The “Yellow Vests” in France: Social Protest, Violence, and Antisemitism: Dr. Tsilla Hershco, BESA, February 28, 2019 — France is undergoing one of the most challenging periods of its modern history.
The Meaning of France’s March Against Antisemitism: Rachel Donadio, The Atlantic, Mar. 29, 2018 — On April 4 of last year, a 67-year-old Jewish woman in Paris named Sarah Halimi was beaten to death and thrown off the balcony of her third-story apartment in a public housing complex by a neighbor who shouted “Allahu Akbar.”
No More Mr. Nice Jew: Edward N. Luttwak, Tablet, Feb. 27, 2019 — Now that the U.S. Congress includes Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who traffic in antisemitic conspiracy theories and are firmly opposed to the existence of Israel—their map of Palestine occupies all of Israel—an old problem has reemerged: How should Jews respond to self-declared enemies in a democracy?
Jews, France, and Orientalism: Michael Curtis, Middle East Quarterly, Fall, 2018 — France was the first country in Europe to emancipate its Jewish population and establish full equality for Jews in 1831. With the Napoleonic policy of “careers open to talents,” French Jews entered the world of finance, the professions, government, and the arts, and also obtained citizenship.

On Topic Links

Jews Are the Collateral Victims of France’s Decline: Benjamin Canet, Algemeiner, Mar. 5, 2019 — I can precisely pinpoint Sunday, April 21, 2002, as the moment I decided to never come back to France to build my adult life.
When an African-American Hero Tried to Stop the Holocaust: Harold Brackman, Algemeiner, Mar. 5, 2019 — In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in the prophetic The Souls of Black Folk that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.” Eventually, he became a stalwart friend of the Jewish people.
Word from Jerusalem: Lessons from the Polish Imbroglio: Isi Leibler, Jewish Press, Mar. 3, 2019 — Jews with connection to the Holocaust tend to harbor prejudice against Poles.
A Ballad in the Key of 4G: Edwin Black, Jewish Press, Mar. 3, 2019 — This is deeply personal. But what I have experienced should resonate with the entire Jewish community—the one we know and the one to come.

Dr. Tsilla Hershco,
BESA, February 28, 2019

France is undergoing one of the most challenging periods of its modern history. On every Saturday since November 17, 2018, tens of thousands of protestors have marched all over the country denouncing President Emmanuel Macron and his government as well as the police. They demand more democracy, more influence, and more equality in the society, the economy, and politics.

The demonstrations began with pensioners in northern France protesting a rise in fuel prices. From there they spread throughout the country, including Paris and the main cities, while growing ever more violent.
The fuel-price hike was the catalyst for the expression of deep, long-simmering bitterness and anger among people in the periphery who a) feel a decline in purchasing power, b) receive poorer governmental services than citizens in the center of the country, and c) lack efficient public transportation. They feel, in short, that they are the victims of a disconnect between the central government and the periphery. They believe they are systematically short-changed by government corruption and by social elites that, in their view, enjoy preferential treatment.

In addition, the demonstrations reflect the profound frustration of large sectors of the French public that are denied proper representation in the parliament by the electoral system. This was notably evident in the May 2017 presidential elections, which saw the lowest voting rate since 1969 with over 25% not voting and over 11% casting invalid ballots.

Far-right demonstrators claim that Macron’s election was a means of preventing the election of Marine Le Pen; and indeed, in the second round of the elections, about 11 million people voted for Le Pen. In the June 2017 parliamentary elections, Le Pen’s National Front (Front National, or FN) increased its strength from two representatives to eight of the 577 members of parliament. This does not reflect the party’s real support in areas outside the large cities, where anger over France’s economic and security situation translates into very substantial backing for FN.

After the elections, Le Pen declared her intention to mount a fighting “patriots’” opposition to an establishment that, as she puts it, favors “Mondialism.” Support for her party, which has adopted the name National Rally (Rassemblement National, or RN), has grown during the “yellow vest” demonstrations, and it now leads the polls for the European Parliament elections slated for May 26, 2019. La Pen has claimed that a victory in those elections would constitute a sort of dress rehearsal for French presidential elections and a “democratic” opportunity to compel Macron to change his policies. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the far-left party Unbowed France (La France Insoumise, or LFI), which has 17 representatives in the parliament, also calls frequently for a “nonviolent” civil revolt.

The “yellow vest” demonstrations reflect disappointment with the young president. During his election campaign, Macron kindled hopes by touting far-reaching economic reforms. But the reforms he has espoused while in office have sparked widespread criticism that has made them difficult to implement. Macron has also had trouble carrying out legislative initiatives on key issues such as illegal immigration and crime in the suburbs. And despite his ambition to be a president of both the right and the left, he has drawn harsh criticism from both sides. His reforms are perceived as benefiting the rich, and he is seen as exceedingly arrogant for calling himself “Jupiter.”

Amid the dramatic political polarization between extreme left and extreme right, the weakening of the parties of the center, and the almost complete disappearance of the parties of the past, Macron has failed to present a real alternative. His new party, The Republic on the March (La République en Marche, or LREM), which won a respectable majority in the June 2017 parliamentary elections, includes many delegates who lack either political experience or a significant electoral base. Even before the “yellow vest” riots, public support for the president had declined dramatically to 29% (in September 2018). At the start of December 2018, when the mass demonstrations began, support for Macron sank to a new low of 23%.

The “yellow vest” demonstrations, by contrast, have garnered considerable public and media sympathy. Historically the French have tended to romanticize popular protest such as the student demonstrations of 1968. Demonstrations and strikes by workers’ organizations, too, have usually won public sympathy despite the difficulties they cause and the violence that sometimes accompanies them.

The “yellow vest” demonstrations differ from those of the past. They have gone on for a long time and are occurring all over the country, and it is not clear when they will end. The “yellow vests” have yet to present a leadership and a set of coherent demands, making it difficult to negotiate an end to the crisis. The signs waved at the demonstrations speak of general demands for justice and economic equality, high taxes on the wealthy, and a “referendum by civil initiative” (Referendum d’intiative citoyenne, or RIC) on basic questions of government and economy. But because of sharp disagreements among themselves, the “yellow vests” have failed so far to create a new political framework and have been unable to come up with a list of candidates to run in the European Parliament elections….[To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Rachel Donadio
The Atlantic, Mar. 29, 2018

On April 4 of last year, a 67-year-old Jewish woman in Paris named Sarah Halimi was beaten to death and thrown off the balcony of her third-story apartment in a public housing complex by a neighbor who shouted “Allahu Akbar.” It took 10 months and a public outcry that began with France’s Jewish community, the largest in Europe, before prosecutors officially called the attack an antisemitic hate crime. Last Friday, Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, was stabbed 11 times and set alight by a neighbor and a homeless man. This time, authorities immediately, perhaps even prematurely, called it an antsemitic attack. Gérard Collomb, France’s interior minister, said this week that before killing Knoll, one of the two men arrested for the murder had told the other, “She is a Jew, she must have money.”

A lot took place between the death of Halimi and the death of Knoll. It may seem cynical to point it out, but one of them is an election, whose winners and losers seem freer to call out antisemitism when they’re not trying to win the support of Muslim voters in the banlieues, or the working-class suburbs that are home to generations of France’s immigrant underclass. Another is a growing sense, one that has been compounded by every terrorist attack here in recent years, that something has gone wrong in France, and its institutions are struggling to keep pace. While there have been concerns about new strains of antisemitism in Sweden and Britain, to say nothing of Poland and Hungary, France’s challenges are unique. It is a nation founded on deeply held universalist republican ideals, on the notion that citizens are citizens, not members of individual ethnic or religious groups—no intersectionality, no American-style identity politics, no interest groups—and it has struggled to develop a vocabulary for religiously motivated violence, let alone a solution. The problem defies Cartesian logic and transcends traditional divisions between left and right.

The murder of a woman who had narrowly escaped deportation as a child in Nazi-occupied France at the hands of a young Muslim neighbor unlocked something here, a sense of public outrage that seemed to transcend even the horrible facts of the case. On Wednesday evening, thousands of people, including French political leaders, held in a march through eastern Paris to Knoll’s public housing complex. I went to see for myself. Some held signs that read, “In France, we kill grandmothers because they’re Jewish.” Others wore buttons with Knoll’s picture. It had been an intense day. That morning, President Emmanuel Macron delivered a eulogy at the state funeral of Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, a gendarme who had served in Iraq and was hailed as a national hero after he took the place of a hostage in a jihadist attack in southwest France last Friday, the same day as Knoll’s death.

As people began gathering at the start of the march, I ran into Alain Finkielkraut, one of France’s most prominent public intellectuals, a philosophy professor who had participated in the French student uprisings in 1968 but shifted rightward over the years and whose 2013 book, L’Identité Malheureuse, or The Unhappy Identity, is about immigration and its discontents. “It wasn’t even a question for me to come and express my fear and my anger,” Finkielkraut told me. In 2006, there had been a large demonstration after a Jewish man named Ilan Halimi (no relation to Sarah) was tortured and killed by a violent band in what French authorities were loath to call an antisemitic attack. “Only Jews came to the demonstration in memory of Ilan Halimi’s barbarous assassination. They had been abandoned by the international community,” Finkielkraut told me. Today, he said, things were changing. “I think the denial is slowly disappearing, the denial about a new antisemitism,” he told me. “For a long time, we didn’t want to stigmatize fragile youth from bad neighborhoods, so we minimized the effect. We looked for excuses—in exclusion, in discrimination, in segregation, in all the ‘-ations’ you can find. I think this narrative is in the process of extinction, and I think, in this sad moment we’re living, that that’s good news.”

I reminded Finkielkraut that I’d last met with him—to discuss Michel Houellebecq’s best-selling novel Submission, which imagines a Muslim president of France—in early January 2015, a few days before the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher supermarket. Those attacks, followed by the bloodbath of November 13, 2015, when jihadists killed 130 people and wounded 400 more in a series of attacks in the same area of eastern Paris where Knoll and Halimi lived, were a major turning point—for France, but also for the Jewish community. Leaders of the organized Jewish community said they had felt a lack of national empathy after Ilan Halimi’s death, but also after Mohammed Merah murdered three French Arab paratroopers and, later, a rabbi and three children outside a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012. The 2015 attacks gave a sense that all of France was in this together, whatever this was, exactly…[To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Edward N. Luttwak
Tablet, Feb. 27, 2019

Now that the U.S. Congress includes Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who traffic in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and are firmly opposed to the existence of Israel—their map of Palestine occupies all of Israel—an old problem has reemerged: How should Jews respond to self-declared enemies in a democracy?

The most common and damaging emotional temptation in such circumstances—exemplified by Yair Rosenberg in these pages—is a yearning for dialogue no matter what, no matter with whom, even if it legitimizes extremism. Another is to vent anger to no purpose.

The last time such absolute enemies emerged in democratic Western polities, in Britain and France in the 1930s, they were totally defeated. And there is every reason to believe that it can be done again, so long as we can avoid fear-driven pleading and the pretense of big-tent dialogue.

In Britain, the enemy was a peculiarly British form of political anti-Semitism, which, being British, was most dangerous in its least visible form. The British Union of Fascists that once staged a march through then solidly Jewish Whitechapel in London’s East End to attract press attention was an organization of losers certainly very visible in their black uniforms. They had no chance of winning a general election, not just because they were ultra-extremists but simply because under Britain’s “first past the post” electoral system not even the finest third party can hope for victory.

Their leader, however, was well-connected: Sir Oswald Mosley of Ancoats, 6th Baronet, a combat officer in the First World War and later a member of Parliament, was sufficiently top-drawer in British society to marry just short of royalty—his wife was the daughter of the 1st Earl Curzon of Kedleston, of towering eminence as viceroy of India and then foreign secretary. Even today there are British aristocrats who command wide social influence (not least the skillfully charitable 28-year-old current Duke of Westminster) but in the 1930s the aristocracy was still very much on top.

Mosley could count on much quiet support from antisemites in Parliament, as well as on the very loud support of Sidney Harmsworth aka Viscount Rothermere, whose anti-Jewish message was disseminated every day by the mass-market Daily Mail. Nor was this the antisemitism of middle-class golf clubs: Mosley had Hitler as his guest at his second marriage, and Harmsworth was proudly photographed with him after a cordial meeting.

The British were not likely to fall for Hitler. But Mosley, Harmsworth and their ilk could ride one strand of political antisemitism that was very powerful indeed: The suspicion that the Jews wanted war with Germany to help their fellow Jews. The last war against Germany had killed almost a million British soldiers, and those losses were still so recent that many families were still mourning their dead. Several million more survivors of the trenches were left with weak lungs from gas attacks, old wounds, or persistent nightmares that ruined their sleep.

The horrific prospect of another war with Germany greatly empowered the appeasers, who were determined to come to an understanding with Hitler, which would certainly mean accepting whatever he did to Germany’s Jews.

Given that the appeasers included the prime minister and his foreign secretary, the danger was very real. In 1938, Robert Vansittart, at the top of the Foreign Office, was dismissed as too anti-Hitler (his replacement, Alexander Cadogan, would later attempt to strangle Israel at birth with his minister Bevin, by imposing a total arms embargo on the Jews, the Arab armies having already been equipped).

British Jews were divided on Zionism but not on antisemitism. Nobody suggested any form of dialogue that would have legitimized their enemies, as any dialogue must. There was instead a very determined effort to support the friends of the Jews in British politics, starting with the Manchester-centered Liberal establishment. This effort was all the more relevant because Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, the head appeaser, came from its midst (he was not personally anti-Jewish, just antiwar). The Manchester Guardian was then the support and comfort of the Jews, as much as the Daily Mail was for their enemies.

Winston Churchill, then still the enfant terrible of British politics (he had changed parties, twice!), had a serious drinking problem, an equally serious money problem, and no prospect of ever being a minister again. But he too was supported. The Wall Street financier Bernard Baruch (who made a point of telling Jewish stories to Churchill) pitched in with timely stock-picking advice. Even Leslie Hore-Belisha, Chamberlain’s secretary of state for war but a Jew, unabashedly supported Churchill… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Michael Curtis
Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2018

France was the first country in Europe to emancipate its Jewish population and establish full equality for Jews in 1831. With the Napoleonic policy of “careers open to talents,” French Jews entered the world of finance, the professions, government, and the arts and also obtained citizenship. However, a deep paradox remained: Despite the acceptance of Jews into French citizenship, antisemitism and anti-Jewish manifestations never disappeared.

After the French Revolution, the divided country sought its modern national identity. In Orientalizing the Jew, Kalman of Monash University, Australia, illustrates how Jews became a foil to formulate and clarify that identity. The ideal French national character was contrasted with what some writers saw as its antithesis: Jewish identity. Kalman identifies three major ways in which the Jew was used: First, France was positioned as a Christian country. Second, secular writers and artists promoted France as the epitome of civilization. Third, government officials, diplomats, and businessmen used the Jew to link to France’s international emergence as a major player in Middle East commerce and governance. The “Orientalized Jew” became a powerful figure created out of a mixture of imagination and realistic encounters.

Libraries are full of works on the Dreyfus affair, antisemitism, and the place of Jews in late nineteenth-century France. By comparison, argues Kalman, relatively little has been written on the role of Jews in the earlier part of the nineteenth century. Kalman, a specialist both in modern France and its relationship with Jewish history, has written on these themes in Rethinking Antisemitism in Nineteenth Century France, explaining the complicated French attitudes and ambivalence to the presence of Jews in France itself.

In her earlier book, Kalman used political writings, the press, literature, and other sources to make the striking claim that, in the early nineteenth century, Jews faced prejudice in France’s “tranquil” society and the French relationship with Jews was central to the development of French identity. Kalman noted, for example, that Jews living in the East featured prominently in French art, narratives, novels, and plays. But, Jews in France itself faced challenges as the French population became concerned about its own identity.

In her new book, Kalman extends her study to include Jews living in the Middle East and argues that attitudes towards “Oriental” Jews figured prominently in answering the question of what it meant to be French. She analyzes the attitudes of Catholic pilgrims, secular writers and artists, government officials, and businessmen who travelled and lived in the Middle East and North Africa and had contact with Jews.

Kalman centers her argument around four figures: François-René Chateaubriand, a Roman Catholic royalist; Théophile Gautier, author and poet at the center of French intellectual life in the middle of the nineteenth century; and Salomon Bacri and Nephtali Busnach, two Jewish businessmen in Algiers… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

CIJR Wishes All Our Friends and Supporters: Shabbat Shalom!