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Reprinted from Gush Shalom

French anti-Semitism

FOR ME, France is the land of liberty.

When I was just 10 years old, I fled with my family from Nazi Germany to France, on our way to Palestine. We were afraid of being detained at the border. When our train crossed the Rhine, leaving Germany behind us and entering France, I breathed deeply. From tyranny to liberty, from hell to paradise.

I never forgot this feeling. Whenever I visited France, it came back to me.

I remembered it again this week, when I saw a much-toted TV "investigative report" on "Anti-Semitism in France." It was a pile of propaganda nonsense.

"ANTI-SEMITISM IN France" is now all the rage in Israel. A huge propaganda effort is invested in this campaign. The aim is to induce French Jews to come to Israel, to "make aliyah" (an atrocious corruption of Hebrew).

Jews in France, according to "investigative reports'' are faced with a terrible danger. They can expect a second holocaust any moment. They are attacked in the streets. They are afraid to wear kippahs in public. For their children's sake, they must come to Israel. In a hurry. Now!

When I started watching the TV story more closely, I noticed one peculiarity: almost all the male Jews interviewed wore a kippah. Strange. I hardly ever met a kippah-wearing French Jew.

Then I noticed another peculiarity: it seemed to me that all the Jewish interviewees looked North African. In particular, Algerian.

Also, all the violent incidents mentioned were caused by Muslims. They did not take place on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees , but in the banlieues, where poor North African Muslims live crowded together with poor North African Jews.

Why are these incidents happening? Why there? And what have they got to do with French anti-Semitism?

WHEN I hear about "French anti-Semitism," I see in my imagination the long tradition of Christian France's aversion to Jews. Even after the French Revolution, which liberated the Jews too, there was a lot of anti-Semitism in France. One has only to recall the Dreyfus affair at the end of the 19th century, when a French Jewish army officer was falsely accused of being a German spy and sent to Devil's Island in French Guiana. Masses of Frenchmen marched along the Champs-Elysees, shouting "Death to the Jews!" One spectator was a Jewish journalist from Vienna, named Theodor Herzl, who drew the conclusion that all the Jews must leave Europe and establish a state of their own in Palestine. Zionism was born.

This kind of Christian anti-Semitism, emanating (I believe) from the New Testament story about the death of Jesus, always existed in France, as it did in most other Christian countries. Since the Holocaust, it has become a fringe phenomenon. I believe that this is so in France, too.

THE MUSLIM-JEWISH animosity which is now being played out in the Paris banlieues is something entirely different, and has nothing to do with anti-Semites. It so happens that both sides are Semites.

It started in Algeria a long time ago. The French conquered the country and settled there in large numbers. Then they did something rather clever: they conferred French citizenship on the local Jews, but not on the Muslims, who constituted the vast majority. As the ancient Romans used to say: "Divide et Impera."

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Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in the (more...)

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