Much has been said and written in Israel on France in recent months, and it was not that flattering. This is precisely the reason why we, a group of students from the What Israel organization, decided to hold a campus tour across the country with the Union of Jewish Students in France (UEJF) in order to promote a more balanced dialogue about Israel.
Concerns were plentiful. Until recently, the most popular show among young Frenchmen was of the anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonné, the one who revived the reverse Nazi salute that burst out of France and caused an uproar in Europe. The peak of this uproar was in Paris, when in broad daylight thousands of demonstrators called for Jews to get out of France, while chanting “Jews, this is not your country.” Others were a little more concrete and promised to send French Jews to the gas chambers. This led to other anti-Semitic incidents, which contributed to the feeling that something very bad is happening at the home of Voltaire and Descartes. During the campus activity and through my Israeli eyes, I saw many smiles and some tremendous curiosity about Israel. But in some cases, I realized that the hatred towards Jews managed to hide itself pretty well.
At the University of Lyon I met with Nicolas. Once he saw Israelis on campus, he approached our activity spot and asked various questions about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. When we finished our discussion, he stopped for a moment, and said he came up with a simpler solution to the conflict in the Middle East. “We should just dismantle Israel”, he said with a smile. For my part, I laughed at what I thought to be a cynical remark and asked why. “You see,” he proceeded, “the situation in the Middle East happens to be the same as here in France. Jews are rich and buy assets to throw people out of their homes. How come you guys have so much money?”
Nicolas continued to smile, and I ran out of words. He was not cynical. That was not a joke. He really believed in what he had just pulled out of his mouth.
At ‘Paris 8’ University, located in the northern suburbs of the city of lights, nobody smiled anymore. The rumor about Israelis coming to campus and brazenly daring to talk to French students spread like wildfire. What began as a silent demonstration with some background music soon cleared the stage for shouting, calls to boycott Israel, cursing and lively threats.
When I tried to capture on film what was happening I got physically attacked by one of the activists. Rather shamefully, campus security, backed by academic staff, decided that we were the ones interfering with public order, and took down our stand. The university spokeswoman even bothered to advise me to gather my belongings, “before the guards throw you out by force.” A few moments later, we were pushed out of the campus gates, to the sound of anti-Israel activists chanting that Zionist-Jews are not welcome at their university.
A few minutes earlier, I managed to catch a brief conversation with one of them. “Why Israel?” I asked her. “Because I’m against racism, and you are racists, imperialists, colonialists, fascists and Nazis.” She replied. – “Are you advocating against other injustices that occur in the world?” I carried. “No,” she said firmly. “I just focus on Israel.”
No notice of course to the contradiction of her words. Why did the pro-boycott activists prevent me from filming their actions? Simply, they were afraid. Afraid I will expose their real faces, afraid I will discover the violent nature of their activities and most importantly – they were afraid I will shed light on the boycott movement’s most terrible secret: the burning hatred for Jews and their right to self-determination – the one secret that is buried under veil of hollow slogans about “human rights” and “justice.”
Anti-Semitism has many faces. However, contrary to popular belief, it has never reinvented itself. The image of “the Jew” throughout the years scaled from “the bourgeois capitalists,” “the greedy banker of public funds,” “the undermining communist saboteur” and “the warmongering traitor.” “The Zionist-Jew” is no different; he has very similar characteristics: the colonizing land thief, the racist oppressor of minorities and even the National-Socialist mass-murderer.
The same France which laid the basic values of modern society by forming the Declaration of Human and Civil Rights has a tendency of forgetting it again and again. As next year will mark 120 years of the Dreyfus Affair and the battle of Emile Zola for the freedom of expression in the French Republic, it would be proper if the in the Elysee Palace they will also be reminded of the day when students, Israeli and French Jews alike, were expelled from the university that bears the name of the city where the great philosophers of our time were born, lived and died. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, asked the UN General Assembly a few years ago, gathered in the occasion of International Holocaust Day – “Has the world learned its lesson?” On Friday afternoon at ‘Paris 8’ University, I realized that the world still has not learned anything.