Although I saw mainland France only late in my life, I grew up in Lebanon within a French culture, through France’s literature, music, philosophy, and political ideas. For me “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” (Freedom, Equality, Fraternity) was not only a slogan, it was a revolutionary and innovative social idea. But today I wonder if France is still France.
As Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on January 13, 2015 in the National Assembly, “Without the Jews of France, France would no longer be France.” Two years later, is France still France?
From 2014 to 2016, 20,000 Jews left France for Israel, so France lost 4% of its Jewish population in three years, not counting the Jews who left for other destinations, such as Quebec. Of those who remain, Le Point estimates that 40% are considering leaving because of anti-Semitism.
According to Le Figaro, “while in 2015, 7,000 Jews left France for Israel, they were only 5,000 in 2016”, but why is the number not zero? In spite of the more difficult life in Israel, the difference in language, terrorism which is much higher than in France, and the constant threats against the State of Israel, French Jews continue to make Aliyah in large numbers every year. And this is without counting what Le Point calls an “internal alia”, the flight of the Jews from one region to another, within France. L’Express shows that Seine-Saint-Denis was deserted by Jewish families.
The Jews of France are harassed, assaulted, and intimidated. “In the last ten years, Jews have been killed again because they are Jews,” says Alain Jakubowicz, President of the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism. Only the anti-Semites have reason to rejoice.
When we ask if France is still France, let us not be naive. While France had an Émile Zola, it also had a Félix Faure. While France had a Jean Moulin, it also had a Philippe Pétain. No nation is perfect, but the greatness of France has always been its capacity to face its demons, to renew itself, and to be once again greater, more egalitarian, and more just.
If elected president, Emmanuel Macron will confront the archaic division between right and left, but a much more arduous task ahead is the fight against anti-Semitism.
Today’s anti-Semitism is mostly anti-Zionism. Valls suggested this when he said that French anti-Semitism exists “against the background of the hatred of the State of Israel”, but let us have the courage to say it openly and clearly. Sociologist Michel Wieviorka acknowledges that today’s anti-Semites are “those who define themselves first as anti-Zionists.” It is not enough to denounce anti-Semitism if one does not denounce anti-Zionism.
When one denies the Jewish people the right to have a country of their own while other peoples have several, it is anti-Semitism. When one laments the deaths of Palestinians caused by Israeli retaliations without having done anything to eliminate Palestinian terrorism, it is anti-Semitism. When one denounces Israeli settlements in the West Bank while not recognizing that Jews lived there for centuries and were driven out by the Arabs, it is anti-Semitism. When one deplores the military strength of Israel while knowing that the Arab world has refused peace to Israel since its independence, it is anti-Semitism. When one supports a boycott of Israel while forgetting all the countries where human rights are much worse than in Israel, it is anti-Semitism. When one judges Israel based on a standard that one refuses to apply to the Arabs or even to one’s own country, it is anti-Semitism.
As Valls said, “we must say it, we must put the words to action against this unacceptable anti-Semitism.” But this goal has not been achieved. Far from it. Anti-Zionist and therefore anti-Semitic language is still as prevalent in France today as it was when Valls made that speech.
Marine Le Pen wants to ban the wearing of the kippa in public, and she wants to prevent French Jews from having Israeli citizenship, and yet she received 21.3% of the vote in the first round of the Presidential election. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is for the boycott of Israel, and yet he received 19.6% of the vote. In addition, polls indicate that a third of François Fillon’s votes (20% in the first round) are ready to vote for Le Pen. Therefore almost 50% of the French people support or at least tolerate anti-Semitic political programs.
It must be acknowledged that the French government did not only make a speech. Security forces were deployed to protect Jewish schools and communities. But is it not shameful that in 2017, seventy-two years after the end of the Shoah, such protection is still necessary not only in the very heart of Europe but in France? Moreover, this protection is expensive, and it has already been reduced, forcing the Jews to become accustomed to living in danger.
Faced with anti-Semitic terrorism, Renaud promised that France “will never forget”. I want to believe it. But it is not enough to not forget. The French must also act.
To fight anti-Semitism in France, one must attack anti-Zionism with full force, relentlessly and unambiguously. Before addressing the rights of Palestinians, it must be clear that Israel’s right to exist as a secure Jewish state is inalienable. It must be said and reiterated that the rights of the Palestinians will only be satisfied when the Arab world complies with this requirement.
Will Macron have the courage to lead this fight? I do not know, but I know that the future of France depends on it.
This was translated from French by the author. It was originally published on Aisf.fr.