Friday, November 12, 2004

WWPD debates the Middle East. (Remember when this blog used to be all about Tasti-d-lite?...)

Jochen has added an interesting and informative comment to my post about French kaffiyeh-wearing:

"On the Palestinian Scarves so popular in Paris, one might say that they became, probably since the 1970s, a general (fashion) symbol for the left, and then even lost their direct political character for many. I doubt that wearing such a scarve is a conscious political statement for most people, though pro-Palestinian sentiments are certainely strong in France.

In defense of France: There were huge solidarity demonstrations in France after fire-bombings against Jewish institutions like schools, assumably committed by Islamic terrorists. It's true, there is a huge anti-Semitism in France, especially among Arabic immigrants, but at the same time, there is a strong tradition of anti-antisemtism as well."

My response, which I'm posting because it became too long for a comment:

It's certainly possible that kaffiyehs have lost any direct significance in France with respect to the Palestinian cause, which is itself a testament to the enduring trendiness of siding with the Palestinians (rather than with Israel, but also rather than siding a bit with both and seeing peace as the only worthy goal). Even on campuses in the US, siding with the Palestinians suggests a tough but sensitive, left-in-the-sense-of-pro-underdog personality, while anyone who openly expresses pro-Israeli sentiment is accused of either whining about non-existing anti-Semitism or of just going the obvious route because they're Jewish (if they are; if not, they're assumed to be Christian fundamentalist loonies).

But back to France: While the French do, at times, admirably fight anti-Semitism at home, the refusal to acknowledge why so many Jews are not in France but are rather in Israel is really at the root of the problem--if French Jews had all sat around at waited for France to defend them during WWII, they'd been out of luck(not to mention during the Dreyfus Affair...which I know more about than I ever thought I would!) , and the same is frequently the case, but obviously to a much lesser extent, today.

Israel came out of Jews not wanting to rely on the whims of Europe, which might or might not permit them to live in any given country at any given moment, and to form a self-defending state. Theodor Herzl's interest in founding the state of Israel came out of his having covered the Dreyfus Affair and having thus witnessed French (not German, not Russian, etc.) anti-Semitism.

I very much admire the French attempts at having a secular state. France's secularity, in theory, would benefit French Protestants, Muslims, Catholics, Jews, and others, and would--still talking in theory--make France a much more hospitable place for those of different religions, not to mention the non-religious, than is the US. And I am reassured every time I hear about a French leader speaking out against anti-Semitism. But despite the French insistence on defending their own Jews, the country's utter infatuation with the cause of a people whose goal is, more often than not, to eliminate the state that was established precisely as a reaction to French anti-Semitism--that I do find unsettling, to say the least.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I guess I want to respond...

I (being a pro-Israel leftist, something that might be very unusual in this country) agree with you that it is concerning how much the French (but also Germans, Italiens, Spaniards...) support the Palestians who finally wish to throw all Israelis into the Ocean.

I find some parts of your argument, however, a bit problematic.

Unfortunately, too many Jews sat around in France before Germany attacked, and many Jews flew to France between 1933 and 1939. (They caused in fact some rejection, as people were afraid of economic competition. Yet, the patterns of this rejection are quite different, it seems to me, from Nazi anti-Semitism.) So, I'm afraid most French Jews were out of luck, as they believed France being save.

France turned out not to be save. But it wasn't because of the German military superiority. True, the French could have helped the Jews much more (only Denmark really saved 'its' Jews), and Vichy collaborated with the Germans, but at the same time, there were a lot of French who fought the Germans and helped the Jews. (Norwegian Resistance, as far as I know, didn't really care for the Jews, to give one different example.)

You mention the Dreyfuss Affair - I have studied it a bit once, certainely not as much as you did, and I forgot the details. If I remember correctly, there was not only the anti-Semitic faction, but also a strong republican side that rejected the anti-Semitism (Emil Zola), a side that finally proved victorious. (Correct me if I'm wrong!) One should keep that side in mind!That marks a crucial difference to similar events in Germany, for example, not speak of Russia's violent pogroms.

I find it hard to believe that the state of Israel is a result of French anti-Semitism. True, Herzl was inspired by Dreyfuss, but what made Zionism a powerfull movement was not French anti-Semitism.

I don't want to deny French anti-Semitism, but you somehow focus too much on France, and it is somehow too black. In contrast to other European countries, France has a strong secular, enlightened - western - tradition. What Europe should realize (particularly after the murder of Theo van Gogh) is that Islamic fundamentalism is the most serious threat to that tradition, and that it has to fight it much more offensively.

Jochen

Anonymous said...

PS: Sorry the comment got so long... and I feel honoured that my first comment made it to the main page!
Jochen

Anonymous said...

PS: Sorry the comment got so long... and I feel honoured that my first comment made it to the main page!
Jochen

Phoebe said...

"What Europe should realize (particularly after the murder of Theo van Gogh) is that Islamic fundamentalism is the most serious threat to that tradition, and that it has to fight it much more offensively."

Indeed. Any thoughts on how that might actually happen?

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm about to emigrate to the US... guess why.

What can one do to make Europe realize the threat? Go out (in Europe), argue with people, demonstrate... not much.

There is a second problem: Europe's (i.e. Germany/France) relation to the US. The EU is constituting itself more and more as a power bloc in oppossition to the US. And for that purpose, a good reputation in the Arab world in certainly crucial.

For sure, it is good and necessary to protest against anti-Israeli demonstrations, but in the end, it is a good feeling to know that the US had the better weapons in 1917, in 1942, and now.

One more example of anti-Israeli demonstrations in Europe? In Berlin (as in many other cities, such as London) was a demonstration on the 'Al-Qud' day against Israel, attended by 800 people. The anti-demonstration was attended by a mere 100 people. All of them from the radical left. I don't know if there was a demonstration like that in Paris.

Jochen

Alex B. said...

Jochen: emigrating to the U.S. because Europeans are too pro-Palestinian? Pu-leeze. Find another reason to move, this one's not good enough...

Phoebe said...

I'm not going to speak for Jochen here, but it's not just a question of pro-Palestinian vs. pro-Israeli, but of a total difference in attitude towards Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism between the US and Europe. To be on the left in Europe often means renouncing the West, liberalism, and all that, while, in the US, there are still left-wingers speaking out against terror. (Read back issues of Dissent magazine for some good examples of that phenomenon).

Alex B. said...

But then, see how the Spaniards (a people whose experience of liberal democracy is relatively recent) came together to renounce terrorism, Islamic or not. See how the Dutch are now cracking down on terrorists in their country. The reason why Europeans might react "softly" to Islamic fundamentalism and its inherent terror is because they haven't experienced it at home, as the Americans unfortunately did. Give them a couple of terrorist attacks on their soil, and they might become more and more "American". Europe's commitment to freedom and democracy is probably more robust than Americans like to think.

But, on the other hand and as you put it, it is indeed true that the European Left is less profoundly democratic and liberal than the American Left. (I use "liberal" in its original meaning, not in the American way. Americans hijacked the word "liberalism" and gave it its opposite meaning, sort of...)