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Betrayed by Europe: An Expatriate’s Lament
March 14, 2004 1:33 AM   Subscribe

Betrayed by Europe: An Expatriate’s Lament Journalist, novelist, and translator Nidra Poller, an American ex-pat who has been living in Paris with her family since 1972, writes in the latest issue of Commentary about her painful decision to leave her adopted homeland for the US. The main reason? Poller and her family are Jewish and scared for their lives. Her poignant essay is not just another report on the disturbing levels of anti-semitism in France or yet another French Jew abandoning the country for safer turf, but an examination of the power of hope (and inertia) in our lives, even when intellectually one sees no reason for hope: I'm being treated to a poignant lesson in European and Jewish history. The 30's: why did they stay? Why didn’t they run for their lives? Couldn’t they see what was happening? I see before me a vivid demonstration of the deep roots we dig to make our lives bloom, the intricate biology of a human life, irrigated with the lifeblood of a community, inextricably connected to a society, born of life to give life to keep life alive. Leaving is not packing up and tipping your hat goodbye. It is tearing live flesh out of a living matrix. A powerful and disturbing testimony.
posted by Asparagirl (74 comments total)

 
Allow me to be self-referential for a moment and post a link to my own MeFi comment from about a year ago since it has links to a number of first-hand and primary sources on the issue. Things haven't gotten much better since then, though the number of attacks on French Jews in the first three quarters of 2003 have reportedly dropped somewhat relative to the 2002 numbers. Krrlson commented in a thread from March 1st of this year that the issue doesn't seem to get much attention on MeFi, and since an online community is what you make of it, I thought I'd go ahead and post something--my second MeFi post ever.
posted by Asparagirl at 1:47 AM on March 14, 2004


Anti-semitism is a real problem in france. There's no denying that, but this struck me as another excuse to link a pro-palestinian stance with racial hatred. Maybe some of our parisian members can chime in here , but it also seems to overstate the problem. From reading it, you'd think that synagogues and Jewish schools are being systematically razed to the ground; that every French person is a sneer and a cigarette away from converting to Islam.

To my mind this was just another example of racist French bashing. Light on facts, heavy on rhetoric and to be eaten with a healthy portion of Freedom Fries.
posted by seanyboy at 3:16 AM on March 14, 2004


Ah, sweet context. There is no doubt that anti-Semitism exists in France (after all, some people in the French government recognize it, and there is an interesting overview on the ADL website (more on anti-Semitism worldwide here). However, Ms. Poller's politics are interesting. Her account was instructive, and I hope to hear from more people in the community to see how things stand.
posted by moonbiter at 3:20 AM on March 14, 2004


btw Asparagirl: Thanks for the link. It was an interesting read I wouldn't have seen if it hadn't been for your post.
posted by moonbiter at 3:23 AM on March 14, 2004


I can see that this thread degenerating into a gripefest about the French very soon so let me get my expatriated Jewish two cents in now. I'm an American and I have lived in Hungary for fifteen years. I go to France at least twice a year as a somewhat in-your-face-Jewish musician, I have a lot of french Jewish friends as well as non Jewish French amis who are outspoken in their disgust of anti semitism. What I see is France having a quiet internal freak-out about what French identity in the European union means. I don't think it is only about being anti Jewish.

While mainstream French media tend to ignore anti semitic attacks, you have to remember that French media is not as good as French food. This (somewhat annoyingly right wingish but extremely thorough and bilingual) blog gives you an idea of just how pathetic French journalism can be.

Last year I taught fiddle at a Yiddish music seminar in Paris. Every morning there was a fresh swastika painted on the door of the Yiddish Institute. Every morning we washed it off. It was a cat and mouse game but nobody got knifed or attacked.

There are two conflicting groups that are openly anti Jewish - there are the alienated North African Muslim immigrants and the other is the traditional Catholic French right wing. They hate each other. Then you have the anti globalist anarcho leftists, who seem to feel that you need to link the Palestinian issue to every debate by painting swastikas everywhere. The "average" French simply wants his policemen to arrest everyone and make the problem disappear. And the average French media obliges by making the problem disappear.

To be honest, the British media are even worse when it comes to making believe that tensions arising from anti Jewish actions can be ignored.

I live across the street from the Budapest rail yards from which 300,000 jews were loaded onto cars to be taken to Auschwitz in 1944-45. On Monday - a national holiday - skinheads and old geezers will march down my street with faux-nazi flags on their way to a rally. But no, I ain't leaving yet.
posted by zaelic at 3:23 AM on March 14, 2004


I'm not sure it's specific anti-semittism as much as general racism/religious intolerance.
They're outlawing muslim headgear in schools now.
posted by spazzm at 3:24 AM on March 14, 2004


They're outlawing muslim headgear in schools now.

no, they're outlawing religious symbols - of all faiths - in their secular education system. although i am alarmed by the rise in anti-semitism, and equally so by the rise in anti-immigrant feelings and rampant islamophobia, to be blunt, i don't think france will miss this pompous person at all.
posted by quarsan at 3:40 AM on March 14, 2004


I have had it in for France and the French ever since the time, many years ago, when I bought my first car: aq French Renault Dauphine....I knew shortly after buying it not ever again to trust the French! We we speak of of anti-this or that, remember please that we do not have coninuing outburtst by time after time against minority groups in America (yes: there are minorities that are not treated properly) the way they so often are elsewhere, and I am comparing American liberal democracy with liberal democracies in Europe.
posted by Postroad at 4:01 AM on March 14, 2004


> They're outlawing muslim headgear in schools now.
>
> no, they're outlawing religious symbols - of all faiths -
> in their secular education system.

Make that "Yes, they're outlawing religious symbols..."
posted by jfuller at 4:09 AM on March 14, 2004


I have had it in for France and the French ever since the time, many years ago, when I bought my first car: aq French Renault Dauphine....I knew shortly after buying it not ever again to trust the French!

Generalising from the particular to the general in terms of race ... what's that called again? [Clue: it's the subject of this post...]
posted by dash_slot- at 4:40 AM on March 14, 2004


To be honest, the British media are even worse when it comes to making believe that tensions arising from anti Jewish actions can be ignored.

what are you thinking of? i'm english, but don't live there any more, so my knowledge of the place these days comes mainly from the bbc. is there a lot of anti-semitism that's not being reported? i was surprised by the swastika painted on the door that zaelic mentioned. is that kind of thing happening in the uk too? i know there's the occasional bnp news, but that seems to be anti-immigrant rather than particularly anti-jew (in any case, is that being under-reported too)?

i agree with others here - that particular blog seems pretty odd (agressively anti-muslim), but increasing intolerance in france (and elsewhere) is worrying. i wonder if she's considered moving to germany? how are things there? my impression is that anti-semitism is much less tolerated (and possibly much less prevalent) there.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:13 AM on March 14, 2004


incidentally, as someone who's lived "abroad", generalising from particulars to race (or, more accurately, the local culture, which tends to be concentrated in a particular geographic area and so associated with a certain nationality) is quite reasonable. for example: chileans do, compared to the standards i accept for my culture, often tell people what they want to hear rather than the unvarnished truth (in my darkest moments i have called this lying). it's a fact of life - cultures are different, and have both positive and negative aspects.

it seems to me that racism is not recognising these differences, but responding to them in a negative/aggressive way instead of trying to understand/accept/live with them. in my example, i find nothing wrong in recognising the difference (in fact i see no other way of trying to come to terms with it), but simply labelling it "lying" is racism.

just sayin...
posted by andrew cooke at 5:21 AM on March 14, 2004


There's a very interesting interview on CBC radio right now with Gottfried Wagner, Richard Wagner's great-grandson, who has spent ihs life fighting anti-Semitism. He is very worried about what's happening in Europe at the moment. You can listen to the interview online if you can catch it in one of these time zones, 9am Eastern.
It didn't work. Gottfried Wagner has spent his life working to erase anti-semitism from European life. He explains to Michael his fears that the fuel of Jewish hatred is dangerously close to the burning point once again.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:39 AM on March 14, 2004


Woody Allen and ex NY mayor Ed Koch go at it on the subject of anti-semitism in France.
posted by zaelic at 5:53 AM on March 14, 2004


...racism is not recognising these differences, but responding to them in a negative/aggressive way instead of trying to understand/accept/live with them.

Then we agree - I don't hink we can spin Postroad's comments as being positive can we? I do realise there is a diff. between racism and xenophobia: the one is prejudice and discrimination based on ones ethnicity, and the other is based on national origin. Both are unintelligent, unjust and a wate of energy. But there you go - I didn't say there weren't differences between cultures, as that would fly in the face of reality.
posted by dash_slot- at 6:15 AM on March 14, 2004


Then we agree. yeah, thought we might, in retrospect. sorry.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:37 AM on March 14, 2004


it is clear that those who don't give their total, unwavering, blind support to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the exponential growth of illegal Israeli settlements in, ahem, Judea and Samaria, it is clear that such people are anti-Semites

oh, and Euopeans are smelly, too
posted by matteo at 8:01 AM on March 14, 2004


oh, and Euopeans are smelly, too

And they don't have enough malls, cradle of patriotism.

What an unbelievably dreadful piece. Apparently, there is a writer more cringingly tacky than Peggy Noonan.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 8:07 AM on March 14, 2004


The anti-French sneers were unreadable after a while, but I'm sorry she feels she has to leave, for whatever reason. No-one should feel they have to leave anywhere.
posted by carter at 9:21 AM on March 14, 2004


The giveaway, for me, is the dismissive attitude toward Palestinian grievances. She deploys the anti-Zionism=anti-semitism argument, and loses the chance to establishing trust by distorting things. Once I know she is ignoring important facts, I can't help but think she's misusing or making up others.
posted by lathrop at 9:21 AM on March 14, 2004


What an inane piece... Any person who seriously states the following:

"...the vast majority of French Catholics swear by the principle of laïcité and don’t even begin to suspect that they are being turned into dhimmis in their own country."
or concludes:
"Give me empire, my dear Yanks. Come over here and colonize this place so that I can put my suitcases back on top of the closet, keep my swishes and furbelows, my fanfreluches and baubles, my adopted family jewels and Continental airs, and live to a ripe old age here in the center of Paris, in the middle of nowhere. "

...must surely be dismissed as a wingnut... So secular = dhimmitude. France is so much poorer now that this neocon nut has decided to leave it...

For some serious analysis of the issue of anti-semitism in France, let me suggest the following:

Le Monde Diplomatique: Are the French really anti-semitic:

All opinion polls show that French antisemitism has declined constantly since 1945. In 1966, half the population thought the election of a Jewish president out of the question. Last year the figure was under 10%. Since France cannot be shown to be Vichy-inclined, there has been a focus on Maghrebi youth, accused of conducting a "sink-estate intifada"

Zeek (hardly a bastion of progressive thought): France and anti-semitism... despite its absurdities about the French left.

And zaelic: "anti globalist anarcho leftists", never paint swastikas anywhere except as a sign of "evilness". I assure you that these are the same people that - were a real wave of antisemitism (or any racism) to sweep France - would rush first to their fellow citizens defense, even at their own risk. Like they did in the 30s and 40s all over Europe.
posted by talos at 9:27 AM on March 14, 2004


Talos, I get what you are saying, but my experience with the aforementioned "anarchos" has made me - a "crazed anarcho" myself - to distance myself from the movement. Particularly in France. I was in Paris during a series of anti Iraq invasion demo. All over east paris, on the day of the demo, anything publicly Jewish on the streets - a kosher shop, a poster for a cultural event, the doors of the Yiddish Institute - got swastika-ed. The demo themes were right on target, but there was a sense that leftist solidarity with Arabs meant "blame the Jews" more than "blame Israeli policy." One reason is that the antiglobalist movement is overwhelmingly young, and feels the older intellectual (and strongly philo-semitic) left in France has let it down.

The equation that is made that Palestinian rights should be seen in battle with Israeli Zionism. Zionism is then extended to mean "The Jews". The Israeli Embassies and the old Zionist Organization Sochnut (The Jewish Agency) don't disabuse the idea, since their agenda would have all Jews represented by Israel.
posted by zaelic at 10:03 AM on March 14, 2004


From reading it, you'd think that synagogues and Jewish schools are being systematically razed to the ground

Except that, y'know, many are. I agree that Poller could have done a better job with providing some facts to back up her case, but that doesn't mean they're not there. That's why I specifically linked those BBC pieces and my own MeFi comment from last year, to provide some context and statisitics for the scope of the problem. One of the BBC pieces, just to provide an example, lists the following anti-Jewish events in the space of one weekend in 2002:

- The Marseille synagogue was apparently doused in petrol before being burnt to the ground.
- About 15 masked assailants smashed two cars into a synagogue in Lyon and set it on fire.
- Petrol bombs were thrown at the windows of a synagogue in Anderlecht, in Brussels.
- A man fired a shotgun twice at a kosher butcher's shop in a village near the southern city of Toulouse.
- Arsonists tried to burn down a synagogue in Strasbourg, in the east, but failed to do serious damage.
- A Jewish school was broken into in Sarcelles, north of Paris.
- A Jewish couple was assaulted in the town of Villeurbanne, in the Rhone region, causing the woman to spend the night in hospital.

posted by Asparagirl at 10:12 AM on March 14, 2004


BTW, a note about Nidra Poller's politics: she's a Leftist (extremely so--that's part of the reason she left the US for France) and she mentions that in her piece. And Commentary, where this essay appeared, is also known for it's mostly-leftist stance. The reason her name comes up linked to right-wing magazines like National Review is that they agreed to publish the English translations of a number of pieces she's written from 2000-2003 which are being collected into a book. For people like talos to call her "this neocon nut" is flat-out wrong.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:17 AM on March 14, 2004


it is clear that those who don't give their total, unwavering, blind support to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the exponential growth of illegal Israeli settlements in, ahem, Judea and Samaria, it is clear that such people are anti-Semites

What the hell are you talking about? Poller's piece is about French Jews, not Israeli politics. Her piece talks about the rising danger in France, and the not-incidental correlation between local anti-Zionist fervor and local anti-semitic attacks, arsons, and murders. And anyway, given her Leftist background, I would think she's not a Likudnik.

oh, and Euopeans are smelly, too

Well, yeah, no argument there.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:26 AM on March 14, 2004


- Petrol bombs were thrown at the windows of a synagogue in Anderlecht, in Brussels.

Why aren't we blaming the Belgians then?

Shaky grasp of geography notwithstanding, I know of many incidents similar to the ones that you cite in the UK over a similar period, just from reading / listening to local news.

I'm afraid that my major problem with this thread, and similar ones that I have seen in other fora is that it seems to be more an attempt to attack the French than to attack anti-semitism.
posted by bifter at 10:28 AM on March 14, 2004


French mosques and Islamic centres are also being attacked.

I just came across this somewhat astonishing article from Ha'aretz that describes how some French Jews vote for Le Pen because they like his anti-Muslim stance.

Poller's piece is about French Jews, not Israeli politics.

Israeli politics is brought in in the first sentence of the second paragraph.
posted by carter at 10:41 AM on March 14, 2004


Hey, there's plenty to say about the Belgians too. The Simon Weisenthal Center published a first-ever travel advisory about France and Belgium in 2002, warning Jews to be careful traveling there: In Belgium, the Chief Rabbi of Belgium was assaulted on the streets of Brussels and there are reports that religious Jews have been advised not to wear the traditional skullcap while walking in public.

The reason France gets the focus in this thread is simple: Poller's piece is about France. It could easily have been about Belgium, but that's not where she lives, and so that's not where the focus is.

And one of the problems with anti-semitism in France--and Europe more broadly--is not just that it's happening, but that it's not always acknowledged as happening (relative to the scope of the problem, anyway). Not just by the government, but by the local Jews themselves. As Poller writes: Many, perhaps the majority, show no outward signs of Jewishness and do not seek to know the truth about the rampant and increasingly violent anti-Semitism all around them. If you are Jewish but do not defend Israel or act too religious or look too different, you are not yet a target—so why insist on monitoring the danger when daily life is so delicious?

And as this piece makes clear: An additional problem that the researchers faced was that not all incidents are reported. In many cases, the Jewish communities prefer not to tell the local authorities about the attack at all, assuming that if the incidents are not made public knowledge, they will not encourage copycat attacks. In the final analysis, the researchers believe that the number of incidents reported is lower than the actual number.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:57 AM on March 14, 2004


Zionism is then extended to mean "The Jews". The Israeli Embassies and the old Zionist Organization Sochnut (The Jewish Agency) don't disabuse the idea, since their agenda would have all Jews represented by Israel.

I'm afraid that's the essence of it right there. Yes, there are crude racist attacks taking place under a political veneer that should make anyone conscious of 20th c. history feel sick. But most of the voices crying "racism" are compromised by themselves being knee-deep in promoting their political ideology over the interests of Jews per se. Sure, let's all be creepily reminded of Nazi anti-Semitism. But I'm also creeipily reminded of Ben-Gurion's cold enmity to the idea that the victims of that anti-Semitism might go to England or America instead of Israel, even if that meant the difference of survival for many. According to this Zionist logic, a Jew who is not "for Israel" (in one sense or the other) is expendable for the cause of Israel. And any threat to a militant Greater Israel renders threats to actual individual Jews insignificant in comparison—certainly, at least, we can't compromise the purity of Zionist doctrine by allowing any question of Jewish interests to be addressed apart from Israeli politics...
posted by Zurishaddai at 11:13 AM on March 14, 2004


I agree that Poller could have done a better job with providing some facts to back up her case, but that doesn't mean they're not there.
of course -- just like the WMD's.

Poller's piece is about French Jews, not Israeli politics.

what Carter already said: she immediately mentioned Israeli politics in her piece. here:

//The sea change began on September 28, 2000, when the domestic repercussions of Arafat’s prefabricated "al-Aqsa" intifada in Jerusalem//
"Arafat prefabricated"?
and why the quotes for al Aqsa?
weird how she doesn't replace "Palestinian" with that cute made-up warblogger-wet-dream word: "Jordyptian". maybe that would have been too much, even for Commentary
(please don't start me on the "Commentary's is a liberal magazine" thing. Gore Vidal shot that particular fish in a barrel when I was in Middle School, so it kind of gets old. it's also interesting to note how Vidal, for daring to speak out against Podhoretz, was then promptly accused of what else, antiSemitism. funny how history repeats herself. my regards to Poddy, by the way)

you know, asparagirl, I'm sad that you're still insisting for us to take this silly (WARNING: "silly" is how it was executed, the piece's topic -- anti-Semitism -- is not only not-silly but very very very serious indeed, before you misquote me and brand me an anti-Semite too) piece of writing seriously.

but since you seem to insist:

it's hardly relevant NOW why this lady chose 32 years ago to leave America -- and even if she was a liberal, or even a commie (in short, a JaneFonda-JohnKerry lover), it doesn't tell us anything about her politics now (Reagan was a FDR-loving liberal NewDealer, once upon a time, did you know that? but that was of course before he started to work as a fink for J Edgar Hoover, but I'm digressing). you know, this whole "neocons are not right-wingers" debate always reminds me of poor Andy Sullivan -- I don't know why. ;)

in 2004, the lady is writing (quite badly*) about some of the sorriest anti-UE, anti-Arab right-wing straw men and bogeymen

* I quote from the piece:

" I lash myself to the mast and close my senses to the sirens, while my heart rings with pride for "the land of the free and the home of the brave. "

I lash myself to the mast?
Jesus Christ. no wonder her literary career hasn't been that successful these last four decades. this is a script for a Monty Phyton skit, not a op-ed about a serious, important topic like anti-Semitism


oh, and Euopeans are smelly, too

Well, yeah, no argument there.

be flip about it all you want, but this lady with all her talk about "shopping being patriotic" and about the Nouvel Observateur being a liberal-media-conspiracy tool is one Jerry Lewis joke away from becoming laughable. wait, maybe she already is!

but I'm happy that finally ms Poller, after a long and not exactly impressive career, has managed to find a good niche for herself: a "the French are anti-semitical cowards" op-ed writer will always find a decent gig with the more right-wing, Likud-loving sections of the American media (talk radio caveman/drug addict hosts will love her too!). and finding a niche, no matter how dishonest and fact-distorting, for a writer is oh-so-important to earn a decent living, as various post-911 cases show so clearly.

hating the French because they're cynical (as opposed to idealistic, GOP-run America, one imagines) is pretty tired by now (but perfect for the intellectual level of the "throwing brie down the toilet as political act" contigent of the American public).
but using the smear of anti-Semitism against an entire nation for political reasons, on the other hand is downright obscene

again, some people should really try to make a distinction between these two entities:

1 - a particularly right-wing Israel government
and
2- Jews in general

disagreeing with the former does not mean one hates the latter. it often means the exact opposite (since we all remember how Sharon suceeded in dismantling the PLO invading Lebanon 22 years ago, right? and we see how succesful he is in ensuring safety for Israelis now)
it takes balls -- and terrible cynicism -- to do otherwise and use the scarlet letter of anti-semitism to try to intimidate -- or silence -- one's political enemies

any sane person should be worried of anti-Semitism, a very real problem (especially in a western nation with a overwhelming Muslim population, like France, and if immigration trends go on like they did recently, it'll be a problem for the whole West very soon). but mrs Poller is only polluting the debate.

bah.

anyway check this editorial out:

"In Paris dogs shit all over the sidewalks!"
by matteo

do I have a chance of being published in Commentary as well?
posted by matteo at 12:21 PM on March 14, 2004


And Commentary, where this essay appeared, is also known for it's mostly-leftist stance.

Asparagirl, this is an interesting post, but...when did Commentary become "liberal," let alone "leftist"? (I mean, this would come as news to Norman Podhoretz.) Your description applies to Tikkun, not Commentary.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:28 PM on March 14, 2004



correction:
in the end of my comment, it should read "overwhelmingly less-affluent Muslim population" not "overwhelming Muslim population", my mystake. so much for overlong comments.


on preview I see thomas j wise shares my surprise for the "Commentary is liberal" thing. poor Michael Lerner must be bawling his eyes out.
posted by matteo at 12:34 PM on March 14, 2004


again, some people should really try to make a distinction between these two entities:

1 - a particularly right-wing Israel government
and
2- Jews in general


But isn't the point (perhaps not of the article, but of this discussion) that this works both ways -- this failure leads to unfounded charges of anti-semitism, *and* in the case of the aforementioned anti-globalisation anarchists, *to* antisemitism.

For what it's worth, I don't think it's possible to disentangle Israel from any discussion of anti-semitism, as people seem to want: when you get down to it, antisemitism in Europe has always rested on four pillars, namely European nationalism, Jewish Zionism, global anti-capitalism, and racial intolerance. The old myth that breeds anti-semitism is that the Jews, who make up an international financial elite held together by blood ties, keep European nations (and, thus, races) down while secretly furthering their Zionist aims. The convergence of anti-globalist protestors, Israeli-Palestinian politics, a crisis of French national identity, and immigration is no accident: it is history repeating itself, as when disenfranchised, post-WWI populations, national socialist parties, national disintegration and the specter of Zionism combined after WWI. Equally as important is the fact that this history is repeating not in the vacuum after WWI, but in the more controlled and stable environment of modern Europe. What's most dismaying about anti-Semitism in Europe is that it is clearly a reliable symptom of social discontent among rootless people, and yet no government seems to be connecting the two in an intelligent way.

In other words, you can't disentangle these issues because anti-Semitism comes from all of them at once. If you want to diffuse anti-Semitism you have to make inclusive gestures--you have to take the powerless (in this case, not only Muslim immigrants, but also activists who consider themselves powerless against the world's money-lenders) and give them a place in your society. French secular nationalism is still nationalism and is not very good at creating a place for these disaffected people. If you want to show people that their lives are not controlled by an invisible conspiracy you have to enfranchise them--which is why the headscarf ban, and the French culture of national-identity-through-will, seems so misguided to me.
posted by josh at 12:43 PM on March 14, 2004


The reason France gets the focus in this thread is simple: Poller's piece is about France. It could easily have been about Belgium, but that's not where she lives, and so that's not where the focus is.

Of course, that is obvious and taken. My point is more this: would Poller's article have even been published had she recounted the same experiences in Poland, Germany or anywhere among dozens of countries with - I believe - a comparable level of anti-semitism to France? In my experience, the answer is a clear no - editors know their audience, and the meme-pull of a France-baiting article to warbloggers is too much to resist.

I am yet to be convinced that France is significantly more guilty of antisemitism than anywhere else, or that anti-semitism is any more prevalent a form of racism in France that that expressed towards North Africans, arabs or other groups. With an hour of research I can show you a couple of dozen articles about anti-semitic attacks in the UK from recent times: cemetary desecrations, paint thrown in synagogues etc. Maybe you are aware that this is happening already, maybe you are not. I continue to feel uncomfortable however at the eagerness with which one nation is put forward as a whipping boy for us to all tut over.

Believe me, I share your disgust at anti-semitism (as I do at racism of any kind). But I'm afraid that this type of article, and the political sentiment that drives demand for its publication, reinforces its own particular prejudice. I didn't like it when the trots in the UK co-opted racism for political advantage in the early 80s, and I don't like it when the right in the US does it now.

On preview: I agree largely with Matteo
posted by bifter at 12:54 PM on March 14, 2004


Zaelic: "All over east paris, on the day of the demo, anything publicly Jewish on the streets - a kosher shop, a poster for a cultural event, the doors of the Yiddish Institute - got swastika-ed."

My point is that, maybe, since it wasn't only the left but a good proportion of disaffected non-political Arab youth that participated in these demonstrations, it wasn't the left that painted the swastikas...

josh: one has to search for a "larouchean" kind of left to find anti-semitism based on the characteristics you describe. There is no evidence that any serious party of the left (and I mean left of the socialists) in Europe has ever made such ridiculous connections:
"the Jews, who make up an international financial elite held together by blood ties, keep European nations (and, thus, races) down while secretly furthering their Zionist aims".
The left I'm acquainted with, is against the Israeli occupation and destruction of the Palestinian people, pretty much for the same moral reason that it's against Turkish suppression of its Kurds, or was against Indonesian occupation of East Timor - only louder since the Middle East is rather more crucial to Europe and the World (being the world's gas tank) than Timor. Another factor is of course that Israel is considered the US battleship in the Mid-East...
posted by talos at 1:08 PM on March 14, 2004


I am an American, Jewish and I have lived in England for over thirty years. I don't wear a yarmulkah and I don't go to any synagogue. I am secular. In other words, I am the kind of Jew that Poller rejects. However, what I read between her lines is something that I also see here in America - where I am at the moment - that seems to me not all that much different from what she sees happening in France. Or at least its a precusor to the antisemitism. That is, widespread fear. This is being promoted here by the current administration and their allies and it has taken. I speak to people regularly - mostly not the sort of folks who find their way to this site - and they invariably tell me what a great president we have. When I ask why they feel that way they invariably tell me that he is protecting them from the terrorists. They say that we have had no terrorist attacks since 9-11. If the conversation gets much further, they let on that its not only Arab terrorists that frighten them but all those hoards of illegal immigrants who are everywhere. And for some reason that believe that Mr Bush is protecting them from that too. In this part of America the illegal immigrants are mostly Latino. But their fear and suspicion of these folks are only a short step away from thinking of the Jews as probably colluding to get and profit from all that cheap labor.

Oh, and those who comment on how Poller couldn't possibly be a neo-con because of her left wing background ought to check up on the likes of Christopher Hitchens who used to be a Trotskyite and has now switched sides completely. Not only that but he now claims to be Jewish.
posted by donfactor at 1:10 PM on March 14, 2004


antisemitism in Europe has always rested on four pillars, namely European nationalism, Jewish Zionism, global anti-capitalism, and racial intolerance.

That may describe the present manifestation, but it doesn't rightly cover history before 1900. French anti-semitism - and I am not making a statement that the French are anti-semitic - takes a particular form from old Catholic antisemitism. The Catholic Church may have reformed, but as Mel Gibson has shown us, not all Catholics accept those reforms, and there are a lot of French who reject Vatican II. My Alsatian Jewish friend's wife just left him when her family started a return to "traditional catholicism."

France is also the land that gave us the Dreyfus Affair. And the traditon of french intellectual antisemitism was influential on the thinking of the first 19th century generation of Arab writers and intellectuals from the Levant, many of whom were Maronite catholics receiving an education in Paris.

I am merely trying to establish that racism, antisemitism, or nationalism take very specific forms in different places at different times. Yes, there is antisemitism in France, but I wouldn't say the place is anti semitic. In Hungary, antisemitism is a daily part of political discourse, yet nobody on the street gives a second thought to Jews. It's a matter of scale and perspective. I travel around Europe constantly, and you see it differently in different locales. I'm going to Holland next week. No noticeable antisemitism, very few jews, but of course a few oddball Dutch nationalists and there was a bomb threat in Eindhoven at on of our gigs a few years back. Later Eindhoven police busted one of the largest Al Qaeda cells in Europe.

Bifter is probably right about the anti France meme - I have noticed a lot of articles (last week NY Times...) about those "French" their arrogant antisemitism. Could be the election year.
posted by zaelic at 1:21 PM on March 14, 2004


That may describe the present manifestation, but it doesn't rightly cover history before 1900.

I would have to disagree: from everything I've known, the mobilization of 'mass' antisemitism -- 'mob' antisemitism -- has always rested on the idea that there is a conspiracy of ruling-class Jews that works against the interests of a local nationalism. It was true in Germany in the '30s, true in France, even during the Dreyfus Affair, and it continues in this country today: folks might recall charges by nationalist, right-wing, 'Values' politicians against the Jewish intellectual media 'conspiracy.' It's the same old stuff, round and round. The idea is that the Jews have all the money and power, and that, because they're all a big clan, they wield it in their own (Zionist) interests against 'us.' Obviously these are what you call "ridiculous connections," Talos, but what else is antisemitism?

Meanwhile, I didn't say anything about the left -- anti-globalists who also paint swastikas on synagogues don't do so because they're on the left; that's certainly not what I meant to say; I'm on the left! :) What I really meant to argue was that antisemitism, historically, is quite often a malignant variant of class hatred, as when European antisemites hated middle-class Jews mid-century. Antisemitism, obviously, isn't left or right; it grows out of both, from class anger on the left side, and from nationalism on the right. If you ever listen to an antisemitic argument (say, the Jewish media argument), you'll find that it holds that Jews work together, wielding their cabbalistic influence to undermine the values and rights of your average working-class person. This is the argument that held sway in Europe in the '20s, '30s, and '40s, and the argument that inspires people today to argue that America and israel are united in a global capitalist conspiracy -- which, hey, is crazy, but is what lots of crazy people believe.

I'm talking about the kind of antisemitism that allied itself with fascism, and I suppose there are other kinds of antisemitism as well (like the 'Catholic' kind, although I personally doubt that 'Catholic antisemitism' could really exist without other social forces to buttress it). Obviously, as zaelic writes, there are different kinds of forces at work at different places in different times; at the same time, there are some commonalities at work here too. This is why you can't treat the issue by saying that "the French are antisemitic"; rather, you have to say that antisemitism has occurred because of specific social conditions, and take social steps to stop it. I would say that the charge that the French are antisemitic has probably led a little bit towards their reluctance to address it. The debate needs to be more complicated than "Resolved: France is antisemitic, aye or nay?" Its not 'France' that is antisemitic; individuals are, and probably having their own ethnicity marginalized by a cultural nationalism isn't helping. The French aren't antisemitic, but it seems to me that they might be inadvertantely causing antisemitism.
posted by josh at 1:55 PM on March 14, 2004


Zaelic, re-reading your post, I'm not disagreeing with you -- I'm just saying that the type of antisemitism we see in France now is not "French antisemitism," but rather 'class antisemitism,' which is, I think, a lot more prevalent on a global scale. I would be surprised if French Catholics are the ones burning down synagogues. French Catholic antisemitism is not what convinced the anti-Dreyfusards to crash down Jewish shop-fronts: that was a mixture of class hatred, nationalism, and irrationality, directed against the 'Jewish class.'
posted by josh at 2:07 PM on March 14, 2004


the idea that there is a conspiracy of ruling-class Jews that works against the interests of a local nationalism

Precisely: the conspiracy theories, the Elders of Zion hoax, the banking accusations (Monsieur Rothschild, si'l vous plais) are relatively modern forms of antisemitism that develope with the rise of nationalism (1840s) and modern finance (1860s) and the brith of Zionism (1890s.) that was not a long time ago, and we are still feeling the repercussions. It led to Nazism, and Europe really does hate Nazism and for years anti-Nazism tempered any possible return to the old sources for antisemitism.

"Catholic" antisemitism - based on the who killed Jesus?argument - however, was pervasive in France, Austria, Poland and Italy (where it survived the longest.) Now that nationalism/populism/antiglobalism is a new right wing trend it re-emerges in those places where many Catholics reject the Vatican reforms of the 1960s. Such as France. Yes, there are people going to see Mel Gibson's film and taking it as gospel truth. And when a nationalist meets a disgruntled Arab he at least can find common ground in turning the discussion against a common enemy.

That said, I want some maigret duck breasts with honey sauce, potato gratin, and a nice bottle of Sancerre 1992. And some fine epoisse cheese to finish it off. Keep it comin'!
posted by zaelic at 2:22 PM on March 14, 2004


the brith of Zionism

sorry, uh... extreme freudian slip... and spell check confusion. My spell checker is antisemitic. Have you all noticed that when you check antisemitic your spell checker suggests antiemetic?
posted by zaelic at 2:25 PM on March 14, 2004


Hahahaha, me too!

Well, I guess we're rather meeting in the middle: since I would say that obviously your average Arab immigrant to France does not care who killed Jesus. I'm more focused on the globalism-disgruntled -immigrant connection, as opposed to the old-Frenchman-disgruntled-immigrant connection. I would take Hannah Arendt's line on the Dreyfus Affair: that while traditional hatred of Jews among the military aristocracy was straightforward and old-fashioned, hatred of the Jews among the rabble was roused by exactly this modern, nationalistic kind of antisemitism. That was the great 'discovery' of the Dreyfus Affair.

I don't know what can be done about the 'who killed Jesus?' argument -- but I hope that something can be done about the 'blame inequality on the Jews' argument. . . . That seems to me the more socially addressable of the two.
posted by josh at 2:33 PM on March 14, 2004


The Pope already did something about the Jesus argument, and it damn near split his church.

Among European nationalists of the presentable, center-right form (George Haider, Le Pen, Liga Nord) there is a tendancy to reach out to other disgruntled bastards regardless of race. Remember murdered Dutch right winger Pim Fortuyn? His running mate was a Cape Verdean immigrant.

A lot of my french buddies resent that the last race had to be between Chirac and Le Pen. That's like a race between Rumsfeld and Ashcroft.
posted by zaelic at 2:48 PM on March 14, 2004


I am yet to be convinced that France is significantly more guilty of antisemitism than anywhere else

That's a really good point to pursue: it would be helpful to the debate to see hard stats on anti-semitic violence/vandalism in France compared to other countries. The closest I could find online was the ADL's multi-country report from 2003 and their work-in-progress for 2004. Both leave out many many French acts that they themselves list on other pages on their site, but also list many German acts that I wasn't aware of.

or that anti-semitism is any more prevalent a form of racism in France that that expressed towards North Africans, arabs or other groups.

That one should be easier to quantify. The latest (2002) study of hate crimes in France by the independent National Consulting Committee on Human Rights said that there were "313 acts of racially and religiously motivated violence" in France in 2002, which seems grossly underreported, but let's go with it. Of those, "193 of 313 attacks were against Jews in a "real explosion" of anti-Semitic violence" and 47 were attacks against North African Arabs. Given that France has about 600,000 Jews and over 5 million Muslims, the difference is notable not only in absoulte numbers, but in per capita.
posted by Asparagirl at 3:02 PM on March 14, 2004


The Pope already did something about the Jesus argument, and it damn near split his church.



if you're talking about John XXIII's and Paul VI's Vatican II, you're very very wrong.
"damn near split his church"?
no way, a few billion Catholics (except Cardinal Lefevre, Mel Gibson's Holocaust-denier daddy and a few thousand other creeps who decided to stick to their Jew-hating, anti-ecumenic, Latin-worshiping ways) just dropped Latin and the "you guys killed the Messiah" routine in un momento.
posted by matteo at 3:03 PM on March 14, 2004


More hard stats as grist for the mill: CRIF (France's umbrella group of Jewish organizations) lists the most recent French anti-Jewish attacks (it's in French, so use the fish). There have been roughly 55 so far between 1/1/04 and 2/24/04.
posted by Asparagirl at 3:12 PM on March 14, 2004


Matteo: You are right, but the traditional catholic movement in France is very strong, although underreported in the media. And growing.

Asparagirl: Yes. But what gets counted as an antiemetic act varies in different European countries. I actually think France should be praised for identifying a racist violent act as "antisemitic". (If I am right and they did and that is how the National Consulting Committee on Human Rights got the stats.) In Hungary, there is a law against "hate speech." But nobody has ever been convicted under it. Dozens of cases of knifings, beatings, etc against Jews and Gypsies but never a single conviction, and thus, never a statistic.

What I said earlier about Europe being essentially Anti-Nazi is variable. The fact that a country actually counts acts of antisemitism appears to me as a result of that tradition of sensitivity. Not all countries want to define antisemitism as a crime.
posted by zaelic at 3:31 PM on March 14, 2004


josh: to clarify, I didn't mean that people don't make these ridiculous connections, I meant that there is no serious Western leftist party that makes these ridiculous claims.

Listen, I find this continuing barage of "French anti-semitism" kind of ridiculous... It isn't that there isn't something behind this, but I would much rather be a Jew in France than a Moslem in France at the moment. The minority that's truly marginalized in France (by all economic standards) are the Arabs.
In other parts of Europe anti-semitism is much more alive and kicking than in France, but the Likud (US branch I'd wager) driven media campaign wants Americans (because no one in Europe takes this seriously) that those damn French can't be trusted because they are "anti-semitic"... Bollocks, Eastern Europe, Russia (now there's a cause of concern!) and even (here in) Greece, there is much more anti-semitism than there exists in France.
But here we really don't have a serious Arab immigrant population, so actual acts against Jews are few and far apart, commited by the sort of Nazi groups that get 0.01 in the general elections.

Asparagirl... All the numbers in the world cannot hide the fact that this "anti-semitism" you describe is not a French issue at all but rather the result of disenfranchised younf Arab males attacking Jews as proxy representatives for the state of Israel. This is about as significant an indication of "anti-semitism" in the French society as the attacks by Kurds against Turks in Germany are indicative of an "anti-Turkic" racism (which exists BTW but is equally aimed against Turks and Kurds alike).
If Tutsis start attacking Hutus in Greece, would that be evidence of Greek "anti-Hutuism"?
posted by talos at 3:35 PM on March 14, 2004


...or what zaelic said better and much more eloquently.
posted by talos at 3:50 PM on March 14, 2004


And Mefites in the US and Canada should remember: you have relatively little personal experience with the political dialogue of anti semitism. In Europe it is an issue. neither the Dems or Repubs are going to bring up the Elders (or Yuppies) of Zion during a campaign. In Europe (but never in Britain or Germany!) it always happens during the last three weeks of a campaign. So much so that it isn't really even a news story.

One time, driving with my band from France back to Hungary, the van driver asked me "Zaelic, how does America deal with the Jewish Question?" All I could tell him was that in America there is no Jewish Question.
posted by zaelic at 4:02 PM on March 14, 2004


Talos, you made the same argument a year ago and I still don't buy it. The disenfranchised young Arab males are still French. Their motivation may indeed be that they see French Jews as convenient proxies for Israel, but this is still taking place in the context of French society, influenced by a French history of various types of anti-semitism going back to Vichy and to Dreyfus and to way before that, and mitigated (or not) by how the French government wants to deal (or not) with the problem.

French society doesn't get a pass that this violence is going on unchecked in their midst just because a "real" (Catholic, native) Frenchman isn't likely to be the perpetrator. I cannot agree that systematic firebombings, stabbings, arsons, vandalism, and intimidation of French citizens by French citizens--whatever the religion or ethnic group of either the insitigator or victim--is somehow "not a French issue at all".
posted by Asparagirl at 4:03 PM on March 14, 2004


the Elders (or Yuppies) of Zion

Looks like I've been outed. :-)

in America there is no Jewish Question

Word.
posted by Asparagirl at 4:05 PM on March 14, 2004


Time for a Jewish Joke!

This one told me by a Jewish guy from Munckacs, now in the western Ukraine.

In the 1960s, Russian Prime Minister Krushchov and US President Kennedy meet. Krushchov asks Kennedy "You know John, we have 40 Jews in the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. How many Jews do you have in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra?"

Kennedy answers: "I don't know"
posted by zaelic at 4:12 PM on March 14, 2004


I've read that all the old "blood libel" and protocols stuff is still actively disseminated in Arab countries--sometimes even in schoolbooks.

Is this woman bringing her whole family back here or no? (and i wish she was a better writer)

and zaelic : >
posted by amberglow at 4:13 PM on March 14, 2004


[good discussion y'all]
posted by carter at 4:17 PM on March 14, 2004


protocols stuff is still actively disseminated in Arab countries

Oh hell yeah. The good ole Protocols just got turned into a thirty-part miniseries on state-run Egyptian TV starring a cast of 400 (and syndicated out to other Arab countries) as a Ramadan TV special (!).
posted by Asparagirl at 4:24 PM on March 14, 2004


And Egypt has relatively good relations with Israel!
posted by zaelic at 4:37 PM on March 14, 2004


"The disenfranchised young Arab males are still French."
A lot of these same young Arab males would probably take offense at this.
French society does get a pass because they are trying to do something about it as zaelic pointed out. It is noteworthy, however, that not all those eager to do something about anti-semitic attacks (commendable as they are) are necessarily eager to do anything at all about the marginalization of the Arab population.
The reason for this I think, is class based: regardless of religion, Jews in France are considered more or less nice, middle class, basically French people. Their problem is visible. Most of the Arabs on the other hand are not middle class at all. To a portion of the population, they're just filthy Arabs who should go back where they came from. They are meant to be marginalized.
I say this last bit with some uncertainty: This was my impression, I will easily mince my words should a French MeFite correct me...

Oh and check this for where the (trotskyite) far left stands on the issue - and this for a description of a rather messy, non-manichean situation... (taken from here)
posted by talos at 4:53 PM on March 14, 2004


Talos - you are in Thessaloniki, right? I'm in Budapest. It's time tor us to go to sleep. All the Americans are getting ready for the Sopranos. We gotta get some beddy-bye. G'nite! Z.

On the whole, on of the more upright threads on anything near this topic Mefi has maintained in a long time.
posted by zaelic at 5:30 PM on March 14, 2004


in America there is no Jewish Question

Word.


of course not.
it'd be much more interesting (especially for concerned taxpayers) to ponder a, ahem, Israel Aid Question: in a country like the US where foreign aid is not necessarily popular and often a target of "disengagement" politicians, how much money does exactly travel from Washington to Israel (tentative answer: about 1.2 or 1.3 trillion dollars since 1967, your guess is as good as anybody since it's taken from so many different Federal budgets)?
many interesting questions follow it. examples: how come no US President -- Republican or Democrat -- ever feels like really putting pressure on the Israeli PMs and the Knesset they so heavily subsidize in order to try to exert some influence on Israel's choices when/if they seem to go against Washington's interest of policy decisions (recent examples, the road map, the separation wall)?
are US citizens mostly aware or unaware of the very large amount of American money going to Israel (God knows the issue of the EU aid to the Palestinian Authority is often mentioned in Israel coverage)? are they happy with the situation?
is the media doing a good/average/poor job informing US taxpayers re US aid to Israel? are Americans in favor of more or less (not that any sane politician -- with the exception of Ralph Nader who's certainly not a politician and maybe not even particularly sane -- would ever sponsor and finally deliver any cut plan) aid to Israel?


you know, one also ponder such questions whenever that tired old issue, ie the EU not being "fair" when it comes to intervene in Israeli/Palestinian problem because of the EU's own aid to the PA, rears its unpleasant head.

posted by matteo at 5:56 PM on March 14, 2004


Matteo, dude: this has been all about understanding the what happens in Israel is not the same thing as what happens to Jewish people all over the world. I'm very happy that you are a very smart person. You is also butt bottom dumb. The whole argument here has been about Jews, non-jews, and Israelis as three different groups. And you want to link Israel to anything affecting Jewish life any where in da whole world. Well, in one form you are right, we Jews and Israel are linked. Problem is, the link has a detonator and some nasty bastids like it that way.
posted by zaelic at 6:11 PM on March 14, 2004


The whole argument here has been about Jews, non-jews, and Israelis as three different groups.

no it hasn't and you probably know it.
after all the talk about French Arab thugs attacking French Jews because they hate Israel, you can't separate these entities.

my much simpler point was, it's unfair (and lazy) to smear and attack as anti-Semites those who criticize Israel's government.

but Israel, unfortunately, doesn't exist in a vacuum.

my much more narrow point is, does a US taxpayer have the right to know how much of his money is being used to, say, build a West Bank settlement?
is it OK to smear the EU as pro-terrorist because of their economic aid to the PA and dismiss criticism on the US fairness regarding the I/P problem?

it's much more narrow.
and this whole post is about diaspora. you can't separate Jews, Gentiles and Israel when talking about a Jew who wants to escape Europe because -- one assumes -- history is going to repeat herself soon.
you just can't.
if France is back to 1937, or '38, like the Poller lady is arguing, you can't make that distinction. fact is, the Commentary lady is the one polluting the waters of the debate, not me
not to mention not even the original poster is defending either the article's qualities or the accuracy of statements like "Commentary is liberal"

ps I couldn't care less of what you think about my brains -- just don't call me dude.
posted by matteo at 6:36 PM on March 14, 2004


Matteo, sorry about the 'dude.' Your brains are working faster than mine.

my much simpler point was, it's unfair (and lazy) to smear and attack as anti-Semites those who criticize Israel's government.

Absolutely with you on that. Some of the most strident critics of Israeli policy are Israelis themselves.

does a US taxpayer have the right to know...

Of course he has the right to know, but 90% of Americans get their information in filtered doses, and the present administration does not really respect any of the usual rights. (Don't want to start speculating here and now on how much Saudi money is going to finance the Republican campaign.)

is it OK to smear the EU as pro-terrorist because of their economic aid to the PA

No, it is not OK. It is OK to criticize the Palestinian Authority on many things, but the EU economic support at least provides a possibility of a Palestinian political entity with which to negotiate.

You are correct about the intertwined fates of Jews with Israeli/Zionist identities in Europe. A lot of my connections are with Hungarian Jews who have very little religious affiliation but come from generations of firm Zionists. The other connections are among very religious Hasidic Jews of the Satmar and Vizhnitz sects who openly condemn Zionism. A lot of the first group emigrated to Israel after 1990 and the rise of the right wing in Hungary, while Hasidism has been slowly reviving in Hungary.

But I don't think France is back to 1937. Nor is Hungary or any EU nation.
posted by zaelic at 5:10 AM on March 15, 2004


very religious Hasidic Jews of the Satmar and Vizhnitz sects who openly condemn Zionism. A lot of the first group emigrated to Israel after 1990 and the rise of the right wing in Hungary, while Hasidism has been slowly reviving in Hungary.

sounds great, great material for an interesting MeFi thread. if you ever have the time (and the links) to make that stuff gel into a front page post, I'll very happily read it -- and bookmark it for later reference. (God knows I've been thinking about posting a Vishniac thread for months now, I may very well do that soon).

But I don't think France is back to 1937. Nor is Hungary or any EU nation.

No "Commentary" gig for you, either, then. but it's probably their loss
;)
posted by matteo at 8:43 AM on March 15, 2004


Maybe not a FPP. How about Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum of the Satmar hasidim for a start,

According to Teitelbaum, God and the Jewish people exchanged three oaths at the time of the Jews' exile from ancient Israel:


That the Jewish people would not rebel against the non-Jews that ruled over them;
That the Jewish people would not return to Israel (although individual Jews could do so);
That God would not allow the non-Jewish world to persecute the Jews excessively.
This was the position of most of the ultra-Orthodox world until the Holocaust. Even today, many ultra-Orthodox Jews, including the Agudat Israel party, which has participated in most of Israel's coalition governments, accept the validity of these oaths. They argue either that the Holocaust represented "excessive persecution," and therefore the Jews are released from the second oath, or, more commonly, that although they are opposed to Zionism, Israel exists as a state, and it would be better to cooperate with it than to actively oppose it.


A lot of the Jewish Orthodox anti Zionism has roots in the teachings of Rabbi Itzak Taub of Nagykallo, Hungary, also known as the Kalever. The present day Kalever rebbe lives in Israel but is very foxy about answering whether he is anti-zionist. A lot of his followers are members of Naturei Karta, one of the biggest Hasidic anti Zionist groups. I've met some of them. I wouldn't bring one home to meet Mom.

then there is this: Herzl's Zionist dream received less support in the country of his birth than almost anywhere else. Immediately after the 1897 Zionist Congress in Basel, Samuel Kohn, Chief Rabbi of Hungary, declared: "We are Magyars of the Hungarian religion. There is no place for a Jewish national movement among us."
posted by zaelic at 9:12 AM on March 15, 2004


I don't want to derail this thread by changing the topic, but some of that Naturei Karta site is amazing reading, though. And you can click and read it in Arabic as well.
posted by zaelic at 9:21 AM on March 15, 2004


Asparagirl,

I feel that I have to respectfully take issue with some of your earlier comments.

You state that “it would be helpful to the debate to see hard stats on anti-Semitic violence/vandalism in France compared to other countries.”

While not incorrect in and of itself, you comment is disingenuous at best because – as you well know – the relevant comparator would be towards religiously motivated crimes committed against other faiths in the same country.

Not one of the links which you provide compares the alleged incidence rate of anti-Semitic crime, to crime allegedly motivated by hatred of other religions, nor attempts to rebase alleged anti Semitic crime against this baseline.

Not being French, I’ll have to extrapolate from the UK using the reasoning that whatever the comparable figures, they’re unlikely to be more than 25% out (figure plucked from the air – mea culpa.)

A bit of Googling reveals that there were in excess of 3,500 crimes committed against Anglican churches in the UK in 2002 yet there’s no suggestion that there’s an ingrained hatred of Anglicanism as a casual factor. (Do bear in mind that in the UK somewhere in the region of 75% crime isn’t reported so the figure given above is likely to vastly underestimate the true figure.) In the absence of comparative data, am I to assume – as you appear to have from your sources – that there is a rising tide of anti-Anglicanism in Britain?

Crimes of violence against the church in South Yorkshire shot up by a factor of 15 between 1999 and 2002. I hope that you’ll forgive me when I point out that this contrasts with the alleged fourfold increase in anti-Semitic attacks in France between 2001 and 2002. Before you point it out, I aware that I’m spinning the figures linked above disgracefully but unless you’re absolutely confident that “the independent National Consulting Committee on Human Rights” aren’t doing at least partially the same thing I’d counsel you not to come too resolutely to their defence in this area.

Having worked in NGO advocacy community, let me assure you that there’s not a single outfit in the game that doesn’t spin its figures to suit its agenda.

Which, somewhat distasteful point, brings me on to my second issue. While many of the examples listed in the links you’ve given are clear – and inexcusable – hate crimes, many appear to be simple incidents of vandalism. So then, a question? Is a crime ipso facto anti-Semitic simply by virtue of the fact that the victim is Jewish?

There is a precept in English criminal law (from which American criminal law is more than in part derived – comparable mechanisms are found in the civil law jurisdictions of Continental Europe) called mens rea. Put simply, it means that without a guilty mind there is no crime. (Barring strict liability offences, but let’s not go there.)

In attributing a mens rea of racial hatred and anti-Semitism to all and any crimes committed against Jews in order to be able to more convincingly bang the ‘anti-Semitism in Europe is on the rise again’ drum, you demean real struggle for a universal acceptance of minorities in the developed world for tawdry, short term political capital.

Britain, France and I daresay America too is a pretty shitty place in many places these days. The kids on my very street – in one of London’s more expensive neighbourhoods – take delight in low level crime and push each other to excel at ever more ‘gangsta’ feats. They love the badness of low-level lawbreaking and desecrating churches or spraying swastikas onto Synagogues isn’t a conscious expression of political motivation, disestablishmentarianism nor of anti Semitism, it’s simply little shits being little shits. Similarly, vandalism or robbery is often simply just that, even where victim is a kosher butcher, orthodox school or other Jewish victim.

To try and attribute Front National or BNP to all and every one of these events demeans those who truly suffer from prejudice and obscures the real struggle to build a more just society for all.
posted by dmt at 5:23 PM on March 15, 2004


dmt: excellent post, your last point about youth transgression echoes the following views (from the Zeek article I posted above):

"The lead singer of the politically active beur music group Zebda, Magyd Cherfi, put it rather plainly in Le Nouvel Observateur: "One talks of antisemitic incidents that are linked to the Intifada. I don't believe it. The beurs who attack Jews, they are structure-less children who have understood that antisemitism attracts the media. They were looking for the greatest transgression, and they found it. But one cannot convince me that the aggressions one's talking about are consciously political."
posted by talos at 6:55 PM on March 15, 2004


I'd just like to chime in here again and agree with carter.
posted by moonbiter at 7:04 PM on March 15, 2004


While not incorrect in and of itself, you comment is disingenuous at best because – as you well know – the relevant comparator would be towards religiously motivated crimes committed against other faiths in the same country.

dmt, that's a good point--but isn't that the same sort of break-down I was trying to dig through above, where I compared the absolute and relative rates of anti-Jewish violence vs. anti-Arab violence? (I couldn't find any stats on anti-Catholic violence from that report.) And while NGO's can indeed be dodgy, I think the National Consulting Committee on Human Rights was actually hired by the French government to do that report--so while they may indeed have a bias, I think it would be in the direction of under-estimating the number of attacks against various French minority groups, given how adamant the French government is that there's no problem with anti-semitism in France, nothing to see here, move along, etc.

While many of the examples listed in the links you’ve given are clear – and inexcusable – hate crimes, many appear to be simple incidents of vandalism. So then, a question? Is a crime ipso facto anti-Semitic simply by virtue of the fact that the victim is Jewish?

I'm glad you brought that up. Of course, just because a victim of an attack is Jewish/Arab/insert-minority-here doesn't make the crime a "hate crime" per se. But the reports of the crimes that I've seen--and I'm no expert--do seem to have specifically anti-Jewish attitudes associated with them: stabbing rabbis in front of their synagogues and torching their cars, throwing rocks at easily-identified Jewish day school buses of Jewish schoolkids, threatening notes (sometimes with white powders) being delivered to Jewish service agencies like CRIF, and that sort of thing, rather than just reports of muggings where the victims just happened to be Jewish. Or there were the assaults on Jewish pedestrians who accidentally got too close to pro-Palestinian rallies--or Jews who were even marching with the anti-war protestors in some cases! In those cases, there seems to be a pretty clear political motivation for thse specific attacks--anti-Zionist political views (acceptable forms of behavior/speech, though I personally don't share them) delivered via anti-semitic attacks (unacceptable forms). In those cases, it's the timing of the attacks that give a pretty clear indication of mindset or mens rea. Also, the reported sharp uptick in anti-semitic crimes came, as Poller and many others have noted, concordantly with the start of the second Intifadah, not 9/11 or the Iraq war or any other specific event that people have yet noted. That goes to the attackers' presumed motive (or often times, their expressly stated motive), too: not just random crime, but crime that grows out of political or religious fervor.

One other question that I just started thinking about (sparked by your questions) is what the overall crime rate is like in France these days compared to reported anti-Jewish (or anti-Arab) hate crime reports. Is everything (rape, arson, whatever) having an uptick in crime, thus making the hate crimes, though serious, just part of a nasty overall trend? I have no answers for that one, but it would be one more interesting stat for the pile.

Finally, thanks for a great thread, everyone! In posting this, I was focusing more on anecdotal first-hand accounts of anti-semitism like Nidra Poller's, but it's clear it would be beneficial to everyone to have more stats and more unattached dispassionate analysis on this issue--and less "lashing myself to the mast" and Thanksgiving-shopping-spree veneration and all that. :-)
posted by Asparagirl at 12:21 AM on March 16, 2004


more on anecdotal first-hand accounts of anti-semitism like Nidra Poller's

You probably could find some surfing around on the Jewish Telegraph Agency's site. But I think the point is that she doesn't really mirror Jewish, or Jewish expatriate thinking in Europe, and that's why stories similar to hers are not clogging the Jewish press. There is an old chestnut piece for journalists looking for an easy and endlessly recyclable freelance story which is the " [Fill in Name of European Country] Shows Rise in Antisemitism" story. I know because I've written a few of them. THe market for these pieces are mostly in the US, where lack of outright antisemitism creates a market for such stories. When I visit the States I have loads of friends and neighbors pressing me for stories about how whichever nationality I am talking about - French, Turkish, Polish - are really still a bunch of anti semites. And when I contradict that viewpoint as misinformed people seem to think I am just naive.
posted by zaelic at 1:44 AM on March 16, 2004


Very late in the thread, but this just out: According to a Pew research survey report - tremendously interesting in its own right - anti-semitism in France is not only low (comparable to the US), but declining...
posted by talos at 4:06 AM on March 17, 2004


Good find--and somewhat reassuring, too. But, on the other side of the issue, the Pew survey studies anti-Jewish sentiment--or at least the sentiments people are willing to own up to over the phone to a stranger, not actual crime rates.
posted by Asparagirl at 11:03 AM on March 18, 2004


just wanted to say that this has been a great thread, very interesting and i feel that I have learned a lot about the issue. What's especially amazing is that the source article, in my opinion, was badly written, annoying, and lacking in real substance. That being said, Asparagirl gets a gold star for keeping the discussion civil and illuminating throughout. It's a good example of how when someone really cares about an issue, and isn't just trolling, a great thread will emerge.
posted by chaz at 11:35 AM on March 18, 2004


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