It is a well worn refrain. You criticize Israel and Zionism? You are an anti-Semite! A French Jew wants to be able to ‘live fully his Judaism’? He is invited to make ‘aliyah’ and to do his bit for the colonization of Palestine. It is hammered into us that the history of Jewry has been brought to an end and that Israel is its end point. Israel functions as an eraser of Jewish history, of memory, of languages, of traditions and of Jewish identities. Israeli politics is not only criminal against the Palestinian people. It claims to be the heir of Jewish history when it has misrepresented that history and betrayed it. Israel knowingly puts the Jews in danger wherever they find themselves. And it transforms them into robots summoned to justify the unjustifiable.
Revisiting the recent past
The history of French Jewry has strictly nothing to do with Israel. Perennially dispossessed, massacred or expelled by a variety of very Christian Kings, the Jews have acquired French citizenship not least thanks to the advocacy of a priest, Henri Grégoire, during the Revolution. The last two centuries have been marked by a quest for citizenship and for equal rights under the law.
The Dreyfus affair highlighted that, if one part of French society was anti-Semitic, another part, ultimately the majority, considered that the acquittal and rehabilitation of Dreyfus was the objective of all those who were enamored of liberty and rejected racism. The history of French Jewry has been distinguished by its significant involvement in the resistance against Nazism and the Vichy regime, then by the engagement of many amongst them in progressive and/or anti-colonialist struggles. Among the notable Jewish intellectuals of this era were Raymond Aubrac, Marc Bloch, Laurent Schwartz, Pierre Vidal-Naquet and Stéphane Hessel.
It was an era when many Jews thought that their own emancipation was part of a universal emancipation. It was an epoch when racism, fascism and the hatred of ‘the other’ were considered as utterly unacceptable and had to be fought. Jewish children went to the public school system; the idea of separating themselves from others into faith-based schools would never have occurred to them.
In Israel today, there has been a concerted attempt to erase the history of Jews in the different countries where they lived. If Jews have for a long time been considered by anti-Semites in Europe as inassimilable pariahs and if they have been persecuted because they have constituted an obstacle to the mad nationalisms which dreamt of ethnically pure societies, they have never sought separation but, on the contrary, the integration into the societies in which they lived.
A call to desertion
One jumps forward to more recent times. At the head of a huge Parisian demonstration supposedly organized against terrorism, one finds three war criminals, Netanyahu, Lieberman and Bennett, who just made a name for themselves by massacring of more than 2000 Palestinians (mostly civilians) in Gaza during the summer of 2014. Profiting from the emotion generated by the anti-Semitic murders at the Porte de Vincennes, Netanyahu is empowered (by the French government)1 to declare to French Jews that they live with insecurity in France and that they should move to their ‘true’ country, Israel.
In fact, Zionism has never combated anti-Semitism. It has always endlessly fed on it with a single and unique objective: to entice as many Jews as possible to immigrate to Israel. As a result, Netanyahu has not hesitated to put French Jews in danger. He makes them into foreigners in their own country, ‘tourists’ who have not understood that their ‘homeland’ is down there. Jews are enjoined to become either ‘traitors’ (to the single and unique cause, that of Greater Israel from the river to the sea) or accomplices. France has always been considered a failure for Israel: hardly 80,000 Jews have left since 1948 and half of them have returned to France. Then the propaganda becomes deafening. However, if there is clearly a country where Jews live in insecurity, it is Israel itself and it will be thus as long as Israel pursues the destruction of Palestine.
To the aliyah (‘going up’) of the living towards Israel, is now added that of the dead. The Israeli authorities actively incite French Jews to bury their dead in Israel. Thus the victims of the killing at the Porte de Vincennes have been buried at the Givat Shaul cemetery. This district of Jerusalem is actually the former Deir Yassin, the village martyred in the 1948 war where the Irgun militias directed by Menachem Begin massacred the entire population so that the village, like so many others, could be erased from the map. How symbolic!
Israel in the avant-garde of Islamophobia
Jews have lived for centuries in the Islamic world. They have even been welcomed by the Ottoman empire after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Today, Israel participates in the demonization of Arabs and of Muslims by behaving as a model pupil in the ‘clash of civilizations’ classroom. Some politicians having made it their stock in trade, anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia is openly displayed, and acting on them is not uncommon.
The mass crime in Gaza or the multiplication of racist statements (for Rabbi Rosen, the Palestinians are akin to Amelekites and the Torah dictates that we should kill them as well as their wives, their children, their flocks) will leave traces. How does one imagine that what is inflicted on the Palestinians will be without consequences?
In Israel, propagandists compete to explain that Jews have lived in hell in the Muslim world, concealing the fact that anti-Semitism has been above all of European and Christian origins. In Israel, Oriental Jews experience social discrimination and racist contempt. They have often been humiliated and discriminated against on their arrival. They are cut from their roots and urged to renounce their identity. The expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 is presented as an ‘exchange of populations’ whereas Zionism is the principle cause, both of the Nakba and of the departure of Oriental Jews from their countries.
What does it mean to be Jewish in Israel?
Zionists have theorized the idea that Jews and non-Jews are not able to live together. This is totally contrary to all that has taken place for hundreds of years. It runs contrary to the aspiration of Jews to leave the ghettos, the mellahs and the juderias to become normal citizens.
Devout Jews who emigrate to Israel rarely encounter there the religion that they have practiced for centuries. The national-religious movement is dominant. This integrationist current has transformed the character of religion. A ‘chosen people’ never meant one having more rights than others but, on the contrary, one having more obligations. Among the precepts, there is ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself’. ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ was never meant as the inspiration for the ethnic cleansing now taking place but was an expression of eagerly ‘anticipating the Messiah’.
Hebrew has always been a religious language whose profane usage is forbidden. The Jewish religion is a religion of ‘exile’. The settlement on this land (of Israel/Palestine) before the arrival of the Messiah and a fortiori the creation of a Jewish state was forbidden. Besides, the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 did not go to Jerusalem. Herzl met an almost unanimous hostility against the Zionist project from the rabbis when the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine was proposed.
For secular Jews, the dominant values of Israel are the antithesis of their understanding of the values of Judaism. Where does one find in the Jewish tradition the racism, the chauvinism, the militarism, the negation of the existence and of the dignity of the other? What is there in common between what great Jewish intellectuals (Einstein, Freud, Arendt, Kafka, Benjamin …) represented and the war criminals who run Israel? What has Israel done with their memory and that of those who struggled against fascism and colonialism (Marek Edelman, Abraham Serfaty, Henri Curiel …)? From what Jewish heritage can the settlers and the military draw to justify in advance the violence and crimes committed against the Palestinians?
As the Israeli historian Shlomo Sand has written a propos the book of Yakov Rabkin Comprendre l’État d’Israël [Understanding Israel]2, “those who see in Zionism a continuation of Judaism would benefit from reading this book. But those who believe that the state of Israel is a Jewish state have an obligation to read it.”
Some Jews think that after the Nazi genocide, Israel is the ultimate refuge. On what grounds is the Israeli leadership able to brandish everywhere anti-Semitism and the memory of the genocide? Zionists played only a marginal role in the struggle against anti-Semitism and the resistance to Nazism. Some Zionist leaders had themselves engaged in shameful behavior during the rise of fascism (Ben Gurion with the 1933 Haavara Agreement) and during the period of extermination (the Stern group murdering soldiers and British dignitaries).
How is it possible to not understand that the memory of the genocide signifies ‘never again’ and not ‘never again TO US’, the latter denoting a tribal vision of humanity in total opposition to all forms of the Jewish heritage.
Refusing dictates and fear, refusing all forms of racism and of discrimination
There are confrontations which make sense: struggles against oppression, domination, colonialism, for equality under the law. But we are being sold a war that is not ours: that of a world supposedly civilized against ‘Islamic terrorism’. In this war, Muslims are considered potential terrorists and are enjoined to ‘prove’ that they are not accomplices of Daesh.
And Jews are commanded to support without reserve Israeli policies that are criminal against the Palestinians and suicidal for Jews. This headlong rush into criminality works on fear. This syndrome assures consensus to a point such that a Palestinian negotiator (Professor Albert Aghazarian) has claimed that the Israelis fear no longer living in fear. This irrational fear has infected many French Jews.
In the context of the ‘clash of civilizations’, pretext for the powerful to drench the world in blood, there is in France a general escalation of all forms of racism. Contrary to the image manufactured by the mainstream media, racism hits essentially those ‘dominated’, all the victims of social apartheid: Arabs, Blacks, Roms. The trend takes a new form by concealing itself behind Islamophobia. As it is no longer politically correct to say ‘dirty Arab’, one demonizes Islam. There is also an incontestable and detestable increase in anti-Semitism. But the different forms of racism are not treated in the same manner.
The Israeli leadership, and CRIF [Conseil Répresentatif des Institutions Juives] in France, are actively involved in the stigmatization of Muslims. They assert, against all evidence, that there is only one racism to denounce (anti-Semitism) and that we are on the brink of a new kristallnacht. They identify Jews as those that that the authorities protect; whereas the ‘law and order’ ideology, the declarations of the political leadership and the nauseating work of pseudo intellectuals, are aimed solely at a population which has been declared dangerous.
Moreover, the anti-Semitic stereotypes are nourished by the complicity of CRIF with Israeli policies and of the evident partiality of the French state. In this time of disarray, the legitimate indignation against Israeli crimes brings a rise in anti-Semitism and the few misfits attracted by the frightful violence of Daesh to commit criminal murders against Jews for being Jews.
The struggle against racism can’t be divided into isolated compartments. To choose certain ‘good’ victims against others is the antithesis of the anti-racist struggle. Israeli policies and the total negation of the rights of the Palestinian people cannot protect the Jews. On the contrary. To create the new Israeli, it is necessary to ‘kill the Jew’, the one who thought that his emancipation was dependent on the general emancipation of humanity. As the militant anti-colonialist Israeli Eitan Bronstein said: “we will never be free as long as Palestinians aren’t free”. In rejecting tribalism, French Jews reaffirm a history for which they can be proud.
Everybody is required to combat all racisms, all stigmatization, all discrimination. It is necessary for everybody to defend justice, in Palestine as well as here in France.
This article was published on the site of the Union Juive Française pour la Paix. It has been translated by Evan Jones.
Pierre Stambul is co-President of the UJFP and the author of Israël/Palestine, du refus d’être complice à l’engagement, and Le sionisme en questions.
1. [EJ:] True, President Hollande and Prime Minister Valls would have preferred that Netanyahu not turn up to the demonstration and objected to Netanyahu’s invitation to French Jews to emigrate. However, the Hollande Presidency has reinforced France’s carte blanche given to Israel’s international impunity, leveraged further by Netanyahu himself. Netanyahu’s official visit to France in October 2012 had Hollande cravenly kowtowing to the Israeli agenda. Netanyahu then urged French Jews to emigrate to Israel, and was subsequently allowed to insert himself (and the Israeli meme) into a memorial gathering commemerating the ‘Merah’ Jewish school murders in Toulouse the previous March. At Netanyahu’s invitation, Hollande travelled to Israel in November 2013, where his kowtowing was again manifest. The government repressed demonstrations against the Israeli massacres in Gaza in the summer of 2014, and ignores the recruiting of French Jews by the Israel Defense Forces. When Netanyahu again, on French soil, claims to French Jews that Israel is their real home, he knows that any criticism of his actions by French authorities carry no force.
2. [EJ:] A nominal English title has been foreshadowed, What is Modern Israel?, but the book has evidently not been translated into English.