Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Le choix

There's an article in the Jerusalem Post about French Jews, so of course here we go. But beware: if you click on the link from the word "France" you will be taken to a page of information about Germany. Insert Petain reference here, or maybe you only have to do that if you've spent the day typing up outlines about French history...

But as for the article itself, it's about what can be done for those French Jews who have, as French-Jewish community organizer Michel Elbaz puts it, "chosen to stay" in France. Wouldn't the "choice" be leaving? Isn't staying the default?

But here's where it gets bizarre. Elbaz explains:

"The French Jewish community is fairly new compared to other countries, with more than half a million of the Jews arriving from Morocco and Algeria following World War II."

Wrong and wrong-ish. The major Jewish immigration to France from North Africa did occur after World War II, but it had nothing to do with that event. It happened a couple decades later, upon North African countries' independence from colonial rule. That's the wrong-ish. Wrong, obviously, is the idea that France's Jewish community is "fairly new compared to other countries." It includes relatively new immigrants, but what Elbaz says (or what Ruth Eglash quotes him as saying) implies that France had no Jews prior to 1945 at the earliest. Not so. If that were the case, then why would Montesquieu and Voltaire bothered worrying about those particular monotheists? How about Abbe Gregoire? (How about the blogging not looking quite so much like the studying... gar!)

So why does this matter? The point is not to show off historical knowledge about an obscure subject no one cares about, but to take issue with the suggestion that the default option for French Jews is to leave for Israel. There were French Jews well before there were Israeli Jews, and even Theodor Herzl said that if the French Jews want to stay, so be it.

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