What Should French Jews Do?

What can be done to prevent further attacks against French Jews? The truth is that very little can be done. What are the options, then, for French Jews?

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

OpEds Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld

Nine hundred threats of violence against Jews in France have been reported within the first eleven months of the year, as stated by The Office of Vigilance against Anti-Semitism (BNVCA). Its president, Sammy Ghozlan, said that these statistics show that the number of incidents has more than doubled since last year.[1] Earlier this year, Ghozlan said that the majority of attacks are perpetuated by Muslims.[2]

Among the many anti-Semitic incidents occurring in France, some of them draw international attention. One of these in particular was the recent attack on a Jewish couple in Créteil, a Parisian suburb in which the Jewish population represents more than twenty percent of its 100,000 inhabitants. Three people attacked a couple in their home, raped the woman and stole their belongings. The perpetrators assumed that because the victims were Jewish, they were therefore rich. The names of the three suspects indicate that they are, in great probability, Muslims.[3]

Many condemnations followed. French President Francois Hollande said the violence was “intolerable”.[4] Prime Minister Manuel Valls spoke about the “horror of Créteil” and also condemned the attack.[5] The Jewish community received messages of sympathy from the Bishops’ Conference, the Conference of Imams, the Association of Moroccan Muslims, and others.[6] 


Unselective Muslim immigration was the greatest negative event to befall European Jewry since the Holocaust.
The latest Créteil incident ranks in a lengthy history of violent attacks on French Jews within the last thirty-five years. The first post-war attack was the bombing of the Liberal synagogue of Copernic Street, Paris in 1980. Four passers-by were killed, among them an Israeli woman Aliza Shagrir. Nobody has been condemned for this attack. Now, 34 years later, Hassan Diab, a Palestinian-Lebanese sociology professor from Ottawa, Canada is being investigated by the police as a suspect.[7]

The French Prime Minister at the time, Raymond Barre, assured the Jewish community that they had the sympathy of the entire nation. This statement, however was made only a few days after he had said on television, “This odious bombing wanted to strike the Jews who were going to the synagogue, and it hit innocent French people who crossed Copernic Street.” Barre, with what might have been a Freudian slip, had indirectly put forward one of the basic issues: Are French Jews seen as an integral part of the French people, or a people apart?

Such statements weren’t the only signs of where this Prime Minister had stood. In 2007, the filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, wrote a detailed article where he called Barre an anti-Semite. Barre had publicly defended the wartime French Vichy official Maurice Papon, who had sent many Jews to their death, and a National Front senior leader, Bruno Gollnisch, a Holocaust denier.[8]

One might add that Barre had also been an anti-Semitism denier. As late as 2004, he and another senior French politician, Jacques Delors, answered in the negative when asked whether there was anti-Semitism in France.[9]   

In late summer 2000, shortly after the outbreak of the second intifada, a series of major anti-Semitic attacks broke out across France. The first one was one of vandalism and theft in a synagogue in Ris-Orangis, south of Paris, in September.  Many others followed.[10] The socialist Jospin government and right-wing French President Jacques Chirac denied the anti-Semitic reality and considered the attacks to be nothing but “hooliganism.”

French Jewry was on its own.

The attacks were even justified to some extent by some politicians. Sociologist Shmuel Trigano would say, years later, “Jewish citizens could not understand that violent acts were being committed against them in the name of developments 3,000 kilometers away. Today, there are those who still remember the words of Hubert Védrine, former Socialist minister of foreign affairs, which have been repeated in different variations by several politicians, ‘One does not necessarily have to be shocked that young Frenchmen of immigrant origin have compassion for the Palestinians and are very agitated because of what is happening to them.’”[11]

Not all French anti-Semites are Muslims, however. In January 2014, a massive rally in Paris took place. This “Day of Anger” was not related to any events linked to the Jewish community in particular. Part of the protest was against French President Francois Hollande’s economic plans. However, various groups of participants started to shout anti-Semitic slogans. Such slogans included, “Jews, France doesn’t belong to you” and “Faurisson [the Holocaust denier] is right,” as well as, “the Holocaust was a hoax.”

French journalist and intellectual Michel Gurfinkiel wrote that it was shocking that nobody had acted to remove the anti-Semitic protesters. The police had failed to react, even though the shouts were in direct violation of the French hate-speech laws. Gurfinkiel questioned whether or not French democracy was capable of holding anti-Semitism in check.[12]

In view of all of these increasingly frequent incidents, the question arises:  what should French Jews do? 

Before answering this question, however, one fact has to be stressed. The potential for most of such anti-Semitic attacks was laid in previous decades, when French authorities unselectively let in millions of Muslims into the country. This population emigrated from strongly anti-Semitic environments, and some became even further radicalized in Europe.

As in other European countries, this unselective Muslim immigration was the greatest negative event to befall European Jewry since the Holocaust. This nonselective immigration policy has many social aspects, one of which is that a number of immigrants are violent and willing to commit anti-Semitic acts.  Some go to the extreme, such as the murderers of Sebastian Sellam, Ilan Halimi, and of several Jews who were standing before a Jewish school in Toulouse.

There has been one concrete suggestion on what could be done about this worsening situation. French human rights expert Christophe Ruffin, in a 2004 report prepared for the country’s interior minister, explicitly linked anti-Semitism to the prevalent anti-Israeli mood: “It is not conceivable today to fight actively in France against anti-Semitism in its new forms without going all-out to try and balance anew the public’s view of the situation in the Middle East.” [13]

French politics have gone in the opposite direction, however. Its parliament, with many socialist votes, advised recognition of a Palestinian state. Such a stance is strong encouragement for Palestinian President Abbas and his Fatah movement, who admire murderers of Israeli civilians, and spells also indirect support for the Islamo-Nazi Hamas movement, the Palestinians largest party.

So what can be done to prevent further attacks against French Jews?  The truth is that very little can be done. What are the options, then, for French Jews?

One can do nothing, and choose to believe the socialist Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve who, while visitng Créteil after the incident, claimed, “The [French] Republic will always defend you with all its forces, because otherwise it would not be the Republic.”[14]

One can move to neighborhoods where the majority of the population is Jewish and where there are few Muslims, in the hope that the violence, which is mainly Muslim, will be substantially below average. Alternatively, Jews can attempt to completely hide their identity from their social environment. Yet another alternative, which is increasingly taken, is for Jews to leave France for places where there are less anti-Semitic attacks. These options are the only remaining realistic alternatives for French Jewry.

In the meantime, the French authorities will make many declarations of supposed importance — like they did in the past, and like they did after the recent incident in Créteil — about all the major actions they are going to undertake to fight anti-Semitism and racism.

Their impact, however, will be minor.

[1]  Christophe Dansette, Johan Bodin, “Les juifs français ont-ils raison d’avoir peur?” France 24, 5 December 2014. [French]
[2] “Report: Gang of youths taser French Jew at Paris monument,” JTA, 11 June 2014.
[3] Christophe Dansette, Johan Bodin, “Les juifs français ont-ils raison d’avoir peur?” France 24, 5 December 2014. {French]
[4] Agression antisémite: “Une violence insupportable” pour Hollande, Le Parisien, 4 December 2014 [French]
[5] AFP, “Couple cible parce-que juif. Valls denonce l’horreur, Libération, 4 December 2014. [French]
[6] Agression de Créteil: “Nous devons tous nous sentir concernés.” France 24, 6 December 2014 [French]
[7] “Attentat de la rue Copernic: Hassan Diab mis en examen pour ‘assassinats’,” Le Parisien, 15 November 2014 [French]
[8] Claude Lanzmann, “J'accuse Raymond Barre d'être un antisémite,” Libération, 6 March 2007 [French]
[9] R, Arbez,“Delors et Barre à la TV: pas d'antisémitisme en France,” UPJF.Org, 17 February 2004. [French]
[10] Une atmosphère d’insécurité, Observatoire du Monde Juif, Bulletin 1, page 2, November 2001 [French].
[11] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Shmuel Trigano, “Contemporary French Anti-Semitism: A Barometer for Gauging Problems in Society,” in Demonizing Israel and the Jews (New York: RVP Press, 2013).
[12] Jerome Gordon, “Gurfinkiel: France may have joined ‘Europe’s league of fringe anti-Semitic countries,’” The Iconoclast, 29 January 2014.
[13] Jean-Christophe Ruffin, “Chantier sur la Lutte contre le Racisme et l’antisémitisme,” Ministère de l’interieur, de la sécurité interieure, et des libertés locales, 30 October 2004, 30. [French]   
[14] “Apres l’agression de Créteil, Bernard Cazeneuve veut ‘faire de la lutte contre le racisme et l’antisémitisme une cause nationale,” Huff Post and AFP, 7 December 2012. [French]


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