Society

Anti-semitism in France: between torah and country

Article published on June 26, 2014
Article published on June 26, 2014

From the out­side, it seems that France has a prob­lem with its Jews. After tak­ing a closer look, it ap­pears that a word so di­visive as an­ti­-semitism ren­ders the issue both fas­ci­nat­ing and con­tra­dic­tory.

We ap­proach rue des Rosiers, a place sym­bolic of the Jew­ish com­mu­nity in the 4th ar­rondisse­ment in Paris, and an area which is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly well off. On this sunny Wednes­day af­ter­noon, its con­sid­er­able wealth gives this place an ex­cep­tional charm. Beau­ti­ful build­ings, shops, restau­rants and a va­ri­ety of other busi­nesses com­plete this pic­ture. How­ever, it was in this peace­ful place that an an­ti­-semetic at­tack took place on the 9 Au­gust 1982 at the Gold­en­berg restau­rant, leav­ing 6 dead and 22 in­jured19 years later, the French jus­tice sys­tem iden­ti­fied the Pales­tin­ian or­gan­i­sa­tion Fa­tah-Con­seil Rev­o­lu­tion­naire as being re­spon­si­ble for the at­tack.

"A Hos­tile Agenda tAR­GET­ING JEWS around the world"

Today, res­i­dents of the neigh­bour­hood think hard when asked to as­sess the prevalence of an­ti-­semitism in France, whose existence more individuals question. "[Anti-semitism] is de­clin­ing in our area com­pared to other years, even previous decades, but the mem­ory of the cruel at­tack is still with us," ex­plained a Jew­ish res­i­dent, al­most sob­bing. A woman of the same faith in­ter­rupts, shout­ing: "An­ti­-semitism con­tin­ues to gain ground in France. Those who say that there is no an­ti­-semitism in this coun­try go against the ex­pec­ta­tions and as­pi­ra­tions of Jews in France; they are in favour of a for­eign and hos­tile agenda tar­get­ing Jews around the world." 

Total amount of an­ti­-se­mitic acts in France, 1998-2013 Re­port on An­ti­semitism in France in 2013  

There is a great schism in how people perceive and understand an­ti­-semitism, even within the Jew­ish com­mu­nity in France. Ac­cord­ing to the peo­ple whom I in­ter­viewed in dif­fer­ent areas of Paris, we can even say that they can be clas­si­fied into three cat­e­gories: those who con­firm the ex­is­tence of an­ti­-semitism and the rise of ha­tred against Jews; some who are to­tally in­dif­fer­ent and un­in­ter­ested in the sub­ject, and fi­nally, oth­ers who deny the ex­is­tence of any an­ti­-semitism in France, ex­cept in iso­lated cases. "We must not say in any case that a Jew, a black or a Mus­lim was the vic­tim of a racially mo­ti­vated at­tack," con­firms Isaac, a young Parisian Jew. "But, rather that this French per­son or some­one of an­other na­tion­al­ity was the vic­tim of a crim­e, and let po­lice find the cul­prits and the rea­sons be­hind their be­hav­iour. It is only in iden­ti­fy­ing their mo­tives can we say whether the at­tack was racist or not." Isaac, who iden­ti­fied him­self as very at­tached to his re­li­gion and roots, said that he is out­raged by some press that: "some­times feed racial ha­tred and sow ter­ror among peo­ple in a rush to pro­vide the facts of the story. As soon as we men­tion that a vic­tim is Jew­ish or Mus­lim, every­one is con­vinced that it is an an­ti­-se­mitic or is­lam­o­pho­bic act, while far from being the case."

An­ti­semitism? "is­raeli pro­pa­ganda"

Avra­ham Wein­berg is the caretaker of the Adath Is­rael Syn­a­gogue lo­cated in the 11th ar­rondisse­ment in Paris. Over the course of a long con­ver­sa­tion, his voice sud­denly be­comes more clear. "There is no an­ti­-semitism in France at all," he says. "It is true that Jews are oc­ca­sion­ally at­tacked, which is very sad, but it doesn't mean we should frighten peo­ple." The Boogeyman? For Avra­ham, "it is the State of Is­rael that mounts a pro­pa­ganda cam­paign so that French Jews re­turn to Is­rael and de­posit their money there." 

Avra­ham Wein­berg was born in Is­rael and spent the first ten years of his life there. The man re­mem­bers a happy child­hood spent play­ing with Arab chil­dren. "We were like broth­ers, we grew up to­gether and we never felt dif­fer­ent or that we had dif­fer­ent back­grounds," he sighs. Avra­ham ac­cuses Zion­ists - a ref­er­ence to those in favor of the cre­ation of a Jew­ish state in the land that is Is­rael - to be re­spon­si­ble for the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of re­la­tions in the Mid­dle East. "[Zion­ists] are blinded by greedy coloni­sa­tion, and want to rule the world and dom­i­nate every­thing with the United States, the other side of evil that this world knows."

UNEASY FIGURES

Ac­cord­ing to the Re­port on An­ti­semitism in France, "an­ti­-semitism in France can no longer be con­sid­ered as a tem­po­rary phe­nom­e­non re­lated to events and con­flict in the Mid­dle East. This is a struc­tural evil, that has yet to be eradicated." The re­port analy­ses data from 2013 and was pub­lished by the De­part­ment for Pro­tec­tion of the Jew­ish Com­mu­nity (SPCJ), a body cre­ated and spon­sored by the Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Coun­cil of Jew­ish In­sti­tu­tions in France (CRIF). The fig­ures and sta­tis­tics were com­piled in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Min­istry of the In­te­rior. The document points to the rise of an­ti­-semitism in France, es­ti­mat­ing that "the ex­pected incidents" were not met in 2013, de­spite the de­cline of an­ti­-se­mitic acts from the pre­vi­ous year. Ac­cord­ing to SPCJ, de­spite the 31% de­crease in an­ti­-se­mitic acts from 2012 (614 an­ti­-se­mitic acts - Ed­i­tor), "a year of an­ti­-semitism that ranked off the charts", 2013 (423 an­ti­-se­mitic acts - Ed­i­tor) re­mains higher than 2011 (389 an­ti­-se­mitic acts - Ed­i­tor), which the study con­sid­ers dis­turb­ing. This pe­riod saw seven times more violence than in the 90s. In 2013, Paris was given the dis­tinc­tion of being the most anti-semitic city in France, with 77 al­leged of­fenses, of which more than half were recorded in four dis­tricts alone: the 16th and 19th (12 in each - Ed­i­tor), 11th (9 - Ed­i­tor) and 20th (8 - Ed­i­tor).

The se­cu­rity bat­tal­ion of the CRIF is not the most wel­com­ing, even for jour­nal­ists. We were turned away when we indicated that we just wanted to ask for some in­for­ma­tion. It took sev­eral phone calls before some­one from the or­gan­i­sa­tion fi­nally in­vited us to "ask all the ques­tions you want". Re­laxed and vis­i­bily dis­in­ter­ested in our in­ter­view, the same per­son told us to look for our an­swers on the in­ter­net. We left the premises ac­com­pa­nied by three men, in­clud­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer. There are per­haps some things that num­bers can­not ex­plain.

This ar­ti­cle is part of a spe­cial pro­ject founded in paris and car­ried out as part of the eu­romed re­porter pro­ject, ini­ti­ated by cafébabel in part­ner­ship with i-watch, the anna lindh foun­da­tion and search for com­mon ground.