Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Police activity"

Another anti-Semitic act in the metro. A gang of youths heard one person wish another "Happy Chanukah" and began harassing and beating the Jews, since, claimed the attackers, Chanukah is when the Jews killed Jesus. Won't those French anti-Semites ever stop?

Except this wasn't in Paris or a notorious banlieue, but on a train in NYC, headed from Manhattan to Brooklyn. One car away from the one Jo and I were in on Friday night, as it happens. All we witnessed was police sprinting through our car to the next; then, once the train pulled into DeKalb, more police running to the car in question from outside the station. A man in our car told us there were "rowdy teenagers" in the next car, causing him to move to the one we were in. All we learned from the police was that there was "police activity" on the train. Well, clearly. We had actually moved closer to the action, inadvertently, before realizing there was any action, after fleeing the opposite end of the car to get away from a garden-variety subway pervert who was alternating between asking all the women nearby on dates and graphically describing acts that go on between two men. The back of the car seemed the way to go, until we noticed the cops running towards where we were from the direction of where we had been standing. But I digress.

If violent anti-Jewish acts happen in NYC subways and New Jersey towns, why are American Jews so intrigued by French anti-Semitism, which from what I understand manifests itself in about the same way? Since hate crime is counted differently in different countries, I'm not sure how one would go about comparing numbers, but I don't know if numbers are even the issue. When a Jew is attacked as such in France, it's described as a message about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Holocaust/Vichy, i.e. some greater conflict. When it happens in America, it just falls into the melting pot of how we interpret hate, i.e., looks like someone didn't get the P.C. message, or is too anti-social to know that attacking people on the basis of race, creed, etc., is wrong.


Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Do they just seem higher, or are they higher? They certainly get more press. When a rabbi in NJ was beaten recently (and it was not determined a hate crime) it didn't merit much attention, but even in America one often hears of such attacks in Paris. Again, I'm not sure how one could measure this, since what Paris calls a hate crime against a Jew is probably not the same as what NYC does.

I know it's odd, but sometimes I'm more hopeful about France than the US.

Withywindle said...

Ah, statistics ... which I do not have at my fingertips. I do seem to remember the number of attacks in France was sharply up, in the high hundreds a year, while when I did look at bias attacks statistics in the US a few weeks ago, the number of anti-Jewish attacks was in the low hundreds. (I'll be glad to be corrected by anybody who takes the time to do two minutes of research!)

I do think it is a little odd of you. The nightmare remains: France slides into constant pogroms by the Muslims, while the French decide that Jews aren't really French, are expendable, nothing need be done to defend them. Similar nightmares are possible in America, but there are fewer potential Muslim pogromists here, and I do think the American political class is less likely to abandon Jews.

(I'm not saying that the nightmare of France is an overwhelming probability--just that it is more probable than a nightmare of America.)

(Have you read the articles about French Jews emigrating to Israel and Florida at a sharply increased rate the last few years? It's not just American Jews who have the impression that France is becoming dangerous for Jews.)

But why does your opinion differ?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

It's less shocking and comes up against far less opposition to claim that there is anti-Semitism in France than to claim the same about America. It could well be that greater Jewish emigration from France than from the US (if that's the case) has more to do with the fact that France and French Jews are less wealthy than the US and American Jews, respectively, and that for a variety of reasons French Jews have closer ties to Israel.

But the real reason for my ridiculous-sounding (and quite possibly ridiculous) interpretation of this issue is that America is now witnessing the lead-up to an election that is pretty much about how America has gone down the drain thanks to the neocons. A good amount of public opinion (supported, of course, by certain respectable intellectuals) equates the Bush administration with 'the Jews.' France, meanwhile, just elected Sarkozy. Whatever motivated individual French voters, clearly the fact that he's seen as a friend of the Jews was not off-putting enough to make everyone vote against him.

Withywindle said...

This article is probably what I read earlier this year, about French Jews emigrating to Florida; it does link the increase in emigration specifically to Halimi, etc. As for poverty: I could say that French Jews were no richer in 1999, but emigrated less--but more to the point, it's precisely the poverty of the Sephardic Jews that makes them vulnerable to pogromists--living in adjacent neighborhoods, distant from the concerns of the French elite, including the assimilated Jewish portion of it. So poverty doesn't argue against fear of pogroms; it's the reason for the fear.

You are right that France seems safer with Sarkozy elected, and America less safe with Mearsheimer and the Ron Paul brigades spewing their poisons into the body politic. (And in the 1930s there was Leon Blum in France and Charles McCoughlin in America, but, independent of the Nazi onslaught to come, I'd still rather have been a Jew in America then than a Jew in France.) But I'd wait at least a few years before indulging in increased optimism about the situation of Jews in France. See if the Sarkozification sticks. And keep a weather-eye on the Muslim demographics.

Another way to put it, is that I still think it would be a good idea for every Jewish family in France to make sure at least one second cousin is in Israel or America--preferably one second cousin in each country. That way, in a pinch, you have a bolt-hole.

Anonymous said...

"A good amount of public opinion (supported, of course, by certain respectable intellectuals) equates the Bush administration with 'the Jews.'"

This absurd Phoebe - You're getting a distorted impression. Think about the bizarre implication - Opposing Bush's foreign policy is anti-semitism - Prescott Bush is laughing his ass off in the great restricted country club in the sky.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Many people think something that may well be absurd. I never said that I think it.

Anonymous said...

A BBC Radio 4 report on this story yesterday - Saturday- revealed that the attack happened when 2 Jews were overheard wishing each other Happy Hannukah and that identified them and they were attacked. It also revealed that they were saved by an Afghani Muslim who intervened and that there were other Jewish passengers who they said didn't bother to help them.

Bishvili - Ve Ani Loh M'HaAarsim- At Niret Yaffa Aval...