Published on the 16th of November 2017 in Haaretz
Don’t call it “anti-Semitism”: The new term is “Jew hatred.” It’s not just semantic. The Muslims are of Semitic origin, and because most of the anti-Semitic incidents in France are perpetrated by Muslims, the French felt obligated to come up with a new term.
In the beginning there was Manuel Valls. France’s former prime minister was the first politician who dared to admit the existence of anti-Semitism of a new type in France, or so at least it will be documented in the minutes of the National Assembly. Last Wednesday (November 8), in a rare moment of consensus, the members of the French parliament burst into spontaneous applause when Prime Minister Edouard Philippe thanked his predecessor for “his clarity of thought and his absolute determination” in the struggle against a profound social problem that many in the French elite had preferred to ignore, hoping it would somehow just go away.
Since that original acknowledgment by Valls two years ago, which was accompanied by a special budget of 105 million euro, France has been investing considerable efforts in the banlieues, the impoverished suburbs of Paris, where an old French disease has been festering for decades in a new guise. “Let us not forget that we are winning this struggle,” President Emmanuel Macron told school pupils in September. Statistically, at least, he’s right: Anti-Semitic incidents have been declining steadily in the country over the past two years.
But 5,000 French Jews immigrated to Israel last year, and at least another 4,000 are expected to follow suit this year. The number of Jews who are leaving the suburbs in general is far higher. Estimates are that 50,000 of them have left the place where they were born and raised – Creteil, Sarcelles and other suburban towns that until not long ago were considered to have large Jewish populations – in favor of other, more affluent suburbs west of Paris, or the 17th arrondissement in the city itself, where hardly any Muslims live.
Other symptoms are trickier to pinpoint. For example, the fact that there are now next to no Jews in the public schools of the banlieues, and even in Paris itself most Jewish children attend private schools, either Jewish or Christian, a development that was inconceivable even 10 years ago. The public schools, where tuition is free, have many Muslim pupils, and there are incidents – and the first time a school has an incident, Jewish parents pull their children out of the school of the Republic in favor of the private sector. There, too, they will have a hard time forgetting that they are Jews, because these schools are closely guarded by the police and the army.
Nevertheless, France is convinced that it can be victorious in this struggle. It’s a struggle of consciousness as much as education. The educational efforts are aimed at young Muslims in the suburbs, the consciousness-raising effort at the politicians and journalists in Paris. Last week Le Monde devoted a lead headline to anti-Semitism in the banlieues – another phenomenon that would have been unimaginable a decade ago – and Le Figaro urged that the problem no longer be ignored and that it be recognized for what it is: the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on French soil.
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