France’s President Charles de Gaulle changed his mind about the Jewish State. There were a number of complicated reasons for his decision, but after the withdrawal from Algeria in 1962, de Gaulle abandoned Israel, and made nice with the Arab world.
Then came the Jew baiting. Not long after the Six-Day War ended, de Gaulle gave his so-called “sermon to the Hebrews.” He liberally conflated Israelis with all Jews, accusing the former of acting like “aggressors” and “oppressors” while arguing that the latter’s “self-assured and domineering people” were at fault for arousing ill feelings “in certain countries at certain times.”
De Gaulle was probably the first Western leader to blame Israel for what was going on in the Middle East. He was certainly the first to imbue Israel’s actions with ugly stereotypes.
I remembered reading about the episode in Robert Wistrich’s brilliant history of anti-Semitism, “A Lethal Obsession,” after hearing French President Francois Hollande take a far more subtle, but comparable, position on the Jewish question. According to Haartez, Hollande asked Benjamin Netanyahu not to attend the unity demonstration in Paris—a march that also featured an assortment of officials representing authoritarians, censors, and terror funders professing support for free expression—so that everyone “could focus on demonstrating solidarity with France, and to avoid anything liable to divert attention to other controversial issues, like Jewish-Muslim relations or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
It is unclear if Mahmoud Abbas, a man was only recently was in talks to form a unity government with Hamas (whose constitution literally works off the premises of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion) was told to stay away from Paris. But there he was. No offense given. Or taken. So was Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. So were others.
Whatever you make of Netanyahu’s politics, French Jews who now live with thousands of security personnel guarding their synagogues and schools were not the ones that Hollande was most concerned about offending. Iran’s Hassan Rouhani could have shown up to publicly deny the Holocaust and there still would be no mob surrounding Grande Mosquée de Paris to terrify worshippers inside. And unlike the four French Jews who were slaughtered at the kosher grocery store in Porte de Vincennes—and who are now buried in Jerusalem—there will be little if no concern about the desecration of the graves of Muslim victims of terror.
This is probably because there really is no “Jewish-Muslim” problem in France. There is only a Muslim one. To claim otherwise is to create equivalency where there is none and to lay culpability where it doesn’t exist.
Unless, that is, you, like the Islamic gunman, believe that there’s no difference between a Jewish French shopkeeper or the Jewish “settler.” Actually, generally speaking, the Islamic terrorists blame Israel less frequently than, say, a BBC newsreader, we just don’t listen to them. Take Tim Wilcox, who while covering the Paris rally asked a Jewish woman if she believed, even after the terrorist massacre, if the problems France faced could be “resolved” before “it’s too late?”
The woman, perhaps an eternal optimist, said: “Yes, of course. We have to … not to be afraid to say that the Jews are being—they are the target now. It’s not only the…”
Wilcox interrupted to helpfully inform her that, “Many critics, though, of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.”
Indeed they would. When Jon Stewart asked Jimmy Carter if he had something useful to add on “The Daily Show,” the former president offered the sort of reasoning that antagonists to the Jewish state will always propose when asked about terrorism: “Well, one of the origins for it is the Palestinian problem, and this aggravates people who are affiliated in any way with the Arab people who live in the West Bank and Gaza, what they are doing now—what’s being done to them. So I think that’s part of it.”
So genocidal Nigerians, Iranian executioners, Saudi monarchs, Chechnya suicide bombers, and Indonesia mass murders are all driven to vile acts of violence because Jews refuse to hand over a slip of land to their sworn enemies in a contested area? I can’t think of a comparable case being made about anyone anywhere in the world. Yet this one is almost inevitably suggested on some level when we talk about terror.
The Daily Beast offered us a glimpse of the fiercely stupid anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that not only infect Muslim communities across the Middle East but the suburbs of Paris. Those Jews and their black magic! Now, maybe I could comprehend the existence of the underlying acrimony. Maybe I could grasp how people can rationalize their hatred by convincing themselves that their targets are evil. What is more difficult to understand, though, is how any Western liberal leader could feed these excuses for violence by acting as if these conflicts are propelled equally by two groups. It’s a surrender to their formulation of events, which is both morally and factually warped.
Perhaps Netanyahu shouldn’t have gone to Paris, but as the approximately 15,000 French Jews who will likely immigrate to Israel from France this year would agree, I imagine that “Jewish-Muslim” relationship amplifies why the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” matters to them—and it’s not for the reasons Israel critics claim.
Here’s how Commentary put it:
The conditions in France reveal the dangerous complacency of conditional Zionism. Israel was not established as a messianic project or a secular haven. It is not a socialist workers’ paradise. It is not a capitalist-imperialist outpost. It is, instead, a country, now 66 years of age, freer than most, fairer to minorities than most, in which 6.2 million Jews now live.
So when Netanyahu entered the Grand Synagogue of Paris (Hollande left soon after the prime minister showed up) he was cheered heartily. And at the end of the speech, the Jews who were congregated sang La Marseillaise. Israel, as Tablet staff writers eloquently pointed out, matters to those attending because it “means that the Jewish people will never be radically alone.” I suspect few Jews in the West understand this better than the ones in France in these days.