ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Un retour de l’antisémitisme?
by Laurent Mucchielli
Translated Sunday 12 April 2009, by
What the statistics of the National Advisory Council on Human Rights (in French: CNCDH) say.
On March 2 the yearly dinner party of the Representative Council of French Jewish institutions (CRIF) took place. Noticing a big rise in anti-Semitic activity at the beginning of 2009, its president boomed “anti-Semitism is back” and “in France today many Jews are afraid”. Once more some people do their best to frighten public opinion by waving the fantasy of a return to the horrors of the past. This is questionable.
In France there is a public body that collects the statistical data of various surveys concerning the evolution of racism and anti-Semitism: the National Advisory Council on Human Rights (CNCDH) which has published a yearly report since 1990 (www.cncdh.fr). Moreover there are political science studies which analyse the evolution of racist and anti-Semitic opinions (for more details go to http://blog.claris.org).
1.The peak in anti-Semitic activity in January 2009 can be accounted for by a circumstantial reason: the war in Gaza.
The surge in anti-Semitic hate crimes observed in January 2009 is a fact, but it does not mean that “anti-Semitism is back”. It has a specific circumstantial cause: the war in Gaza. And this is not new: this occurrence has been observed before, for instance during the second Intifada. In the CNCDH report for the year 2000 one could read: ”Concerning the violence of the last term, it was essentially caused by young people of immigrant descent who thus found an outlet for their disquiet and their feeling of exclusion. The soaring number of aggressions against Jewish people and property quickly fell and became negligible in the last days of the year; but it is likely to expand again with the evolution of the situation in the Middle-East”.
2.There is no underlying increase of anti-Semitism in France — on the contrary. But a disturbing evolution will be found elsewhere.
For ten years now political scientists have shown that: anti-Semitic opinions still exist but they haven’t stopped declining since WWII; therefore the trend does not point to the return but rather to the disappearance of anti-Semitism; these opinions are those of a very small minority. For example, the feeling that the extermination of Jews by the Nazis is “too often talked about” (an alternative way of trivializing the Holocaust) applies only to 17% of surveyed people; conversely, 80% think that it is talked about “adequately” or “not enough”. It is quite true that anti-Semitic opinions are more noticeable among French people “of immigrant descent”, particularly those who are self-confessed practicing Muslims. However, the fact remains that among the people “of immigrant descent” as well, anti-Semitism is a minority opinion and it dwindles with the generations (the more anti-Semitic are the ones who have arrived in France more recently). Political scientists have also advanced the hypothesis of a “new Judeophobia” which would allow a return of anti-Semitism under the cloak of a criticism of Israeli policies and which would reveal a shift of anti-Semitism from the far right to the far left. But this is invalidated by various scientific works. Indeed the latter show that in the far right one can observe a conjunction or conflation of anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli opinions, but it is the contrary on the left and far left: those more hostile to Israel’s policies are often the less anti-Semitic.
3. Anti-Semitism is already very severely punished.
The CRIF strategy consists in keeping as much pressure as possible on the French government. That is why the Prime Minister has once again asserted that “one of the main ways of leading this fight is to toughen the repression of racist and anti-Semitic hate crimes”. Such words are ritualistic but they may imply that the repression of racist and anti-Semitic crimes is not already “tough” or even that nothing much has been done about this problem. However, over the course of these last years France has adopted an impressive legal arsenal to penalise racist or anti-Semitic words or actions (Acts of 3 February 2003 and 9 March 2004). Who knows that today the insult “dirty Jew” carries a six-month prison sentence and a €22,500 fine?
4. These remarks conceal the inability to distance oneself from Israeli policies.
It is obvious that the perpetrators of anti-Semitic hate crimes lump together the policy of the State of Israel in relation to the Palestinians with the opinions of the whole Jewish community; and they make their French-Jewish compatriots pay for these Israeli policies. But it is just as obvious that the Jewish institutions do not try to dissuade them. For instance, in the daily paper “Le Monde” of 1 February 2009 in the middle of the war in Gaza, the new Chief Rabbi of France launched a call for total solidarity with the Israeli people and their government.
How can we break the deadlock? The only responsible attitude, which must aim to lower intolerance and racism between the Jewish and Muslim communities of France, consists in refusing to take sides on their mythical and emotional identities. It involves inviting their representatives to work together to fight against prejudices and bigotry, and to further the cause of peace between Israelis and Palestinians within the framework of the UN resolutions sanctioning the inalienable right of these two peoples to have their own land and sovereign State.