French anti-Semitism comes from all directions


By Gerard Leval

Today, in an increasingly polarized France, seemingly no French politician can claim to be non-partisan and to avoid being categorized as being on one side of the political spectrum or the other. But, unfortunately, there is one ideology that does defy a political label and that floats above all others: anti-Semitism.

In the past, anti-Semitism in France had been within the exclusive purview of the right. With its origins in the opposition by royalist and conservative politicians, heavily influenced by members of the Catholic clergy, to the integration of Jews into the body politic of France during the French Revolution, anti-Jewish sentiment was primarily in the domain of the right-wing. This was reasserted in the 19th century by the Dreyfus Affair and tragically reinforced by the persecution of Jews during World War II at the hand of right-wing collaborators of the Nazis and fascists of all stripes.

For generations, if there was an outburst of anti-Semitism in France, its origins could easily be traced to
conservative forces.

Today’s anti-Semitism, however, seems to be defying the pattern of the past. For the first time, it is no longer possible to ascribe the growing anti-Semitism exclusively to the political right. The proliferating acts against Jews seem to have a wide variety of sources and cannot be attributed to just one part of the ideological spectrum.

Many of those acts have come from the hard left, as well as from Islamists and even from non-aligned groups such as the amorphous and ideologically diffuse “yellow vests.” Suddenly, the growing antagonism against Jews is no longer the exclusive playground of right-wingers.

This relatively recent change is difficult for the French to acknowledge and accept. Presumptions developed over the course of so many decades, if not centuries, are always very resistant to reconsideration. As a consequence, the emergence of contemporary left-wing anti-Semitism in France, but not only in France, is being allowed to fester and grow.

Under cover of alleged objections to Israeli policy, or of anti-Zionism or more generically anti-colonialism, anti-Semitism is beginning to experience a shocking and deeply troubling resurgence. And once more, the French Jewish community is finding itself singled out by certain segments of the French population as a scapegoat. The community’s erstwhile ideological liberal allies are no longer the bulwark of support and ostensible protection they have been in the past.

As a consequence, the community is feeling increasingly isolated and is being compelled to defend itself by a variety of means, including, regrettably, by an accelerating exodus from the nation that has been its home for generations and to which it has contributed so much.

This anti-Semitism is currently still of only limited proportions and has not reached the level of being a full-fledged contagion. And, most importantly, it can be reversed, if France has the will to do so.

Nonetheless, it is engendering a disproportionate level of fear by reason of the collective recollection of the terrible events of the relatively recent past.

Haunted by the failure of prior generations to heed the early signs of impending disaster that growing anti-Semitism should have generated in the 1930s, today’s French Jews are showing increasing signs of anxiety. That anxiety is not focused on any one segment of the French population. Instead, it casts a wide net. And sadly, it is a sign of wisdom that it does so.

Gerard Leval is a partner in a Washington law firm. He writes and lectures on topics of French and
Jewish interest.

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