Friday, November 17, 2006

Francophobic Zionism

A fellow UChicago grad forwarded me this article calling for a Jewish boycott of France from something called the Israel Hasbara Committee. Someone referring to him- or herself as "A Jew Living in France" lists a variety of anti-Semitic incidents, including acts of vandalism, and concludes that, "Nowhere have the flames of antisemitism burned more furiously than in France."

And here's the interesting bit. Time to stop all those visits to Petit Bateau and the Zabars cheese counter:

Second, boycott France and French products. Only the Arab countries are more toxically antisemitic and, unlike them, France exports more than just oil and hatred. So, boycott their wines and their perfumes. Boycott their clothes and their foodstuffs. Boycott their movies. Definitely boycott their shores. If we are resolved we can exert amazing pressure and, whatever else we may know about the French, we most certainly know that they are like a cobweb in a hurricane in the face of well-directed pressure.

But alas, things are not so simple. First off, does suicide bombing count as anti-Semitic violence, and if so, should Israel, too, be subject to boycott? The French government today comes out firmly against anti-Semitism...

But the thing about France, as I emailed my former schoolmate, is that it may have more anti-Semitic incidents per capita than some other places, but it also has many more Jews. 600,000's the estimate usually thrown around, along with "third, after the US and Israel," neither of which can be confirmed, as France (thankfully, I'd say) does not count its Jews.* In other words, Jews appear to consider France more hospitable than all but two other countries on the planet. Countries seen as so "bad for the Jews" that they barely have any must appear incident-free. (Although there's always the odd case of anti-Semitic violence in places with no Jews, where someone non-Jewish is seen as a bit "Jewy" and all hell breaks loose.)

So does this mean that Nazi Germany must have been the most hospitable place for Jews in all of history, what with the unprecedented level of anti-Semitic incidents? No, but it's still fair to say that, of those places where anti-Semitism is a problem, a history of Jews living comfortably usually exists. Not being French, and not (yet) having done the necessary research, I cannot say for sure, but my sense of it is that French Jews are in danger somewhat less than, say, American gays, who also face many an "incident," and who, unlike French Jews, do not have full civil rights.

Of course, things in France are not all fantastic. As one of my Hebrew-class classmates pointed out this evening, and as I suppose I'd mentioned on WWPD before, French Jews are heading east in record numbers, and those who have not actually made aliyah often are either considering it or buying property in Israel, just in case. This might have something to do with much of the current Jewish population in France being, much like the Muslim North African population, relatively new to the "hexagon," or it might be a sign that World War III is about to reach the Marais. I don't know which, but hope to write a paper on this soon, so we shall see. It's probably better to be Jewish in Israel than in France in many cases, and is undeniably better to be Jewish between 72nd and 96th on the West Side than just about anywhere else. But my overall point here is that anti-Semitism can be combatted in France without abandoning proper Camembert for good.

*A tangentially related point, having to do with affirmative action. Last night I attended an intriguing panel discussion at NYU's Maison Francaise on "positive discrimination" in France. Unfortunately, though, one of the most important points about affirmative action was pretty much brushed over. The debate is often seen as those who fear minorities and women gaining unfair advantages (aka conservative white men who already have far too much, etc.) versus those individuals who understand that the playing field needs leveling. But what about those who agree the playing field needs leveling (aka anyone of the liberal-reasonable slant), but who see the very act of asking people to identify themselves racially, the very act of a government collecting such data, as creepy and dangerous enough to merit keeping race, per se, out of affirmative action? In America at this point, people are so used to filling out their race on forms from who knows where that it becomes second nature, like a phone number and a permanent address. That's bad news. Aside from a brief remark from Patrick Weil explaining how, among other things, Vichy makes France today wary of counting its minorities, there wasn't much mention of why people-- Jews especially, in France especially but also American Jews with even the most minimal historical understanding-- might oppose certain forms of affirmative action for not at all reactionary reasons.**

**Had I figured out a way to ask this more succinctly, I'd have done so at the talk. Sometimes I do this in time, but last night it was not to be. Next time...


Anonymous said...

Not quite utterly off topic, but you have precisely two weeks to see one of the two or three best Godard's at the Film Forum.

If your social calendar doesn't co-operate, duck out of the library on your own for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

George L. Anesi said...

FYI - That Israel Hasbara Committee post is based of an e-mail that has been forwarded around for a number of years. Some of the incidents did happen, others did not; those that did occured around 2001 when anti-Semitism in France was much higher than today. I still get the e-mail every so often. Here's more: