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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The Autumn 2005 Riots in France – Part II

Filed under: Europe and Israel
Publication: Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism

II. The Riots’ Impact on French Jewry

The common view is that the physical impact of the riots on the Jewish community was not much greater than on others living in the areas affected.[53] Two synagogues were attacked with Molotov cocktails, one at Pierefitte and the other at Garges les Gonesse.[54] The latter was the town where the anti-Israeli Euro-Palestine Party of the half-African comedian Dieudonné got more votes than anywhere else-over 10 percent-in the 2004 elections to the European Parliament.[55]

Sammy Ghozlan, head of the Anti-Semitism Vigilance Bureau (a translation of its formal name), said: “These communities are used to these daily assaults. It is worrisome, but we fear the worst is still to come.” The Bureau also said that Jacki Brami, rabbi of Garges, and his sons had been, “as usual,” insulted.[56]

In several places shops belonging to Jews went up in flames. If Jews had disproportionately more shops than others, then probably proportionately more Jewish shops were burned. This should not be confused, then, with the many specifically anti-Jewish attacks of the past years.

Keeping a Low Profile

The Jewish community kept a low profile during the riots. One of the few official reactions was a letter to Imam Boubakeur from Moise Cohen, the then chairman of the Paris Consistoire, the main umbrella group representing Jewish religious associations in the capital. He expressed his indignation about the tear gas grenade thrown into the mosque of Clichy-sous-Bois, and stated: “We consider every prayer room as sacred…and it must be kept away from any conflict, whatever its nature may be.”[57]

After the riots, Kanovitch said he had talked every day on the phone to Boubakeur. “As a Jewish community official, I could have simply turned my back on him…. even if I know that many young people from both sides are not particularly interested in working with each other, there is a Jewish ethic that says, get involved. So now more than ever we want to broaden the dialogue between French Jewish and Arab communities.”[58]

Rabbi Michel Serfaty of Ris Orange, a Paris suburb, has been heavily involved in contact groups for young Jews and Muslims. He said Muslim leaders had approached him during the riots asking him to come to Clichy-sous-Bois; however, local radical Muslim leaders had refused to let him.[59]

Serfaty had, in October 2003, been the victim of physical aggression by a North African. Later he explicitly exposed North African minority racism, writing: “One cannot deny that, during these three years of anti-Semitic outbursts, there have been persecutors and persecuted. The North African Muslims were among these persecutors, the Jews among those who were persecuted.”[60]

The Authorities and the Jews

There are rumors that the French authorities approached the Jewish organizations during the riots and warned them not to publicize what happened to the synagogues because it might lead to copycat incidents. They also told them not to publicize their fears as that could encourage rioters to attack Jews and Jewish buildings.[61] This is somewhat similar to what the Socialist government told the Jews from 2000 to 2002 regarding the anti-Semitic flare-up.

This time the authorities’ position was perhaps more understandable because the current government had lost control over events for several days. Unable to protect the belongings of the society at large, it could claim that it also could not ensure the safety of Jews if they were targeted more than others.

Under the Jospin government the situation was much worse. It was mainly the members of one group, the Jews, who were attacked by Muslims and right-wing racists. The authorities considered this hooliganism, denying its specific anti-Semitic character. The Socialist-controlled government thought that by making no significant effort to uphold the Jews’ civil rights, it would protect social peace. Worse yet,  Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine said while Jews were being attacked in January 2002: “One should not necessarily be shocked that young Frenchmen originating from the immigration would have compassion for the Palestinians and are excited by what is happening [in the Middle East].”[62]

In line with the government’s unofficial policy, many teachers closed their eyes to the violence, intimidation, and racism against Jews and others in French schools. Other teachers described the perpetrators as “hooligans” or “hoodlums,” in denial of the obvious fact that elements in the French Muslim community as well as foreign Muslim television stations engage in systematic incitement. Still others tried to maintain “social peace” by appeasing the bullies and withholding sympathy from their victims.[63]

It is possible that had the French government protected the Jews more forcefully when they were attacked a few years ago, it would have prevented the 2005 riots. For years the rioters had seen that only a small number of those attacking Jews and Jewish institutions were caught and brought to justice.

The Jew as a Canary

What France experienced in autumn 2005, parts of the Jewish community who lived close to Muslim communities had already gone through since late 2000. Many Jewish institutions and hundreds of Jews have been physically attacked in the past five years. Jewish children found themselves in the front line, harassed in public schools. Many perpetrators were Muslims.[64] It also seems that children at Paris Jewish schools located near schools with many Muslim pupils are from time to time insulted or attacked without this necessarily being reported to the police.

A recently published study found anti-Jewish prejudices to be prevalent particularly among religious Muslims in France. Forty-six percent hold such sentiments compared to 30 percent of non-practicing Muslims. Only 28 percent of religious Muslims are without anti-Jewish prejudices.[65]

The Jews have often functioned as a canary in a mine for the societies they lived in. This was also the case in France. They were the first group to feel in recent years that something in contemporary French society had gone radically wrong.

This was well put by Ghozlan, who is also the president of the Council of Jewish Communities of Seine-St-Denis, an area where the disturbances were particularly intense. He defined the recent riots succinctly: “The anger that was being channeled toward the Jews is instead being directed at the French state. Instead of Jews, they’re attacking the police.”[66]

Interpreting the Decrease in Anti-Semitic Incidents

Reported physical anti-Semitic attacks in France decreased substantially in 2005. Many questions were asked when it became known. Did this decline happen because the government had combated anti-Semitism and these incidents more seriously? Was it because the government from time to time had said more positive things about Israel?

Or was it because the media have changed their reporting on Israel somewhat? After the withdrawal from Gaza, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon mutated in some French media from the embodiment of all evil into a near-saint. After his second stroke they gave regular updates on his condition. Or, did the anti-Semitic violence decline because North African perpetrators had widened their targets to include the much more numerous French whites?

At the beginning of 2006, Jewish community leaders asked themselves for a short period whether there was a structural change in violent French anti-Semitism or instead a temporary lull. The sudden outburst of anti-Semitic violence after the second Palestinian uprising had shown that in contemporary France latent anti-Semitism is substantial. They wondered when and how it would reemerge. Those who believed that the French government and society had learned their lessons and that anti-Semitism would not return in force were soon shown that they had cultivated illusions.

Halimi and Further Acts of Anti-Semitism

After the riots anti-Semitic incidents have indeed far from disappeared. In January 2006 two Jewish children aged eleven and twelve were attacked in Créteil, a Paris suburb, by four minors. One escaped, another was beaten up and his nose broken. A young Jew who tried to intervene was also beaten up and injured.[67]

In February the murder of a young Jew, Ilan Halimi, in the Paris suburban area raised attention also outside France. He had been kidnapped and held by a gang of mainly African Muslims. There were almost immediate  indications both that the murder had anti-Semitic aspects and that several French authorities tried to downplay these.[68] A poll carried out at the beginning of March by IFOP found that two-thirds of the French considered that anti-Semitism is on the rise in the country.[69]

The publicity about the Halimi murder got a follow-up in early March when three attacks on Jews occurred in twenty-four hours in Sarcelles. This Paris suburb, where many Jews live, was until then not among those where Jews are most frequently harassed.[70]

Several senior personalities had no difficulty underlining the anti-Semitic character of the attacks. These included Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a parliamentarian who represents the area and is among the potential Socialist candidates for the French presidency. He stated that anti-Semitism was on the rise in France. Some local politicians, however, tried once again to present the attacks as conflicts between communities, intentionally ignoring that the attackers are never Jews. The New York Times reported that the attackers had already been identified by the police in one case and that they were black and Arab youths.[71]

Shortly thereafter, additional anti-Semitic acts were reported in the Lyons area. These included an attack on a Jewish student who was hit in the face while walking to school. The four aggressors also subjected him to anti-Semitic insults. In the nearby city of Villeurbanne, the synagogue received a letter threatening an attack.[72]

The CRIF Communiqué

After the Halimi murder and the subsequent acts of anti-Semitic violence, the CRIF issued a communiqué asserting that the decline of anti-Semitism in France in 2005 had been temporary. Its tone expressed the organization’s disarray about the anti-Jewish violence, which happened despite the police’s increased efforts.

The text titled “France is in danger!” opened by saying that CRIF wanted to share with other Frenchmen its concerns about the country’s future. It mentioned that “The Jews are the watchmen of the Republic, and the violence which affects them now will hit the rest of the population tomorrow.”

It summarized the current situation: “In areas without justice, gangs of criminals and anti-Semites are sowing terror. In many suburbs and often in the heart of towns, Jewish citizens are afraid to leave their homes, while Jewish parents are worried for their children…. The extremely grave situation risks causing uncontrollable actions of self-defense. We should recall that since the beginning of the anti-Semitic wave in September 2000 there has not been a single Jewish act of revenge.”

The latter can only be interpreted as a remark of despair. Why would the leaders of a community which had shown remarkable restraint over such a long period, announce that some Jewish individuals might lose their self-control?

The CRIF communiqué thus tried to convey two major messages: first, that the situation was grave because, despite the government’s efforts, anti-Semitism was rampant. Second, it indicated to French society that if the government could not protect the Jews, it would not be able to protect others either.[73]

Dieudonné Acquitted and Condemned

Earlier in February, French justice had demonstrated once again how major anti-Semitic statements go unpunished. The Paris Appeals Court dismissed a complaint of the Consistoire Central, the union of French Jewish communities, against Dieudonné. The latter had said in an interview with the Lyon Capitale: “The Jews are a sect, a fraud, it is one of the worst, because it is the first one.”

The court found that this was not a racial slur, stating: “rather than a human community, the Jewish religion was targeted.” It said the accused had “attacked in the same way the Muslim and Catholic religions, saying that the Jewish religion had a particular responsibility as the first monotheist religion.” The court added: “The sentence derives from a theoretical debate on the influence of religions and is not an attack on a group of people.”[74]

On 10 March, Dieudonné was fined, however, by a Paris court for comparing Jews to slave traders. In February 2004, he had said in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche, that the Jews: “are all slave-traders who have turned to banking, show-business and, today, terrorist action who show their support for Ariel Sharon’s policies.” The court fined him 5,000 euro for these anti-Semitic comments and ordered him to pay one symbolic euro in damages to each of the civil plaintiffs; three French Jewish groups, a lawyers’ rights group and an anti-racist organization.[75] If the comedian appeals his sentence, it remains to be seen whether it will be confirmed by the higher court.

The Five Stages

In view of the above, an essay on the French riots and their impact on the Jews and Israel should summarize what has happened in the past five years as far as anti-Semitism is concerned.

Five stages can be discerned  in the major outburst of anti-Semitism in 21st-century France, leading to the autumn 2005 riots with their much larger attacks on French society as a whole, though probably fewer civilians were aggressed than in the anti-Jewish actions.

Stage 1: Autumn 2000-June 2002. Despite a major, ongoing eruption of anti-Semitism, the French Socialist government attempts to deny or minimize the anti-Semitic nature of the severe verbal and physical attacks on the Jews.

Stage 2: June 2002-November 2003. Sarkozy, the new UMP interior minister, calls for an all-out struggle against anti-Semitism. President Chirac maintains his denial that anti-Semitism exists in France until November 2003, when the attacks against Jews had been going on for three years.

Stage 3: November 2003 onward. French anti-Semitism is publicly admitted by all French authorities.

Stage 4: November 2004 onward. The Ruffin Report prepared for the Interior Ministry links anti-Semitism in France to how the Middle East situation is depicted in the country. This is gradually acknowledged more widely.

Stage 5: Spring 2005 onward. There are many racist attacks by Arabs and blacks on white French high school students during demonstrations by the latter. The autumn 2005 riots make it plain for all who care to look that what started with targeting the Jews was aimed mainly at French society at large.

Changes in Jewish Behavior

Five years of anti-Semitic attacks have caused certain changes in French Jewish behavior. They have also created a sense of physical insecurity among many Jews.

This came to the fore again after the Halimi murder when an article in the Le Monde described the fear of many French Jews in the Paris suburbs who try to hide their Jewish identity in public. Many no longer wear Stars of David and kippot. Some women dye their hair and wear dark glasses to look less Jewish.[76]

Says Jewish sociologist Shmuel Trigano: “Many conscious Jews withdraw from their social contacts with non-Jews, because they do not want to be confronted with extremist criticism of Israel. A large number of Jews feel secure only in a Jewish environment…. The opinions of Jewish intellectuals are illegitimate in advance.  Jews now often seek non-Jews to express their positions in public.”[77]

This was confirmed by a foreign observer who occasionally visits France. Richard Landes, an American historian at Boston University, writes:

“As several Frenchmen commented to me in the last few years, both Jewish and Gentile, “If I even seem to defend Israel and criticize the media’s strident support for the Palestinian cause, people say, ‘I didn’t know you were Jewish.'” To criticize the wave of anti-Jewish violence on the part of an increasingly aggressive and deeply disaffected population of second generation Muslim immigrants, as something worthy of attention which was “communautariste“-partisan…apparently only a Jew would think like that.[78]”

Greater Costs

The many anti-Semitic incidents have necessitated much greater security expenses for Jewish institutions. A reporter from Canada’s National Postwas shown around a Jewish school, the Lycee Diane Benvenuti, in the 16th arondissement, a well-off part of Paris. The principal explained to her that three years ago the school was built with what he called “new specifications for a new reality.”

This meant that all windows were of bomb- and bullet-proof glass, there were security cameras in all common rooms, and there was no sign outside the school that identified it as Jewish. Children can only leave the school collectively and are not allowed to wear skullcaps or Stars of David outside its premises.

The Jews’ changed attitudes were likely intensified by the recent riots. When many Jews immigrated to France after Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria became independent, they often went to live in areas that now are largely populated by Muslims from these countries. In recent years many Jews have moved away from quarters with a high minority population to areas where more Jews live. The riots may have accelerated this trend for those who can afford it.

Comments on the Riots

During the riots Edith Lenczner, media coordinator of the CRIF, said those Jews living near the areas where most of the rioting occurred were the most frightened members of the community. “I guess they are also afraid as French citizens and as Jews because they have already experienced the problem of being a Jew in a suburb with a high Muslim population, and today they have a double fear that they can be a target,” she said. “But until today, the Jews haven’t been a target.”[79]

Another CRIF voice, Dr. Richard Prasquier, special adviser to the organization’s president Roger Cukierman, told the Jerusalem Report about his perplexity: “It’s very bizarre, because these are the very same neighborhoods where Jews and Jewish premises were targeted hundreds of times at the height of the Palestinian intifada a couple of years ago.”

In the same article, other Jews expressed their surprise that Jews were not targeted specifically in the riots. Sarah Bacri, a teacher in a Jewish primary school in Epinay-sur-Seine where many cars were torched and the police were attacked, said:

“Every morning when my husband got up, he went to the window to see if cars had been burned on our street because people know that many Jews live here…. None was, so we understood that this time, the targets were the police and the government, not the Jews….. our synagogues-there are five in Epinay-and shops, are sometimes smack in the middle of problem areas. But they were not touched.[80]”

Kanovitch was less sanguine, saying the fact that nothing happened to the Jews this time was no guarantee for the future:

“When rioting started…a couple of police tear gas grenades were fired at the entrance of a mosque full of end-of-Ramadan worshippers. They fled coughing and choking and a national argument followed about whether the grenades were fired intentionally. All the Muslims who spoke before the TV cameras began by saying: “If it had been in a synagogue, the whole French cabinet would have been trooping in there behind Chirac to apologize.” That shows you what the state of their relations with us are.[81]”

Indeed, many Muslims emphasize the comparison with French Jews. The Iranian paper Jomhuri-ye Eslami wrote:

“Following recent riots in France, social experts opined that these incidents could have been predicted. Discrimination in France-particularly pressures over immigrants and Muslims-have fanned the flames of discrimination while Jews enjoy total freedom in the country. Such incidents are expected in other Western countries which are based on secular values.[82]”

Jewish Schools, Migration

Another development has been the increasing number of Jewish pupils and teachers joining Jewish schools. Others have left public schools for Catholic ones.

As a result of the outburst of anti-Semitism in French society over the past five years, the percentage of French Jews considering emigration to Israel or elsewhere has increased. According to a study in 2003 by the sociologist Eric Cohen, about one hundred thousand of the 550,000 French Jews intend to leave. After the riots their number may grow.[83] Although limited in size, the trend is not insignificant because it concerns Jewishly-conscious elements of the community.

A new dimension was introduced after the Halimi murder. A petition has been circulating on the internet trying to raise five thousand signatures of French Jews so as to submit to the U.S. Congress a petition for asylum for French Jews in America. It said: “After the barbaric torture and assassination of a young Jew from Paris, because he was Jewish, in a context of Islamic anti-Semitism rising in this country, more and more members of the French Jewish community are no longer feeling safe…. We ask the Congress to pass a legislation that would give the status of refugee to French Jews.”

The authors claim that they have found a member of Congress willing to submit the petition.[84] In early March, the American Forward weekly announced that the petition had collected already 5 200 signatures.[85]

After the Halimi murder and the Sarcelles attacks, the issue of Jewish emigration re-emerged in the Jewish media. The newly-elected President of the Paris Consistoire, Joel Mergui, was quoted as saying that young Jews were coming to see him and ask: “When will you tell us to leave?”[86]

A Paradigm Shift

Those Jews who reply in a poll that they are considering emigration do not necessarily leave France. There are often family and employment reasons why people stay put despite their desire to emigrate.

Some Jews may now realize that the riots indicate a paradigm shift. The numerous anti-Semitic incidents of the past five years have led many conscious Jews to view the Jews’ future in France as clouded. These and perhaps others may now consider that the future of France itself is insecure. It is likely that this feeling will somewhat enhance Jewish emigration in the coming years.

Many Jews who do not want to emigrate and see their future in France will have implicitly to assume two things: that France’s problems are transitional rather than long-lasting; and that Jews will not be disproportionately affected by them.

The Muslim Immigration’s Impact on the Jews

In the past years the Muslim immigration to France has had a major impact on the Jewish community. Initially Muslim communities in Europe, in general, were focused on the problems of a newly arrived group that was struggling for employment and integration in their host societies. In France, Jews and Muslims frequently worked together. The Islamic Revolution in Iran and its Wahhabi competitors from Saudi Arabia introduced more radical ideologies to the Muslim communities of Europe that contributed to the spread of more anti-Jewish attitudes.[87] The anti-Semitic attacks in France, perpetrated in part by Muslims, are a direct but not the only expression of this animosity.

The large number of Muslims in France has also negatively influenced French political attitudes both toward the Jews and Israel. As mentioned, the Socialist government avoided dealing seriously with the anti-Semitic incidents because they were afraid to upset Muslims and disturb social peace.

The authorities often went even further. Trigano described official reactions to anti-Semitic incidents in France in the first years of the new century:

“One policy approach is to relate [to] the incidents as a conflict between communities, due to “the aggressive and inhuman policies of Israel.” This supposes that the Jews are co-responsible for aggressions of which they are victims. If one speaks about anti-Semitic aggression, someone must be guilty, as he has made a victim. If one speaks of an inter-communal conflict, this means there is tension between two groups, leading to aggression from both sides. Jews, however, have never burned mosques or attacked Muslims.[88]”

Social Peace

There are also political consequences. Ministers and parliamentarians who represent areas with many Muslim voters are sometimes unwilling to be seen publicly helping the Jewish community, irrespective of their personal views.

Certain French politicians are likely to keep vying for the Muslim vote and therefore to take anti-Israeli positions. This was specifically recommended to the Socialist Party by one of its former advisers, Pascal Boniface. Yet it is important to note that scapegoating the Jews and Israel has not helped the French. The autumn 2005 riots were much more disruptive of social peace than the anti-Semitic incidents ever were.

Another fallout of the large Muslim immigration, and in particular the aggressive attitudes of some Muslim organizations, concerns many new de facto limitations on Orthodox Jews to freely exercise their religion. Several French Jews have told this author that it has become far more difficult to obtain permission not to study, take exams, or work on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays in public schools, institutions, and the civil service. In the past, administrations often easily honored such requests.  Nowadays, many do not wish to create precedents for the few Jews that later may be used by many more Muslims.

The Jewish-Muslim Dialogue

Yet another aspect that merits more thought is the Jewish community’s attitude toward the Muslim one. In the future, the French authorities will likely do even more to promote the Jewish-Muslim dialogue. This has important public relations aspects, helping create the illusion of social peace in France. A similar approach exists in some other EU countries.

Several Jewish leaders have asserted that after the riots, which polarized French society, Arab-Jewish relations need to be improved. One was Tunisian-born Pierre Besnainou, president of the European Jewish Congress. Serfaty has announced that he is arranging a sizable contact program with Muslims for April 2006.[89]

Such dialogue can be a positive development, even if the Muslims willing to participate in it are usually not the problematic ones for the Jews. Some secular Muslims regard the Jews as natural allies, partly because they have developed approaches to society at large that they wish the Muslim world to imitate. Their influence in the Muslim community is, however, limited.

The Risk of Manipulation

There are also religious Muslim moderates who are interested in dialogue. This sometimes inspires servility in Jews. Some Jewish partners are more eager than their Muslim counterparts to have this process succeed, which risks one-sidedness. Some Jews who take part in the dialogue distance themselves a priori from pro-Israeli positions so as to be more acceptable, thus becoming neo-dhimmis.

Another frequent claim is that the prevalence of religious law in both Judaism and Islam makes them closer to each other than Judaism and Christianity. This is often said without clarifying what types of Islam are meant. Nothing could be further from Judaism than the Jihadic elements of Islam, which have similarities with the worst forms of totalitarianism.

In view of their preliminary and very limited character, these channels of interreligious communication should be developed far from the television cameras. The Judeo-Muslim dialogue tends, however, to be overexposed in the media because of its political correctness and the authorities’ interest in it.

The Jewish-Muslim dialogue is far less developed than the Christian-Jewish one. It also lends itself far more to political manipulation by the government. The European Jewish organizations need to devote much deeper thought to their stance toward Muslim bodies than they have so far.

Another reason to consider this matter in depth is that French Muslims may decide to model their structures even more on the successful organization of French Jewry. If Jewish institutions help out, they run the risk of being blamed as mentors when some of these Muslim bodies turn aggressive-notwithstanding that the Jews themselves have never expressed aggressive attitudes toward the French government or society.

The Jews’ Indictment of France

Seldom has an official representative of a national Jewish community made such an indictment of his country’s authorities in a similar situation as the 2005 speech by CRIF president Roger Cukierman, delivered in the presence of the then prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.[90]

Cukierman mentioned the close to one thousand reported acts or threats of anti-Semitic violence in 2004 compared to sixty-nine incidents five years earlier. He referred to the hostility in many French classrooms where educators faced difficulties in teaching about the Shoah, as well as to the desecration of Jewish and other cemeteries.

Cukierman then cited the limited percentage of anti-Semitic crimes that were solved. He noted that Jewish victims of violent aggressions were not supported by the justice system, which also acquitted several of those accused of making strongly anti-Semitic statements.

Cukierman mentioned the incompatibility of France’s foreign policy with its internal struggle against anti-Semitism. He also referred to the “grandiose ceremony” France had organized for Arafat, stressing that it was “even more grandiose” than the one in Egypt. “We were treated to laudatory speeches, ecstatic tributes, the French national anthem, and the Republican Guard, all in honor of Arafat’s mortal remains.” Cukierman added that since then hopes for peace had revived, and concluded: “Who can deny today that Arafat was an obstacle to peace?”

Incidents Decline from Unprecedented Levels

As mentioned earlier, after reaching unprecedented postwar levels in 2004, the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in 2005 declined substantially. The statistics of the General Directorate of the Police (DGPN) showed a 48 percent decrease from 974 to 504. These include threats, insults, physical aggressions, and attacks on religious institutions including cemeteries. This level is still, however, much higher than in the late 1990s.

All other racist incidents together registered by the police in 2005 came to 470, compared to six hundred in 2004. The Jews, however, are but 1 percent of the population. In 2005 more physical aggressions against Jews and attacks on Jewish institutions were registered-ninety-eight-than against all others, a total of eighty-eight.[91] Even if Jews may be more inclined to complain to the police, the disproportion is major.

With the decline in anti-Semitic incidents in France since 2005 and the country’s seemingly less biased Middle East policies, the CRIF’s criticism had mellowed. It has sometimes become a defender of France in discussions with American Jewish organizations. Some observers believe that it is because of the latter bodies’ criticism that the French government has combated anti-Semitism more intensely in the past years.

As mentioned above, the CRIF’s criticism has reemerged strongly after the Halimi murder and subsequent anti-Semitic incidents. This time, however, the complaints are about the authorities’ ineffectiveness despite their desire to combat the anti-Semitic aggression.

Yet another issue, somewhat beyond the scope of this essay, concerns the Israeli government’s attitude toward events in France that affect French Jewry. On some occasions Israeli ministers have attacked France, several times at the wrong moment. On other occasions they have minimized French anti-Semitism, and this also without reason. Both were damaging to the French Jewish community’s struggle in this area. In a period of relative calm, the two parties should discuss this subject to prevent future harm.

Impact on the Jewish People

The emigration of conscious Jews from France strengthens other communities. A major one is Israel. Quality may be more important here than numbers. More French Jews will study in, buy homes, and retire in Israel, and many will make a contribution to Israeli society. An estimated three thousand French immigrants came to Israel in 2005, the highest figure for three decades.

There are also significant emigration flows to North America, particularly Miami and Quebec, mainly Montreal. In the latter city, the moderate influx of French Jews strengthens the community. The immigrants are young, speak French, and often are economically well off.[92]

In 2004, the Jewish Immigration Aid Services (JIAS) helped about 550 French Jewish immigrants relocate in Montreal, with perhaps another three hundred arriving without its assistance. The figure has further increased in 2005. There is also, however, some return of emigrant Jews to France who were disappointed by life in their countries of destination.

III. France’s Political Damage to Israel

For close to thirty years France has caused Israel major political damage. In the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel’s existence was threatened, President Charles de Gaulle took a pro-Arab direction and instituted a weapons embargo on the Middle East. Yet, under the Pompidou presidency, France sold the Mirage planes Israel had bought, but not been supplied with, to Libya. They were subsequently transferred to Egypt, which used them against Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Verbal attacks against Israel were sometimes accompanied by anti-Semitic statements. In his press conference on 27 November 1967, de Gaulle included a much-publicized remark that the Jews were “an elitist and domineering people.”

French foreign minister Jean Sauvagnargues was the first Western official to meet Yasser Arafat, doing so in 1974 in Beirut. A year later the PLO opened its first European diplomatic office in Paris while its charter was calling for Israel’s elimination.

In 1977 the Giscard d’Estaing presidency gave asylum to Ayatollah Khomeini, an important step in Iran’s becoming an Islamist state that has exported terrorism to Israel and elsewhere. Several of its leaders, including the current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have made genocidal calls for Israel’s destruction.[93] France also supplied the Osirak nuclear reactor to Iraq.

France also was the driving force behind the Venice Declaration of 1980, a major anti-Israeli statement that recognized the PLO while it still called for Israel’s destruction. For decades France has been the European Union’s anti-Israeli leader at the United Nations.[94] The Socialist Mitterrand presidency was no better than its right-wing predecessors and successor.

Says Trigano:

“France has regularly shown that the condemnation of anti-Semitism runs parallel with an anti-Israeli policy. This was demonstrated once again in 2004 when France pushed the European Union to vote against Israel in the UN General Assembly on the security-barrier issue. This took place after President Chirac’s speech in Chambon sur Lignon in which he strongly condemned anti-Semitism.[95]”

French Media Propagate Identical Ideas

Trigano has analyzed recent French attitudes toward Israel in detail. He states that in the first years of the new century, the French elites’ positions on Middle East issues were almost uniform. He wondered how, in French democracy, all major currents in society could propagate identical or similar ideas. “It was frightening to turn on a television or to read a newspaper and see the same ideological discourse of disinformation about Israel.”

Trigano added: “Those with different views on Israel are considered outsiders and troublemakers. For a long time, people like myself who affirmed that there was anti-Semitism in France were considered a problem because we deviated from public opinion…. Yet the assaults create the feeling of a near totalitarian society regarding Israel and the Jews.”

Trigano remarks that he slowly started to realize that the extreme power of the media represents a major danger to Western democracy.

Their attitude toward Israel and the Jews over the last few years has shown that they can pervert analysis, debate and criticism. We are dependent on a class of journalists with consensus political views. They read and co-opt each other’s opinions, without accountability to anybody. Freedom and democracy, however, cannot coexist if truth and facts are obscured.[96]

Landes writes: “Indeed France has become the bellwether of violence against Jews, the earliest and most widespread manifestation. As a Tunisian cab driver said to me, ‘I grew up in Tunisia with Jews in my neighborhood. I didn’t become an anti-Semite until I came to France.’ ‘Were you watching Hizbullah cable TV?’ I asked. ‘No, French news’ [he replied].”

Landes also noted four characteristics of the French media’s coverage of the second Palestinian uprising. The first was that “it accepted without doubt the claims of Palestinian sources about the terrible things Israel had done.” The second was that “It accepted and repeated Palestinian assurances that this was a war for national liberation of the ‘occupied territories’ and not a Jihad against the very existence of Israel.” Third, “It justified the violent responses of both Palestinians and French Arabs as a natural reaction to these Israeli deeds and driven by their legitimate ‘national’ aspirations and cultural pride,” and fourth, “it condemned Israeli efforts to defend itself against the murderous onslaught of suicide terrorism…as ‘excessive use of force,’ as ‘racism,’ as ‘inexcusable.'”[97]

Watching France

In view of its inimical position in the EU, major events occurring in France should be followed closely in Israel. One important conclusion to be drawn is that French policies over the past decades have not only caused major damage to the Western world and Israel. The riots have proved that they have also created serious danger to France itself.

On the surface, then, it seems that the decline of France’s position can only be good for Israel. There is, however, a second possibility that already emerged after France’s rejection of the EU Constitution and the subsequent weakening of its standing in Europe. France may seek international compensation for its declining position in Europe by trying even harder to wield influence in areas such as the Middle East.[98]

There have been several indications of this. Although Chirac’s standing in France had fallen to a nadir, he suddenly, at the beginning of June 2005, invited Israeli prime minister Sharon to France. He said he sought to strengthen the “French-Israeli partnership.” He called Israel’s Gaza withdrawal plan “determined and courageous,” adding: “More than ever, France with its European partners wants to be by your side so that the withdrawal sets off a positive dynamic and so that Israel, like its neighbors, can finally benefit from the peace and stability that each one of them is hoping for.”[99]

France took a move in the opposite direction when, in February 2006, it broke away from the European position and came out in favor of Russian president Putin’s invitation to Hamas after the latter’s victory in the Palestinian elections.[100]

Several Israeli diplomats told this author that they noted a significant improvement in French-Israeli relations in 2005. There are signs that France is interested in advancing agreements with Israel in various nonpolitical areas. Whether this will last remains to be seen. According to many observers, the change in attitude is fragile.

They add that at the same time, the EU’s “megaphone approach” to Israel-condemning it frequently and loudly-has diminished. France, for decades particularly aggressive in its anti-Israeli statements, has shown this tendency as well. A growing number now consider Sweden, rather than France, the most stridently anti-Israeli voice in the EU. At the same time, there is more criticism of the Palestinians in the Union. It becomes more difficult to be silent about their profound corruption and support for terrorism at a time when this has become a major preoccupation.

Societal Anti-Israelism

There is much debate on what is the leading factor in a society’s anti-Israelism. Is it the government, the media, or the elites? Former Israeli ambassador to France, Avi Pazner, says that when Chirac’s relations with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu were poor: “The French people felt the chill of Chirac’s relationship with the Israeli prime minister and wondered why their attitude should be different from that of their president.”[101]

In the heyday of communism, the term “useful idiots” was coined for those who were not communists themselves but in fact promoted its interests. Taguieff wrote in 2002:

“The “useful idiots” of Islamism recruit themselves mainly in the circles of the New Left-where one finds Christian Third-Worldists, Trotskyites, and communists-through pro-Palestinian commitment, which is the politically dominant expression of preference for the “victims,” the “weak,” and/or the “dominated.”

Once again, in the name of “the poor,” the oppressed, or the victims, a discourse of hate is disseminated. It is mainly focused on Israel, which is treated as a superfluous state. The terrorist violence is converted into “acts of despair,” due to repeated “humiliations,” committed by the “poor” against the dominating “rich.” In this way, you eliminate the main dimension of the anti-Jewish terrorism; the fanatic impulse, the strategic aims, and the political project of Islamizing the world.[102]

A devious example of this involved the MRAP, an antiracist organization in the orbit of the French Communist Party. It discussed the anti-Semitism in France in a document it presented to the National Advisory Committee on Human Rights. It could not deny that many of the crimes’ perpetrators were North Africans.

In its text, however, the MRAP only mentioned one so-called incitement to hatred. It referred to Ariel Sharon, who had stated to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that the seven hundred thousands Jews in France were opposed by six million Arabs there. The document did not contain a word about the continuous stream of incitement to hatred, murder, and genocide coming to France from the Muslim world, and probably from some foreign imams in France as well.[103]

A Change in Discourse

The riots may also affect some of the false claims regularly made in the French and European discourse. Many members of the elites claim that if only there were peace in the Middle East, Europe would also live peacefully.

The French autumn 2005 riots, however, had nothing to do with the Middle East, anti-American sentiments, or Muslim identification with the Palestinians. The riots were of French making. Not one less rioter would have lashed out at socioeconomic conditions in France, and not one less French-owned car would have been burnt if there had been peace in the Middle East. The minority racism expressed was antiwhite and anti-French.

This leads to another, even more important issue: what can Israel learn from what is happening in France? This will require a detailed study.

As such research has not yet been undertaken, one can only mention several points that merit reflection in Israel. It would be greatly mistaken to suggest that the situations in Israel and in France are identical. Israel is fighting the Palestinians in the Middle East. France is dealing with large minorities of which substantial parts are not and cannot be integrated. The realities are far from the same.

There are, however, some similar motifs in the problems of the two countries. As Landes puts it:

“Having assaulted Israel for defending itself, can [France] muster the forces to defend itself? Having insisted that the Israelis faced nothing more than a movement of national resistance, can they see that they are facing something more than bread riots? Or do they believe as they have with the Palestinians that it’s just about wanting the same break everyone else has and Islam plays no role?[104]”

Another subject meriting investigation concerns the ongoing silence among many Israeli leftists about the genocidal attitudes and criminality that have deeply permeated Palestinian society. Many French leftists systematically ignore the extreme violence both in Islamist circles and among certain segments of the non-Western immigrants in France. This creates in both countries a similar challenge of exposing the intellectual apologists and allies of the terrorists and criminals, requiring a nearly identical battle of ideas.

Returning to the Orr Commission

It would be very worthwhile to compare analytically the French minority riots of autumn 2005 and those of Israeli Arabs in October 2000. A commission of inquiry headed by Supreme Court Justice Theodore Orr gave an assessment of the latter. Hebrew University professor Raphael Israeli commented on the commission’s conclusions: “They pretended that ‘discrimination’ against the Arabs was at the root of the violence, instead of calling the Arabs to task for their violence that had no justification…a false balance was established between the violent breakers of the law and the police who tried to contain them.” [105]

The French riots thus have an internal implication for Israel: in their light, the Orr Commission Report should be reexamined. During and after the disorders in France, there were also those who focused their ire on the government instead of taking the rioters to task for their violence. Some in France also tried to establish a moral equivalence between the violent lawbreakers and the police who tried to subdue them. These voices came mainly from the Left and the extreme Left.

A new evaluation of the Orr Commission Report, taking account of how the French authorities reacted to the riots, could determine whether or not it was a political document expressing Israeli left-wing opinions. The spread of the French riots should also incline Israelis to retroactively thank the Israeli police that matters did not similarly get out of hand.

There are many specific issues to be studied in comparing the two cases of public disorder. Some include the public support for the rioters among the minorities and members of the majority, the government-police relationship, the government-media interaction, the media’s attitudes, and the government measures prompted by the respective disorders.

Apparently, not only the Israelis could learn from such a comparison. It seems the French police have preceded them. When Israeli security minister Gideon Ezra and police commissioner Moshe Karadi departed for France in December 2005, Israeli media were informed that they would “share with their French counterparts lessons Israeli security services have learned from experiences with rioting, including the events of October 2000. The French are said to be highly interested in Israeli know-how on the matter.”[106]

Hate and Incitement

One major issue where Israel, France, and the rest of Europe are likely to increasingly see eye to eye is the need to counteract the constant, massive stream of incitement to genocide, violence, and other extremism from parts of the Muslim and Arab world. The world’s major “evil propaganda” bodies are mainly located there. Ignoring these will no longer be possible, not only because of ongoing Islamist terrorism but also because the propaganda is such a key factor in fomenting unrest among Muslims in the West.

For a long time, the European elites characterized Muslim extremism with typical standard phrases. The fallacy of these clichés is now more and more exposed. One was that since rhetoric and action are separate in the Muslim world, it is wrong to assume that extremist rhetoric from Muslims expresses a concrete intent to commit violence. The London suicide bombings of July 2005 probably convinced additional Europeans how misleading this discourse is. Future events are likely to further strengthen this evidence.

The French, like other Europeans, did not care about the violent verbal anti-Semitism coming from the Muslim and Arab world as long as it only seemed aimed at Israel and Jews. Fighting this incitement will now have to become much more urgent for France.

For the programs of integration of minorities to have some success, the government will have to realize that the anti-French sentiment that these riots expressed, the blatant racism of many Muslim children in French schools, and in extremis the recruitment of terrorists on French soil are all being stoked by purveyors of hate in Muslim countries and their allies in France.

Future Incitement

One is unlikely to be proved wrong when forecasting that the ongoing Muslim incitement propaganda will create substantial new problems in Europe. As long as the French and the other Europeans are not willing to confront these hate-mongers, even more money spent on integration will be wasted than will anyhow be the case.

After the riots President Chirac had soothing words, saying that “all citizens are daughters and sons of the Republic.”[107] The impact of those words on the problematic immigrant elements can only be marginal if they simultaneously hear so many inciting messages from the Muslim world.

To what extent can Israel and its friends help convince the French and other Europeans that the inciters in the Middle East and domestically have to be taken to task? This matter can only be explored by trial and error.

That this will not be easy emerges from a recent book by Barbara Lefebvre and Ève Bonnivard. They analyzed how current affairs are treated in French high school textbooks. Their main finding can be summarized in a sentence: whereas French antiterrorism specialists concluded that Islamist terrorism poses the main threat to the West for at least the next twenty-five years, the French textbooks present the United States as France’s major problem.

Lefebvre and Bonnivard note that the problem of biased French teaching goes back many decades. Until 1970, under Marxist influence, textbooks offered a negative view of the United States while treating the Soviet Union mildly.[108]

Unsolvable Problems

Both Europe and Israel have on their plate major-albeit different-problems created by various elements from the Muslim world. These problems are likely to be unsolvable for several decades to come.

The recent decline in self-assuredness in Europe, however, opens possibilities for Israel. In France in particular, many believe their country is going to change, and not for the better. The aforementioned polls indicate this clearly. Several French Jews have told this author that some of their non-Jewish acquaintances feel uncomfortable with the non-Western immigrants and say “you at least have in Israel a country to emigrate to.”

Today it is also no longer taboo in Europe to say that Europe’s leaders lack ideas on how to solve their own problems. It is thus not logical to expect that their recommendations for solving the Middle East’s problems have much value.

One sign of European arrogance was the often-heard statement that the Europeans had to save Israel from itself. This had become part of a narrative that was reinforced by members of the Israeli Left. Now that Europe is gradually losing much of its self-assuredness about the future, this argument, too, no longer stands between Israel and Europe. The support the EU gave Arafat, a man who was the paradigm of world terrorism for decades, is increasingly seen by many as a major error. France, and particularly President Chirac, had been among his strongest backers.

In a wider context, part, though by no means all, of the friction between Europe and Israel was due to the anti-American positions of several European countries, France at their head. Israel was seen as strongly in the American camp, and thus also suffered from the fallout of this animosity. Europe’s anti-Americanism reached an apex shortly before, and at the beginning of, the Iraq war.

This was part of France’s misdefinition of its enemies. It treated its real enemies far too gently. It is now slowly falling into line with most of the West, which has understood that the main external threats to it come from terrorism, which is fed by a variety of sources in the Muslim world.

Muddling Through: A Basis for Dialogue

If a state faces unsolvable problems, all it can do is consciously muddle through as well as possible. That is what Israel has tried to do in the past decades and will likely continue to do in the foreseeable future. Because of the problems emanating mainly from part of their Muslim minorities, many European countries will have to follow a similar approach for decades to come.

One proof of European governments trying to do this came a few months after the French riots in February 2006, during the controversy between the West and the Muslim world on the Mohammed cartoons. The EU’s leaders thought they had to settle the matter in one way or other. Instead of taking Muslim countries primarily to task for the violence of the anti-Western demonstrations, they published a rather apologetic text. The Europeans did not give much thought to what future price they would have to pay for their servile attitude.[109]

Some conclusions Europeans and French may draw from the riots may give Israel an opportunity to improve its relations with them. Doing so effectively will require much more effort. Israel can only succeed if it develops a more nuanced approach as additional insights become available.

It has not been the Israeli government’s tradition to develop strategies in such a sophisticated way. Europe’s situation is now more and more in flux, and starting a dialogue with it based on a profound evaluation of that situation may give Israel increasing advantages as many in France and some other European countries become increasingly insecure about their future.

This discussion has indicated some directions to follow as new events in France and Europe unfold in the future. It is far too early for a detailed assessment of the future relevance of these riots for France, Europe, French Jewry, and Israel. That is why a continuous monitoring of changing European realities is so important for Israel.  


[53] Hilary Leila Kriegler, “French Jews Remain Largely Untargeted,” Jerusalem Post, 8 November 2005.

[54] “Un cocktail Molotov lancé vendredi sur la synagogue de Garges-les-Gonesse,” AFP, 6 November 2005. [French]

[55] Anne-Sophie Mercier, La vérité sur Dieudonné (Paris: Plon, 2005), 94. [French].

[56] Shirli Sitbon, “Riots Spark Fear among French Jews,”, 6 November 2005.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Brett Kline, “In France, Riots Show the Need to Improve Jewish-Arab Relations,” JTA, 28 December 2005.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Michel Serfaty, “Combattre le nouvel antisémitisme: une autre voie,” L’Arche, March 2004. [French]

[61] Sitbon, “Riots Spark Fear.”

[62] Itamar Eichner, “The Anti-Jewish Aggressions Can Be Understood,” Yediot Aharonot, 15 January 2005.

[63] Brenner, Les Territoires.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Cécilia Gabison, “Les musulmans pratiquants ont plus de préjugés,” Le Figaro, 7 December 2005. [French]

[66] Lauren Elkin, “Calling Riots a National Problem, French Jews Maintain Low Profile,”, 8 November 2005.

[67] “Agression anti-Sémite à Créteil,” CRIF, 12 January 2006, [French]

[68] Esti Keller, “Israeli Reactions to Ilan Halimi’s Murder,” European Jewish Press, 3 March 2006.

[69]Yossi Lempkowicz, “Polls shows French believe in anti-Semitism rise,” European Jewish Press, 9 March 2006.

[70] “Trois agresssions antisémites recensées à Sarcelles en 24 heures,” Le Monde, 5 March 2006.

[71] Craig S. Smith, “3 Jews Are Attacked in a Paris Suburb,” New York Times, 6 March 2006.

[72] Yossi Lempkowicz, “Polls shows French believe in anti-Semitism rise.”

[73] “La France est en danger!” CRIF, 9 March 2006, [French]

[74] Blandine Grosjean, “Dieudonné à nouveau relaxé en appel,” Libération, 10 February 2006. [French]

[75] “Black French comedian fined for anti-Jewish remark,” European Jewish Press, 10 March 2006.

[76] “A Créteil, le sentiment d’insécurité de la communauté juive,” Le Monde, 26 February 2006. [French]   

[77] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Shmuel Trigano in Israel and Europe: An Expanding Abyss? (Jerusalem: JCPA and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2005), 89.

[78] Richard Landes, “On the Hidden Costs of Media Error, Muhamed al Durah and the French Intifada,” http://www.second/, 15 November 2005. 

[79] Elkin, “Calling Riots a National Problem.”

[80] Simon, “Spared from the Flames.”

[81] Ibid.

[82] “Mid-East Press Mull France Riots,” BBC News,, 8 November 2005.

[83] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Shmuel Trigano, “French Anti-Semitism: A Barometer for Gauging Society’s Perverseness,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, 26, 1 November 2004.


[85] Marc Perelman, “Bias Attacks in France Fuel Concern About Blacks,” Forward  10 March 2006

[86] Yossi Lempkowicz, “Polls shows French believe in anti-Semitism rise.”

[87]  Kepel, Jihad, 185-95.

[88]  Gerstenfeld, interview with Trigano, “French Anti-Semitism.”

[89] Kline, “In France, Riots Show the Need.”


[91] “Baisse des actes racistes et antisémites en 2005,” Libération, 19 January 2005. [French]

[92] Mirielle Silcoff, “Barricaded in Paris,” National Post, 19 November 2005.

[93] Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Ahmadinejad Calls for Israel’s Elimination and Declares War on the West: A Case Study of Incitement to Genocide,”Jerusalem Letters, 1 November 2005.

[94] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Dore Gold, “Europe’s Consistent Anti-Israel Bias at the United Nations,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism,34, 1 July 2005.

[95] Gerstenfeld, interview with Trigano in Israel and Europe, 89.

[96] Gerstenfeld, interview with Trigano, “French Anti-Semitism.”

[97] Landes, “On the Hidden Costs.”

[98] Manfred Gerstenfeld, “The EU Constitutional Crisis and Its Impact on Israel,” Jerusalem Viewpoints, 532, 1 July 2005.

[99] Ibid.

[100] Herb Keinon, “Turkey Follows Putin Hamas Lead,” Jerusalem Post, 12 February 2006.

[101] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Avi Pazner, “Choosing between Israel and the Arabs,” in Israel and Europe: An Expanding Abyss?, 166.

[102] Pierre-André Taguieff, “Aspects de la nouvelle judéophobie,” Observatoire du monde juif, No. 3, June 2002, 6-7. [French]

[103] Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l’Homme, 2002, La Lutte Contre le Racisme et la Xenophobie: Contribution du MRAP sur l’antisémitisme (Paris: La Documentation française, 2003), 107-11. [French]

[104] Landes, “On the Hidden Costs.”

[105] Raphael Israeli, “The Orr Commission: High Expectations, Disappointing Delivery,” Nativ, Vol. 16, No. 6 (95), November 2003.

[106] Jonathan Lis, “Ezra, Karadi en Route to Paris to Advise Police,” Haaretz, 11 December 2005.

[107] Antoine Guiral, “Chirac mouche Sarkozy et disserte sur les discriminations,”, 13 December 2005. [French]

[108] Barbara Lefebvre and Ève Bonnivard, Élèves sous influence (Paris: Èditions Louis Audibert, 2005),  350. [French]

[109] Manfred Gerstenfeld, “The Mohammed Cartoon Controversy, Israel and the Jews,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, 43, 1 April 2006.

*     *     *

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is Chairman of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is an international business strategist who has been a consultant to governments, international agencies, and boards of some of the world’s largest corporations. Among his ten books areEurope‘s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism (JCPA, Yad Vashem, WJC, 2003); American Jewry’s Challenge: Conversations Confronting the 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005); and Israel and Europe: An Expanding Abyss? (JCPA and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2005).