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Moins français... plus juif
The French community voted this week on religious and ethnic grounds, perhaps for the first time, says Daniella Peled
More than two centuries ago, napoleon Bonaparte summoned the leaders of France’s small Jewish community to enquire whether there was anything in their religion that precluded their inclusion in the new republic. no, the rabbis assured him, Judaism was perfectly compatible with French citizenship. and so French Jewry found itself comfortably positioned within the foundations of French identity, which were strictly secular. But things are changing in the republic. the social and ethnic maps are being redrawn and politics is catching up. With glaring irony, in the land where the theoretical basis of citizenship is complete integration, politicians and minorities alike are utterly convinced that an ethnic vote is emerging. the 600,000-strong Jewish community is no exception. although there is no precise breakdown of how the Jewish vote was split last week, the received wisdom is that, spurred by rising antisemitism, French Jewry has transferred its traditional allegiance with the liberal left to nicolas Sarkozy, the fiery head of France’s ruling centre-right UMP party. earlier this week he week emerged with some 31 per cent of the firstround vote, ahead of socialist candidate Ségolène royal, with 26 per cent. “We are seeing something new — an ethnic vote,” said one communal security source, rather apocalyptically predicting a grim future with Jews and Muslims divided along religious lines. “I think it’s going to happen everywhere in the eU. We are an ageing and declining community, and the Muslim community is growing.” and law and order, has proved attractive. and in a departure from the traditional French-arab alliance, Mr Sarkozy publicly supported Israel’s right to defend itself and condemned hizbollah during last summer’s war. Perhaps for the first time, French Jews are voting as Jews rather than as French citizens. the political drift is causing alarm among some Jewish intellectuals, including essayist alain Finkielkraut. this month he told Ha’aretz: “there is a future for Jews in France only if France is a nation, but there is no future for Jews in a multicultural society, because then the power of anti-Jewish groups is liable to be greater.” others see this as unnecessarily alarmist. “It’s not like most american friends of mine believe, that France is going through some kind of civil war with the Jews on one side and the Muslims on the other,” says Jean-Yves Camus of the Institute of International and Strategic relations. Yet the key issue of these elections — more than the creaking economy and high unemployment — has been one of national identity. Mr Sarkozy has even proposed setting up a ministry dedicated to dealing with that question. and Ms royal surprised supporters with flag-waving statements celebrating patriotism. Both candidates, who will go head-to-head in the next round on May 6, are of the post-war generation which grew up amid immigration from the former French colonies in africa and the Maghreb. now they are dealing with what multiculturalism means to France. the country, itself undergoing an identity crisis, is turning right, and the Jewish community is turning right with it.
Daniella Peled is the JC’s foreign editor
COMMENT&ANALYSIS rEvIEw ● 39
I blame Geoffrey Alderman — David Aaronovitch, Page 41
France has europe’s largest Muslim minority, estimated at between four and five million. and France has signally failed them, with a legacy of unemployment, educational disadvantage and a distinct lack of political representation. they tend to be regarded as foreigners and identify as such; the opposite has long been true of Jews. the French ashkenazi community remained highly assimilated and patriotic even after the traumas of
the Vichy era. even the concept of a “Jewish bloc” is distasteful to members of the old guard, who consider themselves French first and foremost. But Sephardi Jews from former north african colonies now make up some 80 per cent of the community. they have a stronger religious identity, are happier to identify with Israel and vote more conservatively. Mr Sarkozy’s brand of economic liberalism, coupled with a robust stance on immigration
Let’s stop playing the underdog. It’s dangerous
The way we teach our history — as if Jews were just powerless victims — threatens our future. By Ariel Beery
reMeMBerIng the holocaust is one of the few imperatives of contemporary Jewry, one of the few things the disparate streams of the Jewish people can agree upon. But what exactly are we remembering? the Shoah narrative is normally retold in a way that positions the Jews as an object in someone else’s drama: the subject is hitler, his rise to power, and what he did to the Jews. In this narrative, the Jews only react after the fact, bewildered. Jews here play the part of the powerless victim, a person with little to no agency. In Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, the Jews are nothing but supporting actors in oskar Schindler’s story; in roman Polanski’s Pianist, it took the goodhearted gentiles to save the talented Jews; in the muchrecounted story of anne Frank, the most Jews could do was hide away and hope. the hammering home of the status of the Jew as a powerless victim has instilled a nearly reflexive contemporary Jewish identification with any party that is perceived as powerless. the passion of the post-genocidal generation of 1968 was rooted in this self-identification. as the French philosopher alain Finkielkraut records in his masterful political memoir, The Imaginary Jew, “from Spartacus to Black Power, an instinctive and unconditional solidarity united me with all of the earth’s damned”. Leading members of today’s young generation also find power and solace in the identity of the Jew as the other. Jennifer Bleyer, the founder of the iconic Heeb magazine, directed at young intellectual Jews, wrote that she “preferred the definition of Jews as ultimate outsiders”. Popular youth magazines and websites heavily reflect this opinion. that a young hip British group chose to call itself “Jewdas” shows this yearning for pariah status is not limited to one corner of the diaspora. there is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with identifying with the underdog. Unfortunately, however, in today’s post-1967 world, Jews are rarely seen as the underdog, and Israel is increasingly seen as unworthy of solidarity. Instead, the ultimate underdogs in many people’s minds are the Palestinians. there is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with supporting the Palestinians either, providing one does so in the context of supporting a two-state solution that confers self-determination on the Jews as well. But in recent years, leading members of the Jewish intelligentsia have pushed that option off the table — justifying their opposition to Zionism with allusions to nazi germany and the holocaust. as alvin rosenfeld describes in a pamphlet published by the american Jewish Committee, scholars such as Jacqueline rose have compared herzl’s Der Judenstaat to hitler’s Mein Kampf; Michael neumann states that Israel has embarked on “a kinder, gentler genocide”; and collections of “progressive” Jewish writing, such as Wrestling with Zion edited by tony Kushner and alisia Solomon, sprinkle each essay with just enough references to the holocaust as to take the comparison of Zionism and nazism as a given. to confront this strain of thought — that turns Jews against the Jewish State — and to provide a more realistic understanding of Jewish power and our options in the Middle east, we would do well to remember what we as a community did with that little power that we had just before the holocaust — and what responsibility we bear for the smokestacks. Few of us remember the vociferous debates within world Jewry before the demise of european Jewry began. For example: in 1935, the Menorah Journal — a leading intellectual journal of american Jewry — published an article by journalist Louis Minsky arguing that american Jews had been too aggressive thus far in their dealings with hitler. arguing that “the policy of fighting antisemitism by public agitation, parades, mass meetings, oratorical invective, persistent moralising, boycott” had been disastrous, Minsky further claimed that “the aggressivist strategy, far from succeeding, has, on the contrary, aggravated the situation both in germany and in this country”. this line of argument is echoed by many in the Jewish community today when other Jews attempt to take on threats clearly articulated by various groups in the Middle east. Instead of uniting against Iran or providing a solid front against the same hamas that keeps kidnapped soldiers and reporters from even the red Cross, prominent intellectuals rail against the “Israel Lobby”. they call on Jews to think twice about supporting the policies of the elected government of Israel — and blast the community for being too aggressive, for using the little power they have. If we want the Jewish People to grow stronger as a supportive community, it is time we rethink the holocaust narrative we teach our children. as history has proved time and again, the international community will not step in to stop a genocide in progress, no matter how many times we call upon them to remember times past. “never again” is a fine slogan; but if we truly want to see these words borne out, we need to recognise which “again” we should never repeat: never again should we be powerless to act, and never again should we choose inaction when genocide crouches at the door.
Ariel Beery is the editor and publisher of Presentense Magazine, and the co-editor of BlogsofZion.com
we must remember what responsibility we bear for the smokestacks
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