Monday, August 15, 2005

A French Jewish singer's take

Read this article in Haaretz about a French Jewish singer, born to a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, a convert to Judaism who spends time in both France and Israel, and who received anti-Semitic yells when performing in Lyon. The singer, Shirel, discusses the difficult predicament of French Jews in general:

"It was just one of thousands of incidents of anti-Semitism in France," she says in an interview that took place recently at a Tel Aviv cafe. "Unfortunately, I don't feel that anything has changed since then. Today, calling someone `dirty Jew' is already part of French slang. It's trendy there to say that Jews are Nazis. It's very difficult today to be a Jewish kid in a French school. In general, it's very difficult to be French and also Jewish. We're constantly on the defensive; we have to explain all the time `why [Ariel] Sharon did and why Sharon didn't [do this or that].' Only the French government can be blamed for this, because if it had dealt with the root of the problem, perhaps the situation would be different."

Being a French Jew in France sounds not entirely unlike being an American in France. American students and tourists more or less assume they'll be asked what they think of Bush, the Iraq war, and so on. The difference is that Americans are, well, not French, while French Jews are. It makes sense that Americans would be seen in France as representatives of a foreign government; it just doesn't make sense that French Jews should be seen as representatives of the Israeli government.

Of course, once French Jews become accustomed to being seen as representatives of Israel--not the spiritual people of Israel, but the actual, political state--they may start to believe that maybe they are a bit less French than they'd once thought, and might be better off in Israel, where even if they're looked upon as French, their children would be fully Israeli. But technically, legally, French Jews are officially French and French alone; being Jewish or not is up to them. The whole point of laicite, of the French liberal secular ideal, is lost if French citizens feel they must leave the country because they're not, socially, considered French. Thus the cycle begins. Rather than root for France or Israel, for France keeping its Jews and thus showing itself to be a liberal success or for Israel receiving 600,000 new immigrants, I suppose I'm rooting for the French Jews themselves.

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