Monday, January 12, 2015

The Jewish Part of the Charlie Equation

This week’s attacks on a French satirical journal that often published cartoons demeaning Islam, and on a large Kosher supermarket that replaced the mom and pop delicatessens of the formerly poor Jewish quarter, illustrate more vividly than any analysis what is happening in France.  France has both the largest Muslim population in Europe and the largest Jewish population. Jews and Muslims constitute France’s two prominent minorities, but there are almost eight times as many Muslims as Jews. 

France had a centuries-long history of anti-Semitism before it developed a Muslim problem.  Jews were emancipated in France in 1791 on the heels of the French Revolution, but in the rest of Europe, it was a gradual process. In Germany, they were not given equal rights until 1871, and at the time when these rights were cancelled by Hitler, after a short-lived socialist government in the latter 1930’s, France had a right-wing government that supported him. After Hitler invaded France in 1940, it created a collaborationist government that carried out the Reich’s orders.  

The most infamous of those orders was the deportation of about seventy-six thousand Jews, about a fifth of the community, to concentration camps, where most of them died.  The post-war population was boosted after the war by the arrival of  Jews from North Africa, as liberation movements swept the French colonies, and currently, the Jewish community in France is estimated at about 600,000, concentrated mainly in Paris, Marseille, Strasbourg, Lyon, and Toulouse. Muslim anti-Semitism surged worldwide following the founding of Israel and Israel's military victories against Arab armies, and this was perhaps particularly true in France.

While Europe’s Jews suffered deportation, torture and death at the hands of the Nazis, it is fair to say that on the whole they rebounded with great success.The French Jewish community, the largest in Europe, has become increasingly influential since the end of the war. The Jewish tradition of learning led to many Jews graduating from France’s prestigious universities in both the sciences and the humanities, entering the cultural and political establishment in numbers far out of proportion to their percentage of the population. The CRIF, representative council of Jewish institutions in France, is a powerful organization, akin to AIPAC. Two Jewish philosophers, in particular have long been household names in France: Bernard-Henri Levy and Alain Finkelkraut have been prominent media figures for decades, constantly beating a pro-Israel and anti Muslim drum. 

France’s Muslims are the descendants of populations who were colonized for over a century, some, like the Algerians, had to fight long and bloody wars to achieve independence. Many North Africans fought alongside the French in both World Wars. Promises were made, but not, or poorly kept, and it is only now, after several generations, that French Muslims are beginning to enter the mainstream.

Different from, but just as reprehensible as the intellectual assault on Muslims, is that of the National Front Party, founded in 1972 by Jean-Marie Le Pen, a former Legionnaire who, having at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 became a permanent fixture on the French political scene two years later.  According to Wikipedia, the party “rejects both the French revolution and its legacy”. Le Pen’s daughter Martine, took over the party in 2011 and has been highly successful at modernizing it, coming in in third place in the 2012 presidential election, and rapidly becoming a prominent member of the right-wing caucus in the European Parliament.  Although she promises to pull France out of NATO, opposes same-sex marriage and vows to drastically reduce immigration, in a September 2013 poll she was the top choice for president in 2017.

Under Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front was openly anti-Semitic as well as anti-Muslim. Under his daughter, it is merely anti-Muslim. Very differently from their Semitic cousins, the Arabs were colonized for more than a century and are still today largely among Europe’s disadvantaged.  Even in its new, more respectable form, given the historical volatility of French politics, the National Front continues to contribute to the polarized situation, a situation which, and in the past year, has resulted in increasing numbers of French Jews enquiring about immigrating to Israel, according to Natan Sharansky

According to France 24, a million people are expected to participate in a march tomorrow afternoon in Paris, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the King and Queen of Jordan, among others. The leaders of Europe will also be there, and the discussions among and between these different sets of leaders will  influence a major policy area for years to come. The Schengen Agreement of the European Union guarantees free travel for its citizens between the 27 member states. Illegal immigrants fleeing war-torn countries acquire refugee status in those bordering the Mediterranean, and proceed from there to all parts of the peninsula, including Germany, France and Great Britain. Most are Muslims. The population of the European Union is 500 million, that of Middle East is about equivalent, and Africa shelters 1.1 billion people.

Europe’s number one problem is supposedly the Euro, but money problems go up and down. What can only increase is the presence among mainly white, relatively affluent Judeo-Christian populations, of poor brown and black populations, most of whom are Muslims. And cartoons are at best a way of hiding Europe’s collective head in the sand. 

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