The French and the Jews

The French and the Jews

Ben Cohen’s opinion column (“A fearsome test for French Jews,” May 16) was both the “best of times and the worst of times.” (Hats off to Charles Dickens.) It was commendable that Mr. Cohen now realizes and reports that the French Jewish community is strong and surviving. His meeting with CRIF leaders parallels the same message that I heard from leaders of the French Masorti community last summer. Their view is that France’s problems are not unusual, that anti-Semitism pervades other parts of the world, and that for the most part, the lives of French Jews go on in a normal manner, just as ours do. That’s the good news.

The worst of times was that the Standard’s presentation was implicitly racist. The picture of the French comedian shows a grimacing, hateful person of color. While it may be true that Dieudonne (literally, “God-given”) Mbala Mbala is filled with hate, an image like this does nothing more than to incite and exacerbate racial tension and hatred. It has no place in a Jewish publication.

The French Jewish community is the third largest on earth. In the aftermath of the Shoah, France has become the de facto center of Jewish life in Western Europe. It is arguable that Jewish life in England (and certainly in Ireland) is less hospitable than on the other side of La Manche (aka the English Channel). It is incontrovertible that anti-Semitism is more endemic in places like Sweden and Hungary. What’s more, the last two French administrations (Sarcozy and Hollande) have been extremely supportive of their Jewish community. Hollande’s statements about Drancy and collective French guilt are a testament to morality and truth. Most recently, France’s position on Iran makes American foreign policy makers look like naive appeasers.

So why all this continued focus on France as the seat of European Jew-hatred? I suspect that it has to do with the Anglo outlook that permeates American society. All things French are suspect, ergo anti-Semitism in France must be worse than anywhere else on the planet. The French certainly have a part in the creation of anti-Francism. But it takes two sides to make this work, the hater and the hated. Let’s resolve to not engage in hateful attitudes. And if, God forbid, there is a shooting at a JCC here, or a skinhead rally, let’s hope that the French do not jump down our American throats. It would be only fair of them to do so.