Anti-semitism in France: between torah and country
Translation by:Kait Bolongaro
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 injured. 19 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."
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.
Translated from L'antisémitisme en France : à Torah et à travers