Friday, July 29, 2005

Sharon urges all French Jews to "rush to start packing [their] bags"

It's summer, which means it's time for Ariel Sharon's second-annual call to French Jews to leave off that "French" bit, trade their just-so scarves for tallises, and make aliyah. Haaretz's Aluf Benn reports:

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ended his visit to France with a convivial appearance before hundreds of representatives of the Jewish community on Thursday. Sharon was respectful of his French hosts and said, "Just as I call on Jews the world over to move to Israel, I call on you as well." A year ago, a similar statement by Sharon provoked a diplomatic storm and a harsh protest from the Elysee Palace. This time, Sharon praised French President Jacques Chirac's resolute action to fight anti-Semitism.

Sharon presented his philosophy at length, focusing on Jewish immigration to Israel. "The central means to ensure the future of the Jewish people is aliyah (ascension) to the land of Israel," Sharon said, adding, "I hope you all rush to start packing your bags."

"The future of the Jewish people also depends on Israel's character as a Jewish and democratic state, and we initiated the disengagement plan in this spirit," Sharon said. "This may have been the most difficult decision I made in my life, but it is vital for Israel's future," he said.

Roger Cuikerman, head of CRIF, French Jewry's umbrella organization, praised Sharon for his "courageous initiative of leaving Gaza." The chief rabbi of France, Joseph Haim Sitruk, spoke of the importance of Jewish unity.

Sharon introduced the new chairman of the Jewish Agency, former Ra'anana mayor Zeev Bielski, and said, "I was born in a village near Ra'anana, which was known throughout the area as having the prettiest girls. I say this to encourage aliyah, because the situation hasn't changed much."

Sharon said that the region's main problem was the refusal of the Arab world to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state in the "cradle of its birth." He said that this was not a reason to stop the diplomatic process, but rather to act with caution, and "not to trust anyone."

Here he offered a personal anecdote. "During the peace negotiations with Egypt, I was in Cairo and Alexandria many times. I had been in Egypt before, but not on a peace mission." The audience laughed as he continued. "My mother, who was a farmer and perhaps 85 years old, would call on the phone to tell me how much citrus she had picked and how many eggs the hens had laid. At the end of conversation, she always said one thing, 'Don't trust them.'"

One of the listeners asked about Israel's Arab minority. "Today, before your arrival, Israel has 5.5 million Jews and just over a million Palestinian Arabs who are Israeli citizens. Most of them want to live quietly and be an integral part of Israeli society.

"There is a small minority who are active, mostly through the Islamic movement and operated by the Iranians and Hezbollah. It is a small minority, but it is growing, and it is not a simple problem. They have identification cards like us, the same license plates, and they can't be stopped on the roadsides. The answer to these problems is to bring more Jews to Israel," Sharon said.

This is definitely a different argument than Israel gave French Jews last year. Sharon doesn't seem to want French Jews in particular to come to Israel, just Jews in general. This is confirmed by Le Monde. It might seem easier to extract Jews from France than from the US. The Haaretz story suggests that the French Jewish leadership was less than horrified by Sharon's suggestion.

Le Monde also mentions that Sharon and Chirac are trying to bring about better relations between France and Israel. France is happy about the Gaza pull-out; Israel is glad to see France speaking out against antisemitism. But can two countries really get along when one isn't a fan of the other's existence, while the other is trying to get 600,000 people from the former to emigrate? Will France become more friendly to Israel as an ally against terror as a result of the recent attacks in London? If antisemitism really does subside in France, wouldn't that make French Jews less likely to move to Israel? Is Israel, as the Jewish state, more interested in seeing French Jews have a better time of it in France, or in just getting them out of there?


Anonymous said...

Would France with all its Jews voluntarily exiled be more or less anti-Semitic than it is today? I'd say, more.

Victor said...

French Jews were very active in the democratization and secularization of France throughout the nineteenth century. The Paris synagogues were schools of republicanism and the Jewish community as a whole was one of the Third Republic's most loyal sources of support.

Of course, France on 2005 is no longer fraught with the conflicts over its own religious identity that were so dominant in 1905; she is no longuer—and no longer wishes to be—la fille aineé de l'Eglise. But I cannot help but think that the loss of those religious republican voices that remain in France (mostly liberal Jews and heirs of the Huguenots) would give new hope to those nostalgic for the old ultramontanism.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Anonymous: Herzl would've said less. But the existence of antisemitism--even antisemitic violence, in the form of attacks on those perceived as Jewish--in parts of Europe and elsewhere where no Jews are living suggests that France wouldn't necessarily shape up if it no longer had Jews living there. Also, if all French Jews left, it would just confirm antisemites' suspicions that these Jews were never really French to begin with.

Victor: Whatever positive influence French Jews have on France, is it worth more than the one they might have on Israel?

Anonymous said...

I heard one french commentator that said that allowing mass immigration of muslims into France was the biggest post-war mistake france made.