“Anti-Semitism is deeply rooted in French society. We would like to think otherwise, but it is a fact.”

French Prime Minister, The Guardian, 2-19-19

“Anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish problem: It’s a European and global issue”

EU Commission VP Margaritis Schinas, JPost, 9-13-20

It’s sometimes hard for American progressives to understand Jewish support for Israel. One reason is that the United States is relatively free of anti-Semitism compared to other democratic nations (although it’s on the rise here). That’s one reason my grandparents and father moved here from Paris before WWII. 

A recent report found that in 2019 there were over 2000 reported anti-Semitic attacks in the EU.

Another European Union survey of European Jews found that in the prior 5 years, 40% personally experienced an anti-Semitic act. Just as importantly, only 21% said they reported it; the rest said reporting it was useless. (12-11-18, Harretz) 

Nowhere is anti-Semitic terrorism more evident than in France, which has the third largest number of Jews in the world. As immigration of Muslims to Europe has increased, and the ultra-nationalist right movement has risen, European Jews have been under increasing attack. In the wake of these attacks, in 2015 Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel called for French Jews to move to Israel. To some, this may sound like a radical response to the crisis. But let’s put this call into context. 

Many on both the French right and left have ignored or rationalized anti-Semitism. On the right, it’s the familiar charge of “shylock” or “Christ killer”. The left has often cited violence in the West Bank and Gaza as an excuse for Muslims attacking French Jews who have never even been to Israel and may not be Zionists at all.  

Charlie Hebo, a French publication which ran a cartoon making fun of Islam, was attacked several years ago. Afterwards, over 1 million people came out to decry efforts by Islamic religious radicals to stifle a free press via violence. But only secondarily…as an afterthought… did that rally also mention the simultaneous murdering of French Jews at a Paris kosher supermarket. 

The most heinous anti-Semitic act in France in recent years was the 2006 kidnapping and killing of Ilan Halimi, as detailed in the Tablet newsletter and French papers. Halimi was a 22-year-old Parisian who was kidnapped specifically because he was a Jew. The key players were primarily Muslims or Muslim converts. Although his captors believed all Jews to be rich, Halimi was a cell phone salesman from a poor immigrant family.  The kidnappers asked for 450,000 Euros in ransom, which the family could not pay.  

He was held for three weeks, duct taped from head to feet, with a straw for feeding. Occasionally, he was unwrapped solely for the purpose of being burned and horribly tortured, especially in his sexual organs. After three weeks, Halimi… naked, handcuffed, bleeding and with severe burns covering 80% of his body… was finally set free by his captors. Tied to a tree, he died within minutes of being found. 

No less than 50 people were either directly involved or knew details of the abduction which they kept to themselves. In 2009, 19 people were convicted, with the leader receiving a life term… but the others getting ridiculously lenient sentences, some as little as 8 months. Some were just acquitted.  

The Halimi murder is the most gruesome individual case, but there have been numerous recent incidents of violence against French Jews, both by Muslims and by ultra-nationalists once again using Jews as a scapegoat.  

Several years ago, a Jewish school in Toulouse was attacked, killing a Rabbi and several children. The Synagogue of La Roquette was attacked by 200-300 protesters trying to get inside and harm Jews trapped inside. They were initially driven off by young Jewish men, and then eventually by police. 

In recent years, Jewish businesses were firebombed and burned.  Innocent French Jews were attacked with stun guns and Tasers, sprayed with tear gas, and beaten. One even had a swastika cut into his chest. Swastikas were painted on graves in Jewish cemeteries. But there were no massive million-person rallies by the French to protest these outrages. 

Moreover, it is impossible to forget the negative climate regarding Jews that has existed in both Europe and France long before the relatively recent Muslim immigration. 

France’s long history of anti-Semitism is exemplified by the infamous “Dreyfus Affair” in 1894. Captain Dreyfus, a Jewish artillery officer, was falsely convicted of treason based on trumped up evidence. The real culprit, a well-connected Christian, went free.  

Collaboration with the Nazis was widespread, something that the French and Europeans would rather forget. With the help of French collaborators, many Jewish French citizens… men, women and children… were rounded up. They were then deported in cattle cars and murdered by the Nazis.  

France has had numerous anti-Semitic incidents, but accurate statistics are hard to come by in that the majority of incidents are not reported to authorities. According to a recent European Union survey of European Jews, 52% of French Jews state that it is a “big problem”. 

The Jewish population of Europe and France has been decreasing in recent years, primarily due to relocation to Israel. In France, it dropped 10% between 2002 and 2017. 

Unless France tackles its long-standing problem of anti-Semitism, including hate crime attacks by Muslim immigrants, Jews emigrating to Israel and America will increase. After all, who would want to stay in a nation in which they are constantly under attack?


Image Credit: Yellow vests movement protest in Belfort, France taken by Thomas Bresson/Wikimedia Commons/JNS)

Jack Bernard

Jack Bernard

Jack A Bernard is a retired SVP with a national healthcare corporation. He was Chair of the Jasper County, Ga Board of Commissioners and Republican Party. He was also on the Board of Health for Jasper County and is currently on the Fayette County BOH. Bernard has over 100 columns published annually, primarily in the South.