From the land of liberty, equality and fraternity

The streets in the Jewish quarter hummed with knowing silence. The air was heavy. The synagogues were empty this Shabbat. Those who dared would gather, huddled in groups of ten, turning living rooms to halls of prayer. In public, none walk with a Tallit or Kipah. The streets have long been too dangerous for that.

I am not writing about the Spanish inquisition, Czarist Russia or Nazi Germany. I am of writing of the land of Liberté, égalité, fraternité. The year is 2015. Last Shabbat, for the first time since World War II, the synagogues of Paris were silent.

So, how is it that the land with a civil rights system that is second to none, a constitutional framework that is a model to the world, ends up with its Jews praying in modern catacombs?

The answer lies in France’s policy of appeasement.

French leaders have never thought twice before shaking the hands of dictators greased with blood and oil. France provided a nuclear reactor to Saddam Hussein and paid ransom to Palestinian terrorist organisations in an effort to spare French airlines from a wave of hijackings.

Over the past half century, since the succession of Algeria, France has attempted to be a darling to Arab interests. Turning its back on the nation that sacrificed 231 of its sons to protect French interests in the Suez in 1956, France imposed an arms embargo in 1967 affecting Israel in its time of need while Arab enemies were flying French Mig fighters.

Over the years, Israel was stubbornly there to remind France of its ineffective policies. In 1969, following the declaration of yet another arms embargo, Israeli sailors set out with five naval ships, paid for by Israel but undelivered by France, from a naval yard in the midst of night. In 1976, when passengers and crew of Air France 139 were taken hostage in Entebbe, it was Israel’s audacious operation that saved over hundred lives (and cost the life of Netanyahu’s brother). In 1981, it was Israel’s bombing of the French reactor in Osirak that ensured later gulf wars were void of nuclear weapons.

Less than a fortnight ago, France was a primary supporter of a Palestinian attempt to railroad the Oslo accord by having all their requirements guaranteed by the international community while guaranteeing nothing in exchange, a resolution that spoke of rights with no obligations and of land without peace.

It seems France has not changed much in half a century. The nation that was willing to collaborate with Nazis in the name of pragmatism has played a silent role in fighting terror, thinking appeasement will buy it immunity.

But every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Last week’s attacks show that France’s appeasement policy never paid off. The head of any Frenchman will fall down to the ground as quickly as the next infidel.

By tolerating intolerance, French leaders have created a Frankenstein they can no longer control. By cosying up to the Middle East’s dictatorships, France has created more enemies than friends. By implementing a foreign policy void of principles and full of self-interest, it reinforces the view, to friend and foe alike, that it is a morally bankrupt society.

This week, Netanyahu defied a request to stay home and gate crashed France’s unity march, prompting France to immediately invite Abbas in response (For those uninformed: four Jews were killed last week; no Palestinians died). Netanyahu was received to loud cheers in Paris’ main synagogue. Hollande walked out as Netanyahu rose to speak, snubbing him in revenge.

If Hollande stayed to listen he would know that Netanyahu invited French Jews who no longer feel safe in France to immigrate to Israel. If Hollande stayed to listen, he would know his nation failed in guaranteeing Liberté, égalité et fraternité to its Jewish citizens.

The French attacks took place 120 years (and 4 days) after Alfred Dreyfus was publicly degraded in Paris following a false conviction fueled by antisemitism. A young journalist, Theodor Herzl, realized that day that Jews could no longer rely on their European patrons and need a homeland of their own.

It seems not much has changed in 120 years.

About the Author
Eli Bernstein grew up in Israel and now resides in Perth, Australia. Among other things, he is a commentator on Middle Eastern affairs and politics.
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