Aug. 14, 2004 21:56 | Updated Aug. 14, 2004 23:01
The French connection
By AMNON RUBINSTEIN
In the wake of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's call on French Jews to immigrate to Israel, Le Monde published a July 23 cartoon by the famous Plantu depicting a Jewish family sitting round a table. The father is holding a cell phone and tells everyone: "It's Ariel again proposing we find refuge in the Middle East."
In a balloon, we see Arabs and Jews in a puddle of blood blowing each other to bits.
Plantu is not generally known for his pro-Israeli tendencies, but here he has a relevant point: Why should French Jews leave their paradise and immigrate, or even visit, a country which for the past four years has been the scene of so much bloodshed?
After all, no Jew has been killed in France during these same four years â€“ or, for that matter, since World War II. About 1,000 Israelis have been murdered during these years by Palestinian terrorists, and thousands more have been maimed and crippled.
So why should a Jew leave France, an economic and social paradise, and settle in unsafe and (relatively) poor Israel, a country ridden by recession, unemployment and social strife?
True, there have been many ugly, despicable anti-Jewish incidents, but Jacques Attali may be right in stating in L'Express (July 26) that "it is much more difficult to be a Muslim than a Jew in France."
And yet in the past three years the number of French Jews immigrating to Israel has nearly doubled: 1,156 in 2001, as against 2,000 in 2002 and 2003.
Some 600 French Jews have already arrived in the first half of 2004.
ADMITTEDLY, these numbers are a fraction of the French Jewish community â€“ but the statistics are augmented by an estimated 40,000 Jews who will come to Israel this summer as tourists and hundreds more who have bought apartments â€“ or should one say pieds-a-terre? â€“ in dangerous Israel.
And no less a personality than Serge Klarsfeld told The Jerusalem Post in June that "French Jews would be best off leaving the country."
The simple explanation is the common "France is anti-Semitic." But this is obviously false. French society incorporates Jews in the highest echelons of its establishment.
President Jacques Chirac has not only come out publicly against any manifestation of anti-Semitism, but did so courageously in two unforgettable speeches. One was at the memorial of Vel' d'hiver, where, on July 16 and 17 1942, the Jews of Nazi-occupied Paris were herded in subhuman conditions on their way to Drancy and Auschwitz.
Chirac's second speech was at Chambon-sur-Lignon, the village that gave shelter to Jews during the dark years.
No Jew should be oblivious to Chirac's utterances, nor to his brave acceptance of France's responsibility for what happened to French Jews during the Holocaust. Indeed, Jews should not forget the historical connection between France and the Jews.
True, there were Vichy and Drancy. But of paramount importance is the France that had two Jewish prime ministers (Leon Blum and Pierre Mendes-France) and nearly had a Jewish president (Simone Weil, had she wanted the office). This is a record unequaled by any other country.
Besides Dreyfus there was Zola, whose J'accuse was reproduced into a huge poster which covered the fa ade of the National Assembly building upon the centenary of its publication.
No. Jews should not succumb to their habitual bouts of paranoia, nor can Israelis give up their close affinity to, and admiration of, the achievements of French civilization, in arts and sciences.
French literature, cinema and music are inseparable from Israeli culture and one prays that never the twain shall be severed.
WHAT IS then the source of malentendu between two countries? Anti-Jewish incidents took place in France before the recent spate and when these were instigated by the Right, le tout France stood up and said no. When the old Jewish cemetery was desecrated by skinheads in Carpentras in 1990, a huge demonstration, headed by the president, reacted vehemently.
The chagrin of French Jews stems from the fact that no such reaction accompanies similar vandalism perpetrated by Muslims. Of course, there is condemnation (often accompanied by a knee-jerk rebuke of Israel), but French Jews are offended by its timidity, and by the trahison de gauche, who decry neo-Nazism only when it comes from Europeans and expect Jews â€“ at least implicitly â€“ to earn their sympathy by condemning Israel.
Needless to say, Israel is not above criticism, and its settlement policy must infuriate any person with respect for human rights. But the French press and many intellectuals on the Left have worked themselves into an anti-Israeli hysteria that precludes reason.
One example is the book Is It Permissible to Criticize Israel? by Pascal Boniface. Its very title is a joke: The relevant title should be Is it at all permissible in France not to attack Israel?
In this hysterical atmosphere â€“ where all Palestinian sins are forgiven and all atrocities explained as Israel's fault â€“ Jews are expected to renounce their link with the Jewish state, a measure never demanded from any other people.
Indeed, the Israel factor is exploited by French intellectuals on the Left, in order to regard with indifference the attacks on the Jews of France.
When a Muslim racist professor from Geneva, Tariq Ramadan, accuses French Jewish intellectuals of being subservient to Israeli interests and states that Bernard-Henri Levy wrote Who Killed Daniel Pearl? as a service to Ariel Sharon, the result is not a storm of outrage but Ramadan being invited to head the leftist European Social Forum.
Jews are right in regarding this as a repeat performance, not of their rejection, but of the indifference which they remember from the Dark Years.
BUT PERHAPS the Israeli factor runs deeper than that. The attitude of successive French governments has been to court the Arab and Muslim world, thus serving France's interests and raisons d'etat. But because of the racism of Arab governments and media, you cannot be pro-Arab without being anti-Israel and, for good measure, anti-Jewish. The American experience proves this.
But can you really be a French republican and subscribe to this Arab attitude which denies the very right of a Jewish state to exist? The tacit assumption of French governments gives a positive answer: You can be pro-Jewish â€“ as President Chirac certainly is â€“ and be anti-Israeli.
But the truth is that these are incompatible.
The Jewish homeland is part of the national or religious identity of most Jews and their reaction to an anti-Israeli attitude â€“ as distinct from criticism of Israeli government policies â€“ is emotional.
This is the reality: You cannot be pro-Jewish in Paris and give Saddam Hussein a nuclear installation. You cannot fight anti-Semitism in Europe and be indifferent to the fate of the country that gave shelter to Jewish refugees and whose very raison d'etre is to put an end to Jewish helplessness.
Most Jews regard the centrality of Israel as part of their Judaism. Israel is linked with their Diaspora existence in many ways: An Italian journalist, Angelo Panebianco, wrote last month in Corriere Della Sera that "There is a probable connection between the rise of anti-Semitism in France and the French position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
These are strong words which go a long way to explain Plantu's riddle.
In effect, successive French governments have tried to put a new adaptation on Conte Clermont-Tonnere's famous dictum in the post-revolutionary Assembly: "Everything to the individual Jew, nothing to the Jewish people."
The new version is "Everything to the Jews, both as individuals and their community in France, nothing to their state."
But this formula simply does not work. Israel embodies twin Jewish longings: the Jewish return to Zion, and the craving for self-determination.
If you don't understand this you will never understand why thousands of Jews are leaving the French paradise and coming to dangerous Israel.
The writer, founder of the Shinui movement and a former education minister, is dean of the Radzyner School of Law at The Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.