French Jews Can’t Get Any More Integrated

Jews remaining in France are caught between the oversights of the government and Muslims’ own sense of misery.

Gedalyah Reback,

What happens when a Jew walks through a city in England?
What happens when a Jew walks through a city in England?
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French Jewish culture is in a catharsis right now. France's rude awakening from extremist Islam has the entire country on edge, but Jews still remain the primary target of home-grown French Islamist terrorists. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's call for the community to come home to Israel was not taken well, being expressed at the wrong place and at the wrong time.

Dr. Tsilla Hershco, who specializes in Franco-Israeli Relations and French minorities at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, does say French Jews are indeed more inclined to make Aliyah than other communities.

"French Jewish character is very traditional and there are a lot of religious Jews," she said. "The community is also very Zionistic."

However, French Jews are not so easily separated from their home culture.

"Many French Jews would feel a sort of 'double allegiance.' Jews are very integrated in France in all aspects of life," she added. 

Asked if more French Jews might choose to let themselves be recruited by local police or the French military to advance their cause in French security policy, Dr. Hershco thought there was very little more that French Jews would be able to gain from such an alternative strategy to Aliyah.

"I don't see this as an option the community is exploring," she said. "The community is already very integrated in France. There is no question about how to become 'more integrated.'"

The dynamic between French Jews and French Muslims is heavily influenced by the origins of both communities. Many families come from formerly French Algeria, a country which gained independence in the 1960s after a popular uprising against the French. There are many Moroccan families in France as well.

When asked if the North African origin of French Muslims made them any more or less likely to commit acts of violence against Jews (compared to perhaps the mainly Turkish origin of German Muslims or Pakistani origin of English Muslims), she said this likely was a factor due to high cultural hostility to Israel, Zionism and Jews in general.

"There is more bitterness toward France and French Jews," she noted. "Most French Jews also come from North Africa, and there is some antagonism because while North African Jews have managed to integrate well in France, French Muslims haven't. There is also a consciousness about French Jews' Zionism."

The Muslim community is not monolithically violent. Yet Herscho felt it important to note "while not all Muslims support anti-Semitic violence, most anti-Semitic violence in France is coming from Muslims."

Muslims in France are also caught in the middle and might be on the cusp of some major cultural changes. But that does not seem at all clear to Dr. Hershco, whose impetus to address problems of anti-Semitism in the community might be obscured by the Muslim community's own sense of victimhood.

"Officially the community condemns the violence," she said. "They are also saying Muslims are victims of radical Islamists, discrimination and stigmatization (in France)."

"Many do not want to integrate, have a substandard education and are relegated to poor suburbs," she added. "They feel they are victims of circumstance in France."

Those feelings might be a natural response from a community that has suddenly become the subject of global attention. The overwhelming majority of the surprisingly large amount of European Muslims going to join ISIS is from France. The major anti-Semitic attacks over the last several years in Europe have been perpetrated by French Muslims in France and Belgium. The French authorities though might be contributing to the actual insecurity of local Jews.

"This seems to be the position of French authorities, too," she said. "They emphasize that not all Muslims should be blamed for the attacks."

On the subject of Israel specifically, she felt the French government's statements recklessly harmed the atmosphere of the country.

"France's one-sided criticism of Israel during Operation Protective Edge created an atmosphere encouraging violence," not creating any parity between the Jewish and Muslim communities in France.

The onus has to fall on French authorities – and likely all European governments – to accompany their declared neutrality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict both when there are negotiations and when there is war. Whether European leaders like it or not, the security of their Jewish communities is directly linked to how European governments relate to Israel.

Dr. Hershco did not delve so deeply on how Europe should speak regarding Israel when they disagree in the future, though she felt the need to reemphasize that their words indeed were on par with ‘sticks and stones.’

"There was a correlation between French statements and their leading to anti-Semitic violence," she stated. 

How French Jews and Muslims relate to each other moving forward is not clear beyond attempts between community leaders to remain cordial. However, there are some outstanding issues that the communities clearly need to address between each other.




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