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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9 years ago

After reading your article, I did some searches on Youtube, Google images, and few social media searches to support your extreme claim, but could not find any; at least of the magnitude you’ve implied. On FaceBook, I have seen many shared images of the Gaza massacre and various worldwide demonstrations with comments. While most comments were pro-Palestinian, there were few that went to the extent of relating Netanyahu to Hitler and Zionism to Nazism, which I, personally, can see the relationship. One comment, which I immediately replied to, was glorifying Hitler. My response was “how could you or anyone exalt a child and woman murderer?”

Lately, more and more Jews step out and demonstrate by writing or speaking, against Israel’s occupation and aggression. The majority of people are becoming more and more aware and they know the distinct difference between Judaism and Zionism. Thus, protesting against Israel’s terrorism does not automatically label the demonstrators as being anti-Jews or anti-Semitic, as you suggested.

Humanity definitely needs to step up on fighting genocide committed by the Zionists (not just anti-Semitism, as you declared). Yes, Palestinian women and children, who are also Semitic, are the victims of Israel Destructive Force. And, for humanity’s sake, please state that, instead of whining about Israel’s image. Oh, and please provide some evidence of your claim. Shalom!

Duncan Thomas
Duncan Thomas
9 years ago

While I sympathise with anyone who suffers discrimination or violence because of their ethnic/religious/whatever background, the article is utterly lacking in any historical context…

Should we condemn the conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Jewish feeling? Of course. Any who is primarily responsible for this conflation? The state of Israel and its Western backers, who constantly describes it (and, indeed, demand that it be recognised) as “the Jewish State”, hail its Prime Minister as “the leader of the Jewish people”, run eroticised teenage booze-fests such as the “Birthright Programme” and frequently denounce any kind of criticism as “anti-Semitism”. In other words, it is primarily Israel itself which has actively worked towards this conflation, and so we should not be entirely surprised if its opponents sometimes suffer from the confusion it purposefully propagates.

Second: while we may say that anti-Jewishness (I shall not commit the logical fallacy of calling an Arab “anti-semitic) exists within Arab/Muslim populations as an EMPIRICAL FACT, this does nothing by way of CRITICAL ANALYSIS. It is, at best, a description – not an engagement. To the extent that it does exist within anti-Israel groups and, more specifically, Arab and Muslim population, this anti-Jewishness is so attenuated and removed from the historical – and specifically European phenomenon – of anti-Semitism that it is meaningless to use the same term to describe them.

Now, I am very happy to condemn anti-semitism or – a subtype of it – anti-Jewishness whenever I encounter it, but I refuse to do so unless I place it within its proper historical contest. Jews, despite some minor and (relative to the time) inconsequential discriminatory policies associated with dhimmitude, lived more or less peacefully in every major Arab city for hundreds of years. They were never more secure and prosperous than in Islamic Spain – and rarely more persecuted than after the Iberian reconquista by Christian armies. In so far as it exists, anti-Jewish sentiment among Arab and Muslim groups is a function of their opposition to Israel as a political entity, not vice versa.

That does not mean that the memes of European anti-semitism are not repeated or that I think that it is a good/productive/ethical way for people to express themselves, but this is absolutely NOT the same thing as European anti-semitism. Indeed, the very fact that Arab and Muslim people often rely on the repetition of these tropes is indicative of the DISCONTINUITY between European anti-semitism and anti-Jewishness as an expression of anti-Zionism – they have no significant indigenous canon on which to draw.

Unless and until the author engages in this discontinuity and attempts to understand WHY this superficially similar phenomenon is growing amongst Arab and Muslim populations, she will neither understand the “discrimination” directed against her, nor have any possibility of stopping it.

9 years ago

thanks for this article, I was really disturbed to read about your overall experience in paris and I pray for your safety.
you raise an important point about distinguishing between antisemitism and being against israeli policies and I’d like to hear more about the difference and how prevalent each is beyond what you say is a non-coincidental conflation with “anti-Zionism”. I am appalled, like you, with the instances of anti-semitism at some protests. There needs to be more effort to combat antisemitism in europe and it seems to me that the statistics you quote are mostly about antisemitism in Europe in general, not as primarily actions by “pro-Palestinians”. I’m concerned that by following the statistic that 37% of French people are openly anti-Semitic with what seems to be a quote that has no backing, and may be potentially racist, by Gil Mihaely, may be read as if you are insinuating that all Arabs/Africans in France are anti-Semitic and they are primarily behind antisemitism in europe, including the vile remarks in the ADL report- I am confident you don’t mean to make a racist and inflammatory remark though so it might be worth reflecting on. i also think it might be worth discussing the primary subject matter of the protests, and whether protesters are “pro-Palestinian” (which from what I gathered in the article only equates to being anti-Zionist) “anti-Jewish” or perhaps anti-genocide, as more than 1700 humans in Gaza have been killed, including over 250 children.

Humanity definitely needs to step up on fighting antisemitism, which on the whole is a phenomenon fairly independent of these “supporters”, as well as other xenophobias, and I hope that one day nobody has to worry about being Jewish, or Muslim, Black, etc., in Paris or anywhere else. Peace and justice on earth

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