The wave of violence against Jews in France has shaken awake the country's sleepy election campaign. But it is possible that the violence is not derived from classic anti-Semitism as Israeli officials are trying to present it.
The protest demonstration against anti-Semitism did not unify all the demonstrators into support for Israel. Clear-cut leftists, like former CRIF president Theo Klein, and Michel Tubiana, president of the French human rights group, Ligue des droits de l'homme, had strong reservations about any hint of identifying the demonstration with the Sharon government.
The split between automatic support for Israel and those Jews committed to the values of the civil republic that separates church and state, is an expression of the gap between the new multi-culturalism of France and a longing for the preservation of universal values. It also marks the changing nature of the Jewish community in France.
French Jewry was never organized into communities with strong ties to Israel as in America. Out of some 600,000 Jews in France only 20 percent are active in the community. The rest conduct private Jewish lives and are deeply involved in society. Most of the organizations are based on a republican framework - the religious council was founded by Napoleon in 1808. CRIF, the representative council for the Jewish organizations, Alliance, and others groups are organized that way and in that framework.
But there has been a dramatic change in recent years. In the 1980s, it was rare to see a person wearing a kippa on the streets of Paris, except for the tiny Orthodox community. Now, tens of thousands of Shas and Chabad members come and go to kosher restaurants, synagogues and Talmud Torahs, all organized with strong nationalist connections that weaken the republican structure and create a new leadership. At the end of the 1950s, there were two synagogues and one kosher butcher in Marseilles. Now there are 50 synagogues and 30 butcher shops. It's a mirror image of the change in the Muslim community, which some estimates say is as large as 8 million people.
The outbreak of violence against Jews, says Claude Sitbon, a researcher of the Tunisian Jewish community and a 1960s activist in Paris, is also connected to the tension between the veteran, established Jews and the and the children of the Arab immigrants, whose problems France has ignored for the past decade. Some influential Muslims, like the mufti of Marseilles and the chairman of SOS Racism, agree with that description.
Muslim intellectuals have lately been speaking openly about crime amongs the children of immigrants from the Maghreb. In Marseille's 14th district, for example, there are 12,000 residents, mostly poor Muslims. The unemployment rate is one of the highest in France - 12 percent. And the tension between them and the few hundred Jewish families in the neighborhood has grown more intense, all the way to burning synagogues.
But just as in the Muslim community the gangs are growing stronger, so have the horror shows of the Beitarist and Kahanist gangs grown in the Jewish community. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not just an importation of a foreign dispute to the republic, but more fuel on the fire of the post-colonialist reality in France. The Jews may mostly remember Dryefus, but the organizations against racism of recent years, which in many cases count prominent Jews among their founders, were created to protest against the harassment of Arabs.
Right wing Jewish extremist groups in France promote anti-Arab hatred, and many of whom vote for Jean-Marie Le Pen. They are enthusiastically supported by the Sharon government and only exacerbate the conflict.
Therefore, before Israel cries out that France has gone back to the eve of the Holocaust, it is worth examining the nature of the current phenomenon. There might have been hatred of Jews, and that might still exist, but some of the recent violence is evidently a French affair. And some of its roots can also be found in the extreme right in Israel.
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