Gaza Protests in Paris: Pro-Palestinian or Anti-Jewish?


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August 01, 2014 23:36 EDT

What’s behind the Gaza protests in Paris and the rise of anti-Semitism?

Public Service Announcement: “Being ‘Pro-Palestinian’ is not the same as calling for violence against Israel or Jewish people.” This seems self-evident. However, many Palestinian supporters seem to feel that it is perfectly acceptable to use such civilized gems as “Hitler was right” and “Jews to the oven” to express their sentiments. Do you really think screaming “Death to the Jews” (“Mort aux Juifs”) conveys the supposed message of your Gaza demonstrations in Paris? My French is limited, but I know the word for “Jew” sounds nothing like any word related to Israel.

State and Religion

I wish that the conflation of anti-Jewish sentiment and anti-Zionism was an accident. If that were so, people could be made to realize and adjust behavior. But the real answer is that anti-Zionism is largely being used as an easy cover for anti-Jewish sentiment. It’s happening around the world, but let’s talk about Paris because I live there. I don’t speak for Parisian Jewry, but only for myself in the capacity as an American Jew who is engaged with Judaism culturally.

Before I moved, I assured friends who voiced concerns about the anti-Jewish sentiment in France that there is a strict divide between state and religion. Technically, it’s equally as frowned upon to wear a Star of David necklace as a cross in public schools here. No need to worry. Well, now I’m learning my lesson, as I’ve been encouraged by Jewish leadership here to not wear any jewellery that would identify me as a Jew, and to avoid speaking on the phone in public about Jewish topics.

Some will think this advice stems from paranoia. Well, when there is the distinct possibility of being targeted with tear gas, pepper spray, a taser or an axe just because you are a Jew, I think you’d be a little jittery too. Those attacks on Jews occurred well-ahead of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza; and they are prevalent enough to be noted as a consistent stream of disturbing anti-Semitic acts by the French National Bureau of Vigilance against anti-Semitism (BNVCA). In the words of Thomas Friedman: “Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction — out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East — is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.”

I challenge true pro-Palestinian supporters, those who do not conflate the issue with anti-Semitism: Aren’t you ticked off by those using your cause as nothing more than a guise to excuse their own hatred of Jews?

A French acquaintance told me not to worry because I don’t look Jewish — what the hell does it even mean? But this advice flags two issues for me. First, what about the Jews who do look Jewish or wear traditional garb? And what if I want to use Yiddish words when I call my mother from the park? Second, regardless of how I look, I do live within Jewish Paris to some extent, which happens to not be far from where anti-Jewish violence in the name of anti-Zionism has taken place — I frequent a liberal synagogue, I have a favorite falafel place in the Jewish Quarter. As such, I have felt my personal security threatened in ways I have never felt in any other country — and I’ve been to and lived in a good few, including Belarus and South Africa.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls condemned the use of anti-Zionist rhetoric as a cover-up of anti-Semitic opinions. Foreign ministers from Germany, France and Italy have issued a joint statement condemning the rise in anti-Semitic protests and violence, and vowed to combat hostility against Jewish people. In my opinion, the government is standing up for the Jews in France, but the scary thing is that it doesn’t seem to matter to those who continue to conflate anti-Jewish sentiment and anti-Zionism. I would imagine that law-abiding French citizens were disturbed by the fact that a prohibited demonstration was able to take place at all; a frightening signal of weakness and powerlessness by the state.

I suppose, what do I expect with the resurgence of nationalism, the National Front winning parliamentary elections, and the popularity of a comedian like Dieudonné? A recent survey suggested France has the highest percentage of residents (37%) who are openly anti-Semitic. Furthermore, Gil Mihaely claims: “[H]atred for Israel and for Jews has become a major component of the identity of French of an Arab or African background; it is the cement of the second generation.” Of course this doesn’t apply across the board. But to those to whom it applies, certainly they have the option to get positives from their culture, so why instead define themselves by hate and violence toward “the other”?

What Can Be Done?

I’ve had wonderful moments over the years helping to foster an understanding of the difference between Jews and Israel. But in the current context of hate in Paris, while axes are literally swinging, I don’t quite feel up to the task.

Okay, have your own opinions about the conflation of anti-Jewish sentiment with anti-Zionism here in France, and in Germany, and in Austria … and in Canada. The length of that list and the places on it are chilling. It can’t be so hard to see that anti-Zionism can be legitimate (though I bet you can guess my stance), but conflating it with anti-Semitism is dangerous, hateful and perpetuates severe cycles of xenophobia, hatred and violence. Is using media like Facebook to hunt down Jews and encourage violence in any way related to the pro-Palestinian cause?

I challenge true pro-Palestinian supporters, those who do not conflate the issue with anti-Semitism: Aren’t you ticked off by those using your cause as nothing more than a guise to excuse their own hatred of Jews? I would think you are peeved — at the very least — that those who use protests to perpetuate anti-Jewish sentiment deflect attention from your cause. I challenge you to try to stop the conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, if not for moral decency, and if not for my good and that of your Jewish neighbors, then at least for your own good.

poll mentioned in a 2012 Anti-Defamation League report indicated that significant portions of Europeans think “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust.” There is a plaque 100 meters from my house on a school: “In the memory of the students of this school who were deported … because they were born Jews.” Well, maybe we should keep talking because it doesn’t seem like we’ve learned very much since then.

There is the concept of Kol Yisrael Are’viim Zeh la Zeh (All Jews are responsible for one another) and it is a beautiful thing. But at the same time, I don’t want to witness a community that turns inward, feeling they can’t depend on police, but only the Jewish Defense League. I don’t want to consider the possibility of not depending on one’s fellow human when matters are serious; and they are serious! The Book of Genesis says all humanity was created in the image of the Divine. In the words of Rabbi Philip Weintraub: “May we find a way to see the humanity (and Divinity) in all people, paving the way for peace. Until such time when we can see the holiness in one another, let us at least find the humanity not to attack one another on the streets.” Amen.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Olga Besnard /

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