The French Ambassador to the United States has written a
very pointed editorial in this weekend’s Washington Times accusing Americans of slandering France. Now, I’ll admit that I’ve done my share of France-bashing, but I do believe that many in the media and in the blogosphere have been unduly hostile towards the French. However, that doesn’t let the French off the hook.
Ambassador de l’Estang defends France thusly:
I have been dismayed by these comments, which are blatantly malicious, as anybody who knows France and the French would immediately realize. Such allegations misread history and grossly misrepresent the realities of today’s France.
Never mind that my country was the first in Europe to extend full citizenship to Jews, in 1791, or that it came close to civil war a century ago because the intelligentsia rallied to restore the honor of an innocent Jewish officer, Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, wrongly convicted of treason.
Never mind that during the Occupation, countless French people took innumerable risks to shelter Jews, thereby saving three-quarters of them from the death camps.
Never mind that as a result of these anonymous acts of heroism, France is proud to be the home of the second-largest Jewish diaspora in the world after the United States — one that is fully and thoroughly integrated. While the United States had to wait until the year 2000 to see a Jewish candidate run on the presidential ticket, France has had several Jewish heads of government, including Leon Blum in 1936 and Pierre Mendes France in 1954.
Never mind that World Jewish Congress president, Edgar Bronfman, stated on April 29 that "France is not an anti-Semitic country," echoing the very words used by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and the grand rabbi of France. Never mind that France’s Jewish community itself categorically rejects the idea that the country is anti-Semitic. Never mind that more than a million French people marched against racism and xenophobia on May Day, and that voters rejected extremism and bigotry by a record 82 percent during the presidential runoff.
Now I will grant the Ambassador that by and large, the French people are not anti-Semitic. Despite my disagreements with the French, especially in terms of international policy, I like the French. I concur that there have been some unwarranted attacks on the French lately. However, that does not dismiss the fact that anti-Semitic violence is on the rise in France. It does not dismiss the fact that many French Jews see an increasing acceptance of casual anti-Semitism in France, and many are fearful of what that acceptance may bring.
Now for the facts: A series of inexcusable assaults — physical, material and symbolic — has been committed in France against Jews over the past 20 months. Nearly all were perpetrated by poorly integrated youths of Muslim origin who would like to bring the Mideast conflict to France. President Jacques Chirac has declared that such acts are "utterly unimaginable, unforgivable, indescribable and must be condemned and punished." He proclaimed that "when a synagogue is burned, it is France that is humiliated; when a Jew is assaulted, it is France that is assaulted."
The Ambassador is correct in this assessment. These crimes are the result of a large amount of poorly-integrated Muslim youth in France. However, one must ask why these conditions have been allowed to continue. I believe that one can make a very valid argument that France’s lingering guilt over their colonial past has created a dangerous multiculturalism that is leading to explosive racial tensions. The French people must confront this issue head-on before France becomes a racial battle ground.
Such actions are being and will continue to be punished. But they must be seen for what they are: a spillover from the Israel-Palestinian conflict. They don’t make France any more anti-Semitic than the persistence of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists makes the United States a racist country on the verge of restoring segregation or slavery.
Dimissing these attacks as just a spillover of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict isn’t a constructive way of viewing the situation. Rather, the French need to acknowlege that there are societal problems that need to be addressed by the French people. Furthermore, the fact that Jean-Marie Le Pen was able to place into the runoff indicates the depth of the problem. If a candidate with similar views placed nearly 17% in an American election it would indicate that there’s something dangerously out of whack in American society.
France has a long tradition of tolerance and respect for freedom of religion. It will remain true to it. It also has a tradition of fighting for international peace and justice. It has long striven for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, which can be achieved only by the coexistence of Israel and a viable Palestinian state within internationally guaranteed borders. Those who perpetrate the fiction that France is anti-Semitic only to pursue their own agenda of discrediting French policy in the Middle East are distorting the truth in a despicable way.
Well, my views on a viable Palestinian state are pretty clear, and they are a far cry from France’s view. However, I think that the core argument against the current situation in France isn’t a slander. Calling France a nation of anti-Semites is certainly going to far, but pointing out the rise in French anti-Semitism is enturely appropriate. It is clear that the French people feel a profound disconnection from their government and France is going through a turbulent epoch in their national history. The French people clearly must make a stand against the status quo less they watch as their country become torn with the strife that has shocked not only the French, but the rest of the world.