No Anti-Semitism in France?

Jacques Attali, a French Jewish intellectual, President of an NGO promoting microfinance PlaNet Finance, and former adviser to the late socialist President François Mitterrand, is on the record denying that anti-Semitism exists in France. Said Attali to Haaretz:

It is a problem which does not exist ... Bu****it, peanuts, lies ... I think it is propaganda, Israeli propaganda ... Zero! None whatsoever. It's a lie."

The Algiers-born Attali also denied "a problem of anti-Semitism among the Muslim community in France." He added:

It's crucial to Israel and to the whole world for Jews and Arabs in France to get along. These relations are of strategic importance: if they cannot live in harmony here, they cannot live in harmony anywhere.

The French Jewish organizations' leaders expressed strong indignation at Attali's denial of anti-Semitism in France. Richard Prasquier, President of CRIF, the umbrella representative body of French Jewish organizations, stated:

We have the good fortune of living in a country where the authorities and the political parties vigorously reject anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, in certain neighbourhoods -- which Jacques Attali apparently does not go to -- we are witnessing an increasing trend toward a climate of abhorrence of Jews which expresses itself through insults and, quite often, through physical aggression.

At the same time, SPCJ (Jewish Community Protection Service) published worrying figures: 631 anti-Semitic actions were recorded in the first half of 2009, 360 of which occurred in January during the Israeli Cast Lead military operation in Gaza, compared to 474 for the whole of 2008.

However, Attali maintained his controversial statement. On October 23, 2009, he was interviewed by Parisian Jewish Radio J's Editor in Chief, Michel Zerbib. Attali denied any current "wave of anti-Semitism" in France and explained that the French state was not anti-Semitic. He added:

The word 'anti-Semite' designates Arabs too ... It is more difficult in France to be a Muslim than to be a Jew.

Finally, Attali expressed his support for Charles Enderlin in the al-Dura affair.

Ironically, on November 7, 2009, ex-socialist minister Jean-Louis Bianco declared to Journal du dimanche regarding the fall of the Berlin Wall and the German reunification:

[President Mitterrand] did not feel a certain fear about Germans, contrary to... Jacques Attali, who is Jewish. Attali was trying to attract Mitterrand to his own concerns, but unsuccessfully.

An indignant Attali denounced Bianco's "unconscious anti-Semitism."

On December 13, 2009, French Minister of the Interior Brice Hortefeux said that 704 anti-Semitic incidents have occurred in France between January and September 2009, compared with 350 incidents between January and September 2008.

Various stakes

Left-wing Attali has stirred up a recurrent controversy since 2000 in France about the worrying problem of anti-Semitism. The problem was denied or minimized until 2002  by French public authorities, especially by left-wing leaders. As Algeria-born professor Shmuel Trigano noted, it was then not "politically correct" to admit that many anti-Semitic incidents were committed by perpetrators of Muslim migrant descent; migrants were perceived as "innocent" because they were victims of racism.

Attali is denying a troubling reality. For instance, he not only contests that anti-Semitism exists in France -- and the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights' figures refute this position -- but he also disputes the meaning of anti-Semitism (i.e., hatred of Jews).

When I asked Attali for an interview, he refused.

Unaddressed new forms of anti-Semitism

Many facts, including the al-Dura affair, France's tolerance of boycotts of Israeli products, and French anti-Zionism, contradict Attali's allegation.

On September 30, 2000, France 2 TV broadcasted controversial footage authored by Charles Enderlin and his Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu Rahma alleging that Israeli soldiers killed the young Palestinian boy Mohamed al-Dura. This libel fueled anti-Semitism throughout the world. Various experts (including Israeli physicist Nahum Shahaf and Israel-based Metula News Agency's editor in chief Stéphane Juffa) raised serious doubts as to the credibility of the footage. In 2004, Philippe Karsenty, the head of French media watchdog Media-Ratings, wrote that the footage was a "masquerade," a "fraud," and a "hoax." On May 21, 2008, the Court of Appeals of Paris dismissed France 2's defamation charges against Karsenty.

France 2 is a public national channel which broadcasted that blood libel. Moreover, the head of France 2 has refused to investigate whether the facts alleged by the footage were real or not despite his agreement on September 18, 2008 on an "independent expert working group." Furthermore, France 2's regulatory authorities -- the French Ministry of Culture and Communications and the Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel (an "independent authority to protect audiovisual communication freedom) -- refused to act in order to bring the truth to light.

And on December 8, 2004, the Council of State dismissed writer and journalist Serge Farnel and his lawyer Maître Stéphane Haddad, who wanted to seek that truth in the al-Dura affair.

Let's add the fact that French Ministry of Justice does not sue all those who call for the boycott of Israeli products -- but those calls to boycott "are liable for prosecution," as acknowledged by the Minister of Justice's Chief of Staff.

Sammy Ghozlan, president of the National Bureau Against Anti-Semitism (BNVCA), opposed the anti-Israel boycott campaigns that targeted French local supermarkets. He is convinced that "incitements to hatred against Israel instigate anti-Jewish acts." He deplored the public prosecutors' decisions to close four of his thirty complaints against boycotters.

The core problem is a French refusal to fight against new forms of anti-Semitism, such as "radical anti-Zionism" (writer Jean-Christophe Rufin). In 2004, Rufin wrote in his government-commissioned report on racism and anti-Semitism that "[i]t is not conceivable today to fight actively in France against anti-Semitism in its new mutations without going all-out to try and balance anew the public's view of the situation in the Middle East."

All these facts dismiss Attali's "no anti-Semitism in France" idea.

Gentleman's Agreement 

The situation in France is complex. Of course, there are no anti-Semitic laws. But, some public institutions do not always function in a satisfying or normal way when dealing with Jews or Israel.

Why does France, which aims at maintaining a sense of vivre ensemble (living together) in a multicultural society and boasts of its values of equality and fraternity, tolerate such blood libel and calls to boycott Israeli products?

Is it a Gentleman's Agreement, to borrow the title of Elia Kazan's movie (1947) which dealt with a journalist investigating anti-Semitism in the U.S.?

Years ago, Muslims in the "land of Islam" assimilated the Christian European concept of blood libel. And now, does France want public opinion to be influenced by the return to the West of that concept?

Does France fear to confront the "Arab street" by stating the truth, which dismisses infanticide charges against Israel?

Does France want to preserve its "Arabic policy" which through tolerating the marginalized Jewish State's demonization or calls for boycotts justifies pressures on this weaker state?

Does France want to keep confidential that secret de Polichinelle -- "public secret" (historian Richard Landes) -- Pallywood, Palestinian audiovisual industry, which makes anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish propaganda?

Is that a step toward the disappearance of the "State-of-Israel-which-kills-children" or its sacrifice on Eurabia's altar?

Véronique Chemla is a French investigative journalist. She writes articles for American Thinker, FrontPage Magazine, and L'Arche. Her blog is E-mail her at
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