The Strauss-Kahn Affair and France's Jews

The 600,000 strong Jewish community in France fear charges against the former IMF chief will play into negative stereotypes of Jews, but also that Marine Le Pen's National Front will benefit from the affair.

PARIS - Last month, in an interview which now seems sadly prophetic, shamed former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn identified three challenges he’d face if he ran for president: "Money, women and my Jewishness.”

At the end, being Jewish had nothing at all to do with his downfall. But nonetheless, there is some unease among the 600,000-strong Jewish community here - the largest number outside of Israel and the U.S.- who fear they could be caught in the negative spotlight and that the affair will play into negative stereotypes of Jews and even inflame anti-Semitism.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn May 19, 2011.

Indicted on seven criminal charges for allegedly assaulting a maid in a New York hotel last Saturday, Strauss-Kahn, an identified Jew and an outspoken supporter of Israel has gone, overnight, from being one of the great prides of the Jewish community here -- to being something of a liability.

Some, who had believed in Strauss-Kahn and hoped to see him serving as the country’s next president, have expressed a sense of loss. For even if the former Socialist hopeful is acquitted of all the charges against him, his political career, once so promising, is in tatters.

“We have lost a friend,” says Rabbi Michel Serfaty, president of the Jewish-Muslim Friendship of France.

Others though, are less sympathetic to his plight.

“It is a nervous Jew’s nightmare…If ever there was a time that French anti-Semitism were going to rear its head, Mr. Strauss-Kahn has all but issued an engraved invitation,” writes Eric Alterman a senior fellow of the Center for American Progress in Washington DC.

"Indeed, it’s hard to think of a single anti-Semitic stereotype that he does not exemplify. Think about it. Jewish banker: check. Jewish cosmopolitan globalist… check. Jewish leftist: check. Jewish sex maniac: check. “

Add into the mix the fact that the most vocal of Strauss-Kahn’s early defenders was intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy, another high-flying leftist and identified Jew, and that Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer is an orthodox Jew who gave his first interview on the case this weekend to Haaretz – and the nightmare, for those prone to such nervousness, intensifies.

Some already see repercussions: There are those, argues Serfati, who “…are using the arrest as an example of how perverse the Jews can be…so the community is definitely feeling the repercussions of this story.”

But many others vehemently argue that, while Strauss-Kahn’s Jewish faith is no secret, there were never any signs of anti-Semitism when it seemed he might become the next president of the Republic -- and there are no such signs, as yet, now, in the wake of the affair.

“Anti-Semitism exists in France, and the community is always scared of it. But in this case it is unjustified,” says Daniel Rachline, a Jewish member of the Socialist party. “It’s a sad mess. It’s dramatic. But it’s not a Jewish story. No one is talking about it that way."

Meanwhile, the Strauss-Kahn’s downfall could yet end up hurting the Jewish community in a different, perhaps more concrete way, as the affair has greatly weakened the Socialist party – and as such benefitted Marine Le Pen and the National Front (FN).Polls published in Le Parisian this week show a replacement Socialist candidate losing in a first round-- thus leaving the playing field to unpopular president Nicolas Sarkozy and Le Pen.

The younger Le Pen has modernized the party of her father and worked to rid it of its anti-Semitic baggage, and has been carefully circumspect as regards reactions to the Strauss-Kahn affair. But still, the specter of the FNs rise to power of, complete with all its anti-immigrant, and anti globalist philosophies, concerns many Jews as well as other minorities here.