At the end of À bout de souffle, a great French film from 1960, a young Jean Seberg, whose character is still fine-tuning her linguistic skills, asks “What does dégueulasse mean?”
Basically it translates as disgusting, or sort of revolting, which is how anyone, Jewish or not, should characterize the news today that “Anti-Semitic attacks in France surge by 40% since March” (Israel Hayom/Reuters).
This, after four Jews were murdered in the French city of Toulouse in March. As reported in The Times of Israel, European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said that following that tragedy, he expected that either of two things would occur: “On the one hand it could have sent shock waves across Europe that there is a massive problem and it has to be dealt with, leading to a lessoning of these types of attacks. The other option was that the reaction would be meager and it would send a message to extremists that life continues as normal.”
Naturally, it’s the second option that carries the day, because the country in question in France.
I understand that Greece has some financial issues that make it a ripe candidate for being tossed from the European Union. But I would suggest that France get tossed out first, on the grounds that its government permits anti-Semitic hate crimes to occur with such stunning regularity. Greece may be in arrears on this or that loan, but there are different kinds of currency, and from the looks of things France has maxed out its moral credit cards.
It’s a process with that began long ago, with the deeply flawed French Revolution but also and more demonstrably with the incredible French cowardice that was on full display in the run-up to and during the Second World War.
The ghosts of the thousands of French Jews, so many of them, too many of them, children, rounded up with full-on French police coordination in those dark years still haunt the streets of Paris, and make the spike in hate crimes against Jews in France that much more shameful and inexcusable.
The Merah murders in Toulouse were not without precedent. Another French Jew, Ilan Halimi, was murdered [the French justice system may be satisfied with "torture leading to death" but he was for all intents and purposes murdered] by the ringleader of a Jew baiting and Jew hating gang of French youths 27-strong in 2006. What happened in the interval, in France between that premeditated, terrible, vile, unforgivable, inexcusable and despicable yet wholly explicable crime in 2006 and what happened more recently in 2012?
Oh, nothing much. It’s France. C’est la vie.
And it stinks. I had the truly unenviable task of covering the Halimi case for a French press agency, and remember a polished reporter from Le Monde who went on a flashy French talk show to declare that “just because it was a hate crime, does not mean that it was an anti-Semitic crime.”
The police had already recorded that the gang’s ringleader singled out Ilan because he was Jewish and that “Jews have money.”
Around that time, I saw huge swastikas painted across the wall next to a boutique in a side street near the St. Sulpice church, close to where actress Catherine Deneuve lives. They remained unerased for days.
A couple years prior, after the death of the terrorist Yasser Arafat, I watched another broadcast, but with lighter fare: an interview of another French actress, the amazingly talented Fanny Ardant. In the middle of the show, a photo of Arafat was thrown up on a screen, and the interviewer asked Ardant what she thought he meant to the Palestinian people. Spotting the irrelevance, she sagely declined to answer.
There is elegance and class in France. There is Deneuve and Depardieu and Napoleon too. But overall, the French are as complacent as they are proud, and this is a toxic mix for the country’s Jews. The French ruling elite, particularly on the left, have perfected the art of paying lip service to outrage while essentially playing sycophant to the offenders, the ranks of whom appear to be swelling.
The French — not all of them, but lots — think that by kissing enough ass they will make all the problems go away. But it didn’t work under Vichy, and it won’t work now.
That French Jews have to make aliyah in response to nothing else other than anti-Semitism in their country in 2012 is beyond repugnant: it’s, well, dégueulasse.