Translated from Le Monde, December 7, 2001
Dangerous Confusion Among Jews in France
By Israeli film director Eyal Sivan (who now resides in France)
Allow me to firmly state that the question of Zionism is a thing of the past. Nevertheless, the systematic fusion of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism has become the new weapon of intimidation by the "Friends of Israel".
The charges of anti-Semitism leveled against the French media by Jewish organizations in France and the tenor of emotional outburst and condemnation directed against any criticism in the media of Israel are testimony to the confusion and intemperate feeling prevalent among Jews in France. Confusing non-Zionism with anti-Semitism, these displays of passion are multiplying as the colonial conflict in Palestine-Israel increases in violence. Jewish organizations in France represent a danger to Jews and to Judaism, especially with regard to cohabitation of Jews and Moslems within its borders.
The concern that most French Jews share about the fate of Israel, which has elected as its prime minister an extreme right-winger and which is now trapped in an ethnic and political conflict with no end in sight, is legitimate. However, it is unacceptable that the French Jewish community and its grand rabbi have adopted an intransigent position that unconditionally supports the bloody colonial conflict that has wracked Israel-Palestine for past fifty years.
The mystical significance of the land of Israel within Jewish religion has been confused with territorial aims that no longer have any connection with security. Israel is the only country on earth where Jews are being physically threatened. The Representative Council of Jewish Organizations in France (CRIF) states that French Jews, intimidated by the sight of young Muslims bringing the Middle East conflict to France, are ready to emigrate to Israel in search of refuge.
There exists a minority of Jews in France that takes very seriously the anxiety felt by most Israelis in witnessing demographic developments favoring the Arab population [in Israel] and who have already emigrated to Israel. Religious intégristes for the most part, these people have joined the Jewish settlements on the West Bank and in Gaza. Although the majority of Jews in France remain attached to France, which allows them to express their Judaism in all the nuances in which it exists today, they are, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel, the last reservoir for immigrants to Israel.
In synagogues and in Jewish community centers throughout France, the Israeli flag and fund drives for Israel are tending to replace traditional religious symbols. Agents of the Israeli Foreign Office and the Israeli embassy, as well as Israeli Army officers, commonly provide escort to Jewish community leaders. The task of providing security to Jewish organizations is run by militants within Jewish Zionist organizations who are trained and assisted by members of Israeli intelligence.
This is how religion is being co-opted by politics. Because they have been identified as organizations providing support to Israel, synagogues and community centers are, in the confusion, becoming targets of criminal acts which, by the way, must be treated and punished as such.
But in characterizing non-Zionist viewpoints and criticisms of Israeli policies as anti-Semitic in an attempt to de-legitimize political opinions by confusing them with racism, Jewish organizations in France are playing apprentice sorcerer and have become conduits of violence themselves.
Religious faith among observant Jews is not being questioned. But among secular Jews, caught between universalism and ethnic identity, Zionism has become a substitute for religion. Of these Jews in the throes of identity crisis, Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who is both observant and Zionist, says: "For most of these people who see themselves as Jews, Judaism is no more than a piece of blue and white fabric that is hoisted up a flagpole; their symbol is military campaigns carried out in the name of Judaism by the army. Battlefield heroism and domination--that's Judaism for them".
The genocide of the Jews was a holocaust and the Biblical term, Shoah, is used to refer to it. This transfer to the domain of the sacred severs the event from its political significance. The culture of victimization has become a pillar of Jewish identity for secular Jews. Because there cannot be victims of victims, other ethnicities, starting with the Palestinians, are expected to prove their suffering.
In 1990, during the first Intifida, Leibowitz observed: "Nothing is easier than to define yourself by what others have done to you. We feel that we are dispensed from having to ask the question, Who are we? and to examine our conscious".
By voting for the division of Palestine in 1947 which ceded 60% percent of the territory to the Jewish minority and the remaining 40% to the Arab majority, the Western world sought to redeem itself for the catastrophe of Jewish genocide. To that we can add the colonial mentality of the times and its disregard for indigenous populations. The Western world seemed to claim as its own the Zionist view that all Jews are in a state of migration except within a sliver of land which they demanded as theirs and which is now irrevocably ceded. The Arabs have always rejected this unfair partition. But contrary to what is frequently stated, the Arabs did not reject it out-of-hand. The representative of the High Arab Commission for Palestine argued for a bi-national state. Nevertheless, the UN remained deaf to various proposals for a federated state.
The historical territory of Palestine (Israel, the occupied territories and the autonomous zones) today counts 4 million Arabs and 5 million Jews. The right of return of Palestinians expelled in 1947 is an additional element of complexity in any solution to the ongoing conflict. How can you get a Palestinian who was born in Haifa to accept that he no longer has the right to live there while a Jew born in Paris does? With this kind of logic, territorial partition and separation of Palestinians from Israelis seems inescapable. Except by implementing another transfer of populations, it is impossible to draw permanent frontiers between these two entrenched communities. Partition is just as illusory as the belief that a wave of Jewish immigration in response to a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe can correct the current demographic data.
Nevertheless, these apprentice sorcerers continue to play the panic card by waving the specter of anti-Semitism. They are also demonstrating that it is impossible for them to escape their archaic, Manichean understanding of power relationships.
To break this vicious cycle of hate and vengeance, it is necessary to insist on the intervention of the nations who were responsible for the historical mistake of 1947. Now is the moment to bring people to their senses and to ask them to abandon theocratic and nationalistic notions whose costly limitations were amply demonstrated in in terms of human life during the 20th century.
Only a vision that is republican, democratic and secular can convince the Israelis and the Palestinian people that they can live and not die -- on the same land.
If French Jews truly want to foster a solution to the conflict in the Middle East and to see their friends and relatives finally live in peace, they had better start taking action. As the first in history to benefit from republican principles, couldnt they encourage the Israelis along similar lines? Why cant they begin by forging harmonious relations with the Moslem community in France instead of accusing it of importing violence? Their example would be a measurable contribution to peace and would serve Judaism better than the Israeli flag.