Jews between Israel and France
Sharon's remarks reflect his worldview, which requires Israel to intervene in the fate of any Jew, wherever he or she is, and to defend him or her in case of need. That is a problematic outlook.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's call on French Jewry to immigrate en masse to Israel because of anti-Semitism and because "ten percent of the French population is Muslim" has caused a major storm in France. The editorial of Le Figaro condemned the call twice, "first because France is not anti-Semitic, and second, because he knows that it is not anti-Semitic." Jews have been attacked and are being attacked, wrote Charles Lambroschini, the editorialist, but France's policies are not anti-Semitic, nor racist.
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier immediately turned to the Israeli Embassy in Paris and asked for explanations about Sharon's remarks. And the heads of the Jewish community in France also reacted angrily. Sharon, they charged, is pouring oil on the flames of the tension between Jews and Muslims in France.
The Muslim community leaders, for their part, accused Sharon of racism toward them. The affair's climax - so far - is the French president's announcement on Monday that preparations for a Sharon visit to France have been frozen, and that Sharon is not wanted there.
Even if the reactions to Sharon's remarks are somewhat overstated, it should be noted that the prime minister's emotional remarks were not a slip of the tongue. They reflect his worldview, which requires Israel to intervene in the fate of any Jew, wherever he or she is, and to defend him or her in case of need.
That is a problematic outlook. Zionism, which led to the establishment of the Jewish state, offered a national home to every Jew in the world. The offer remains, and for the future as well, and that should suffice. It is not feasible for Israel to push against the wall Jews who are citizens of other countries, and force them to choose between loyalty to their country and their identification with Israel or their need for it.
Sharon's comments are also problematic from the political perspective. France regarded the prime minister's statement as a crude intervention in its domestic affairs, casting doubt on France's ability to protect its citizens.
The anti-Semitic incidents of recent years in France are indeed grave, the tension between the Jewish and Muslim community is indeed difficult, but the French government is making enormous efforts to struggle with all that. Outside the formal frameworks of the institutions, there are various initiatives to eradicate anti-Semitism specifically, and racism in general - racism toward Arabs is no less worse - and Jewish and Muslim citizens of France are taking part equally in those efforts.
As in the sad case of the two Israeli citizens jailed in New Zealand, Israel has behaved in this case too with embarrassing self-aggrandizement and unnecessary patronization. Indeed, Sharon's comments deserve a double condemnation: for their political error, and because of the damage done to the Jews of France. And indeed, a third condemnation as well, for the sweeping slur of Muslims.