Derek Taylor
Derek Taylor

Liberté, Equalité but not enough Fraternité

Sarah Halimi (Courtesy of the Confédération des Juifs de France et des amis d'Israël via Jewish News)
Sarah Halimi (Courtesy of the Confédération des Juifs de France et des amis d'Israël via Jewish News)

In France if you want to murder a Jew, you need to take cannabis. I wish I was kidding! A French court has just held that a murderer could not be tried for killing a Jewish lady, Sarah Halimi, because he was high on cannabis at the time and, therefore not responsible for his actions.

Well, that’s the French law and it’s not surprising that more French Jews are emigrating to Britain. Of course, President Macron and all the French political parties have spoken out against antisemitism but there is a great deal more of it in France than in our own splendid country.

We make a great deal of noise about the minute number of antisemitic incidents in Britain; the high majority of which are graffiti and verbal abuse. In France there have, however, been some ugly murders of Jews over the years and a substantial number of French people do hold anti-semitic views.

Regular polls have found that between 25% and 45% of the respondents believe that French Jews  are more loyal to Israel than France. The same has  applied over the years  to the view that they have too much influence in the business world and talk too much about the Holocaust.

President Macron has acted positively. He was the first French leader to denounce the way in which the French had helped the Nazis round up the French Jews during the war; not before time, but better late than never.

A Jewish friend of mine fought with the Maquis French resistance during the war but would never live in France after it. He could never forgive the French for not trying harder to protect their Jewish fellow citizens.

Typically, the community has  contributed a great deal to the country. Famous French Jews included politicians like Leon Blum, Pierre Mendes France and Simone Veil, actors like Marcel Marceau, Sarah Bernhardt and Jean Pierre Aumont, businessmen like the Rothschilds and André Citroen, and Nobel prize winners like Francois Jacob, Andre Lwoff, Henri Bergson, Patrick Modiano, Rene Cassin and Henri Moisson.

There are between 500,000 and 600,000 Jews in France, most of whom came from North Africa after the war. I don’t know whether the French defensive organisation is as good as our Community Security Trust, though they’d be hard put to it to be its equal. They estimate that 40% of racial attacks in France are against Jews, but the figure of assaults in 2019 was said to be 540 . One is too many, but 540 is not a pogrom.

France has now passed a law which equates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and this must be a step in the right direction.

Even so, we have a very long tradition of upping sticks when we don’t feel welcome and there are now French services in St. Johns Wood and the Central. It’s a long tradition. The Sandys Road Synagogue was built by French Jews when the Huguenots fled France in 1685 and the Holland Park Sephardi Synagogue has seen new French members in recent years.

Knowing the attitude of successive British governments over the plight of refugees – German Jews before the war, Iranian Jews after the fall of the Shah, passports for Hong Kong citizens – French Jews are likely to be quietly welcome.

About the Author
Derek is an author & former editor of the Jewish Year Book
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