A more rigorous measure of the feelings of the French on the Israel-Arab conflict emerged at the end of 2001 from an opinion survey by SOFRES [polling agency]. To everyone’s surprise, there took shape an image rather different from the indications that one might have inferred from the media commentaries and the chatter of the politicians. The figures reveal realities literally hidden by the rulings of the media. Shimon Peres appeared at the top of a list of personalities on the world stage with a sympathy rating of +22, outdistancing the king of Morocco, presidents Mubarak and Bush. Yasser Arafat registered a rating of -37.
Israel’s democratic character was affirmed by 34% (that of the Palestinians by 8%) of persons surveyed. The respect for freedoms: 23% for Israel (7% for the Palestinians). Fanaticism: 5% for Israel (38% for the Palestinians). The suicide attacks are a proof of fanaticism for 83%, an effect of despair for 11%.
56% disapprove of “the Palestinian revolt”, 24% approve it. 46% find it “shameful that some Palestinians send their children to fight against soldiers”. 78% call “scandalous” the terrorist attacks against synagogues in France and consider that “the state must punish the guilty very severely”.
62% do not think that “the Arab states are ready to sincerely accept the existence of the State of Israel,” 70% do not think that the Palestinians are ready for that.
Ambassador Elie Barnavi correctly concluded from this that “after a year of violence and bitter criticism of the Israeli government and the prime minister, the French have largely kept their sympathy for them.”63 The figures show that neither the stars of the major left- and right-wing parties, nor the governments that carried out the Middle Eastern policy now in effect, nor the intellectuals who overwhelmed Israel with their diatribes, reflected the leanings of the French. The war of human bombs may not have rallied public opinion to the Palestinian cause as much as the terrorists had hoped.
Another public opinion poll was performed in January 2002 about “the image of the Jews of France” using a sample of youth 15 to 24 years of age. It supplied supplementary data about the perception of anti-Jewish violence.
80% of the youth said they foresaw “no problems” in living with a Jew or Jewess. 87% considered the anti-Semitic acts “scandalous” that “the state must punish very severely”. 78% judge the anti-Jewish graffiti “very serious”, 75% judge likewise damaging synagogues, 88% that “the Jews have the right to follow their customs with risk of being attacked”.
This poll indicated that there is a gap between those who practice laxity towards “the intifada of the suburbs” and the French population.
The Jews of France were thus well founded in feeling the French people closer to them than were their governments or their press; that the French people were in the same camp as they were, and that those who were attacking the Jews were enemies of their country. Certain indicators, still weak, were a harbinger. Already, some demonstrations aiming at the Jews were skidding out of control. Four pro-Palestinian demonstrations took place in fifteen days in Lille, in April 2002, with stones thrown at a synagogue. There were also Molotov cocktails against the city hall and against a church.
In fact, French tolerance for violence committed against a component of its population, was boomeranging against France itself. “How can our egalitarian democracy accept that young North Africans can behave more violently than any other Frenchman?” asked Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim. “Our leaders...have, in this particular case, tolerated...a kind of exception.” There was a misunderstanding producing harmful effects for France and for its Muslim community: “By refusing to enter into confrontation” with the extremists, the French political officials favored ethnic and religious communalism, favored the most extreme elements of the Muslim community, and marginalized the moderate elements and those most ready to integrate into French society, at the expense of the French nation.64
An Exemplary Jewish Press
How did the French Jews experience the complex reality, both disparate and homogeneous, made up of the war of human bombs and “the intifada of the suburbs”? They felt themselves, together with Israel, condemned by a French policy that they perceived as anti-Israeli, shocked by the disinformation that they attributed to the media, physically attacked in their synagogues and schools. Most perceived these various blows as facets of the same assault. They experienced both Israel’s insecurity and abandonment, and their own insecurity and abandonment.
At the same time, as a people seasoned by adversity [hardship], they stood fast.
Many of them experienced the harsh years 2000-2002 in solidarity all the more intense with the Country far off yet near as they saw Molotov cocktails thrown at themselves in Trappes, Marseilles, and Montpellier, under the cover of the same slogans that accompanied the Molotov cocktails in Gaza and Ramallah. For the Jews of France, the Elegy to Zion of the poet Yehudah haLevy (1075-1141) was never so relevant: “My heart is in the East, My body at the far end of the West.” Never had they listened so much to the Jewish radio stations. Never had they shared ideas and feelings so much with fellow Jews (on the call-in programs), criticized Israel’s enemies, called on certain journalists to defend Israel more frankly and not defend its enemies. And if the travel agencies saw their business going down, the communal organizations took the initiative to make solidarity trips including hundreds of participants. The Jews of France, most of whom have close family in Israel, brought Israel thereby what was most lacking: a human and political warmth to temper the glacial cold that prevailed in the external political world. At the same time, the French Jews were recharging their batteries. During one of these solidarity trips, Roger Cukierman remembers, “Ariel Sharon thanked us for being there, so different from the delegations that were coming to rebuke him for Israel’s conduct and to offer him their oppressive advice. ‘I would have liked,’ the prime minister confided to him, ‘to come in my turn to offer my advice about Ireland, Corsica, even about Greenland, in the case of Denmark.’“65
Many simply immigrated to Israel.
The communal newspapers stood resolutely on the ramparts. They all had always supported Israel, with more or less warmth. They became unconditional supporters, each one in its style. Victor Malka and Rabbi Josy Eisenberg’s Information Juive, very close to the Consistory, without forgetting what it was, took on a more militant tone. The Arche, semi-official publication of the Social Fund, published – under the stimulus of Meir Weintrater – a series of studies on the teaching of hate in the Palestinian schools, anti-Semitism in the Arab-Muslim world, the attitude of Christianity, the violence in the suburbs, etc., true antidotes to disinformation. Very close to the grass roots and the suburbs, Actualite Juive left no detail of the conflict in the shadows, not sparing anyone, and its editor Serge Benattar, rose in his editorials to the level of a true tribune. The Lien, originally a bulletin, sustained with his full personal efforts by Robert Cohen-Tanuji, published in the provinces, which is not very profitable in France, suddenly was being read by thousands of new readers in Paris, Brussels, as well as Geneva, who realized with the war that the theses defended by the Lien for years, were correct. New publications emerged, the video-cassette-magazine, Contre-Champs of Pierre Rehov, which supplied proofs, drawn from the images on Palestinian television, of the duplicity of Israel’s enemies; and the Observatoire du Monde Juif of Shmuel Trigano, offering basic studies. Independent of each other, without a coordinating structure, they formed in fact a kind of homogeneous team, held together by a feeling in all their hearts: Israel is at war. It is almost alone against all. It needs us. There is an effort to isolate the French Jews, to terrorize them. They must therefore brace themselves.
They had received what is familiarly called tempering; they had undergone the tempering of white hot metal in the fire, which then placed in icy water hardens and becomes steel.
Also, except for several rare intellectuals who noisily showed a lack of solidarity with the feelings of the immense majority of French Jews, the Jews spoke clearly to their fellow citizens and the government. When, surrounded by eleven of his ministers, Lionel Jospin attended the traditional CRIF dinner at the end of 2001, where an almost complete representation of the whole political class and the press was also present, Roger Cukierman pointed frankly to the erroneous analyses of official policy: There is no “good terrorism and bad terrorism, one kind justified and the other not. And the color of the victims’ blood is the same whether it is the blood of Americans, Israelis, or passengers on the Paris subway.”66 According to one journalist, the prime minister hardly appreciated it that Roger Cukierman was attacking the Quai d’Orsay directly, attacking “those who in our foreign ministry criticize the violations of humanitarian law supposedly committed by Israel” and who would have “a huge field of action if they took the trouble to enlarge their field of vision” by recalling “the shouts of ‘death to the Jews’ echoing on the Parisian streets” and by the criticisms of the president of the CRIF regretting that the police and judicial authorities were not showing “much more strictness” against the perpetrators of attacks.67
Like the man in the street, like the Jew in Bondy who had been attacked by someone screaming “Sharon murderer!” the leaders of the community “mixed everything”, they were scolded – precisely because everything was mixed, that everything was contained together, and that the Molotov cocktails, the graffiti of the spray painters, of the speeches and votes in the UN, were made of the same material/immaterial substance.
The Jews Show themselves and Demonstrate
The rancor, the suffering, the revolt of the Jews of France in view of the Palestinian aggression, of the mistakes of French policy, the terrorist campaign against the synagogues and Jewish institutions, produced many reactions of diverse scope. That of April 7, 2002 was a day of mass demonstrations in Paris, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Nice, Lyons, Strasbourg and Toulouse. 250,000 Frenchmen marched, most of them Jews. Taking account of the children, the elderly, the sick, this was nearly half of the Jewish community. The like had not been seen since the 1967 war and the Carpentras affair. But unlike Carpentras, which had brought nearly the whole government down to the street, as well as the president of the Republic, and countless members of the political class and civil society, in 2002, the massive presence of Jews was also a demonstration of the mass absence of non-Jewish France. Several rare stars were seen, Corinne Lepage, Francois Bayrou, Alain Madelin, and in the provinces, several mayors and local politicians, such as Alain Juppe at Bordeaux. There were also local curiosities too: 50 Harki veterans [Algerian Arab soldiers in the French army] marched in Montpellier. The Jews of France were there, France was not there. This absence of France was a very serious shortcoming of the Republic. At the moment when one part of the population was undergoing a terrorist attack on the national soil, its leaders were dutybound to be there to forcefully express their solidarity. France did it during the Carpentras affair. France shows its duty to protect its citizens, even if it means a Frenchmen accused of terrorist crimes in the United States. When the Jews of France were involved, France did not show itself at their side.
In Paris as well as in the provinces, except for insignificant missteps, the demonstrations were silent, without loud, angry speech. But the banners, the posters, the stickers on clothing said everything. Of course, there were the obvious slogans: “Against terrorism and anti-Semitism”, “For peace and security”, “Arafat lies, Arafat kills”, “Terrorism will not pass”, “Terrorism kills peace”, “Arafat, Nobel prize for terrorism”, “Stop terrorism”, “Israel will live, Israel will win”, “Sharon be brave, Sharon, we love you”, etc.
The French Jews Defend France
But the bitterness, the accusations, were expressed, the sharpest darts were shot by the text and words of demonstrators in the mini-interviews taken on the spot: against the passivity of the authorities, the policy of the Quai d’Orsay, and the media. “When a synagogue burns, the Republic burns,” “Hubert Vedrine, spokesman of the terrorist Arafat,” “The press is disinformation,” “The French radio stations do not tell the truth,” “Arafat gangster, AFP is his accomplice,” “French Agency of Palestinian Propaganda” [AFP]. A mother, reported Le Monde journalists, displayed “the front page of the daily in front of a camera. The page is crossed by an enormous ‘super-liar’.“68 The dignity of the demonstrators was also expressed by the discretion and sobriety of expression of revulsion in the face of terrorist barbarism. Not heard was “Death to the Arabs!” or “The Arabs will die!” to respond to the “Death to the Jews!” of the pro-Palestinian demonstrations. But enlarged photos of Israeli victims were seen: “Yosef, stoned to death,” “Shaul, 15 years old, tortured to death in a cave,” “Shalhevet, 10 months old, killed by a sniper”. And the Marseillaise was sung and this commentary by a demonstrator was heard: “Among us, the Marseillaise is not hissed. It is the Jews of France who defend France and its flag, not those who hiss the Marseillaise and drop their arms before the intellectual terrorism and the terrorism of synagogue burners...”
This anonymous demonstrator spoke from his heart and at the same time made a masterful analysis of the political situation of the moment. Several days later, Bernard Henri-Levy said the same: “The Jews are on the front line, but just behind them is France... The same vandals will tomorrow attack the city hall, a university, a high school, a library, a stadium...the ‘thug publics’ that beat Jews in Germany in the 1930s were too, after all, brainless delinquents, apparently without ideology.”69
The French Jews undergoing assault in France were France, just as the Jews undergoing the human-bombs in Israel were the world.
Of course, the several Jewish defenders of the Palestinian cause, mentioned above, constantly rejected the demonstration by the French Jews of their support for Israel and denied the representative character of the Jewish institutions. They published manifestos on the op-ed. pages of the major newspapers. But they themselves displayed their numerical insignificance when they ventured onto the ground. On April 7, 2002, a counter-demonstration was held in Paris called by sympathizers of a super-pacifist Israeli group, on the same route, from the Republic to the Bastille, and at the same time. Though sparse, it was regrettable for the secessionist distinction that it wanted to flaunt, it at least had the utility of demonstrating that those who wanted be considered “the peace camp” were very much a minority.
These two unequal demonstrations belied the caricature of Sergey which appeared the same day in Le Monde. Two groups of ten demonstrators each were seen marching in opposite directions, each waving a poster broken in the middle by Sharon’s profile, which split it. Each half of the poster carried the same blue shield of David.70 But to be truthful, there shouldn’t have been ten demonstrators on one side, but forty representing the CRIF, and on the other only one, representing “the peace camp.”
During the whole war, many other demonstrations were organized in Paris and in all the major provincial cities.
One, on October 2, 2002, consisted in publicly awarding the “Disinformation Prize” to Charles Enderlin and France 2, for the film about the death of the little Arab boy in front of the cameras. This network was blamed for its refusal to broadcast the film made by a German television service, which, according to the organizers of the protest, demonstrated that the boy could not have been killed by Israeli bullets. Three thousand demonstrators, 1,000 according to other sources, massed in front of France 2 headquarters and the German film was projected on two large screens while the demonstrators silently invited the journalists to watch. Even for such a limited objective the French Jews had mobilized in thousands. They instinctively realized which “detail” was important.
Often, their reaction sounded perfectly correct. At the moment when the trial was beginning in Paris of the terrorist attacks in the metro in 1995, when the newspapers were dedicating long articles to them, and the TV stations were doing retrospectives with scenes of firemen gathering French wounded and the photos of the presumed terrorists, the CRIF published a page of a “Communique” [press release] in the Figaro: 418 small ID photos of Israelis murdered by the terrorists, babies, women, youth, elderly, most smiling, enjoying life, with this heading and inscription: “Terrorist attacks against civilians are crimes against humanity in international law. In Israel, for two years, hundreds of civilians have been murdered in terrorist attacks.”71
This was a way of commemmorating the second anniversary of the war and the triple incrimination of Palestinian terrorism, of the policy that tends to absolve it and of the double standard about what takes place in both Israel and France.