Anti-Semitism: an Ideology of Despair

Article published on Jan. 27, 2004
community published
Article published on Jan. 27, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Anti-Semitic acts of violence may be being committed by young people of North African origin from the ‘banlieues’. But let’s not turn the actions of individuals into a new war over religion.

In France in the 1980s Arabs and Jews, from SOS racisme (SOS Racism), the Ligue contre le racisme et l’antisémitisme, LICRA (The League against Racism and anti-Semitism), the Mouvement contre le Racisme et pour l’Amitié entre les Peuples, MRAP (The Movement against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples) and many other community organisations, marched together through the streets to fight racism and racial discrimination. 20 years later and such friendliness has well and truly disappeared. In Paris’ Eastern banlieues, where Jewish and Arab-Muslim communities co-exist side by side, synagogues are burning in Créteil and Jewish schools are going up in flames in Gagny. As the EUMC* report unhesitatingly underlined, we can’t pretend that this is being done by a few cranks from the extreme right. It is young Arabs or North Africans. Young Muslims in any case. They are exacerbating tensions between communities and have given this report its narrow readership.

Friends or enemies

Yes, there definitely is a new anti-Semitism in France. That much is clear. It has been exported from the Israeli-Palestine conflict which has transformed friends into enemies. Now, where this report could be useful material for an uninformed readership is in its emphasis on the fact that not everything should be viewed through a religious prism. Firstly, because it is incorrect and secondly because that only reinforces old resentments. This new anti-Semitism is not driven by religious ideology, like it was during our grandparent’s generation. The conclusions of a police report, quoted by the EUMC, in this sense speak for themselves. The police report was based on the questioning of 42 suspects of North African origin. It rightly underlines that this anti-Semitism concerns delinquents without an ideology, who are motivated by a disseminated hostility towards Israel, exacerbated by the media’s representation of the Middle East conflict - a conflict which, as far as they are concerned, reproduces images of the same exclusion and failure that they feel they are victims of in France.

It is David against Goliath. Stones against tanks. The same pictures are repeated on a loop on French television screens. These young people can’t help but identify themselves with these Palestinians who are so close to them. Let’s remember that in France they do not even have places of worship, their horizon is limited to the cités [Trans. - vast housing estates on the outskirts of Paris and other large French cities, typically poorly maintained with few amenities] and they have the better integrated Jew as their neighbour. For these young people, Jews mean money. Thus, in Sarcelles the Jewish quarter has been nicknamed Beverley Hills. At the University of Créteil even the students say that ‘the Jews are the ones who flaunt their money’. The class war component should not be underestimated in anti-Semitism.

Avoiding amalgamations

Furthermore, when you are young, like the majority of Muslims in France, and developing a political conscience, you need a role model. In France, there are no political representatives for the Muslim community. Their role models come from outside and just as some people adopt ‘Che Guevara as their hero, they choose Ben Laden or the Palestinians. The urban guerrilla in any case. Especially as violence and the use of force are justified in the housing estates. But they choose these heroes without really understanding their grassroots supporters.

Therefore, we must leave behind the community image and understand that the violence is not that of one community against another but individuals. Let’s stop going on about groups, labels or amalgamations. That is precisely the reasoning of anti-Semitism.

Much more dangerous is the rapprochement between the Islamic extremists and the extreme right, notably in their promotion of Holocaust denial. Since he converted to Islam, Roger Garaudy has enjoyed an unequalled positive standing in the Middle East. His book, Les mythes fondateurs de la politique d’Israel (The Founder Myths of Israeli Politics), has led to him being received by the Iranian President, Khamenei, invited to literary salons in Cairo and France, and having Tariq Ramadan** as his most fervent admirer, at least according Liberation.

Swapping roller blades for tanks

The danger is increasingly that anti-Semitism is becoming banal, notably by infiltrating the political domain where criticism of Israel sometimes turns into criticism of Jews themselves. Through the anti-Zionism of the extreme left and non-globalisation movements, it is not unusual for the Jewish lobby, that hated arm of capitalism, to be the only cause denounced in an almost obsessive fashion. Meanwhile the more moderate often think that if they had to choose Jews would always choose Israel over France.

From this point of view, rather than saying ‘the Arabs don’t like us’, the Jewish community, would do better not to respond with invective but to condemn those who seek to reaffirm anti-Semitic prejudices. People like Serge Klarsfeld who claimed, ‘France doesn’t really need Jews, just like Jews don’t really need France’. Or his son Arno who, by leaving to do his military service in Tsahal’s army, did not hesitate to swap his roller skates for an Israel assault tank.

* The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia - see Martin Schneider’s article.

** Muslim theologian, the subject of controversy related to his anti-Semitism – see link.

(1) in Nouvel Observateur, 24th January 2002 – ‘Jews and Arabs in France’, Claude Askolovitch and Marie-France Etchegoin.

(2) In Le Monde, 7th January 2004 – ‘French Jews and France: another vision’.