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January 26, 2015 1:21 pm

In the Face of Antisemitism, Leaving France for Israel Must Remain a Personal Choice for Jews

avatar by Maurice Lévy

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A rally against antisemitism in France. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is calling on French Jews to emigrate to Israel amid the rise of antisemitism in France.. Photo: CRIF

I didn’t like seeing the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, roll out the red carpet to French entrepreneurs. Nor did I like seeing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu call upon French Jews to emigrate to Israel.

However, I understand that the Jews of France, suffering a more and more violent, brutal, and blind antisemitism, are worrying, questioning themselves, and imagining leaving.

The tragedies that took place on Wednesday the 7th and Friday the 9th of January were a nation-wide electric shock that has brought us a broad spectrum of emotional responses – revolt, rage, compassion, solidarity, and pride. But if these two events are both an appalling expression of the same radical Islamism, they are of a different nature.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo was an execution, one of a targeted enemy, opposed by fanatics for being judged as blasphemous. Through it, the killers attempted to eliminate a fundamental liberty established during the French Revolution in 1789 – that of being able to think and say what we want within the limits of the law. It was without a doubt as much the barbaric attack as it was the intrusion on our liberties that provoked such emotion and demonstrations of solidarity around the world.

In the attack against Jews at the HyperCacher market on Friday, the target was not an enemy, but a stereotype, formed from a hatred as absurd as it is diverse and ingrained. One that has provided the pretext for the even worse atrocities of the 20th century. We understand then that this attack, at Porte de Vincennes, in Paris, was just one more on a long, sinister, and blind list.

It’s Ilan Halimi, tortured to death in 2006 for being Jewish. It’s the four executions, including three children, in Toulouse during the murderous spree of Mohamed Merah in 2012 – for being Jewish. It’s the four people slaughtered by Mehdi Nemmouche in Brussels in 2014 – for being in a Jewish museum.

Failed Integration

Violent antisemitism isn’t new in France, and remains multi-dimensional. Religious (from the banishment edicts during the Middle Ages to the extreme right in the 1930s), economic (from bailing out the royals through confiscation to revolutionary anti-capitalism), vindictive and military (the defeat of 1870 and the Dreyfus affair), and racial (anthropometry in Vichy).

But World War II and the Holocaust culminated in a social consensus and a taboo; the latter remained until the 1980s, before shattering itself upon the diffusion of denial theories. A new, outspoken antisemitism then entered the void; one of a minority of young, vulnerable immigrants, with loose family environments, left to outside influences, manipulated, in reaction to images of conflict in the Middle East. This antisemitism became a sort of bravado, with a strong sense of impunity: attacking Jews doesn’t really provoke a considerable reaction; as witnessed by Ilan Halimi and Toulouse.

Let’s all recognize that integration was, here, a total failure, for education, for urbanism, for employment; and that for the health of our democracy, it is urgent that the situation be remedied. Moreover, Israel and Middle-Eastern conflicts are inviting themselves into this violence, while the question of Israel in France is not a simple one: it encompasses ancient Arab politics, quickly bringing to mind internal politics, due to the relative weight of the French Jewish community and also that of the French Muslim community on the stakes of emigration. Above all, it suffers from the confusion between antisemitism, anti-Zionism, and anti-racism – one serving as an alibi and the other to obscure the real message.

Right there is the heart of the problem. The accuracy of words, their weight, their power.

Paradoxically, those who master the sense of words – public authorities, the press, and intellectuals – refused the idea of an antisemitic plague, fearing to stigmatize and feed Islamophobia. Minimized by the fear of seeing it grow larger, they make the unacceptable commonplace, such as this: “death to Jews.” That’s why we must – all of us – continue to rise up against this code of silence, because one cannot call a doctrine that aims to suppress or exterminate individual rights an “opinion.” Antisemitism is an offense and must be treated as such, without weakness. This is our Republic, one and indivisible.

As a consequence, why be reluctant to call a spade a spade? Why mention for so long “suspects,” when it’s really about Islamist terrorists? That “gang of barbarians,” Mohamed Merah, the “lone wolf:” dangerous, distancing formulations, when we could have said “antisemite” or “radical Islamist.” Words matter, to warn of antisemitism as much as an amalgam that does more harm than good to Islam. Curiously, under the pretext of avoiding amalgams, we create them by using imprecise words.

Jealousy, Resentment, Hatred

Politicians seem to have finally figured it out, they who were so late to this spontaneous and silent mob. “If the Jew did not exist, the antisemite would have invented him,” said Jean-Paul Sartre. Antisemitism is the choice of existing via jealousy, resentment, murderous hatred, and not for the reason of being openhearted. To tolerate it means putting in danger the entire social edifice. And one must salute the firmness of the declarations made by the executive powers.

It remains to be seen what the political legacy of the tremendous outpouring on Saturday and Sunday the 10th and 11th of January will be. Expectations are immense. National unity is essential, but not sufficient: at the demonstration against the desecration of the Carpentras cemetery in 1990, everyone was already there, and it wasn’t enough.

This wake-up call must be collective, and I appreciate Manuel Valls for having reminded us that, “France without Jews is not France.” I disagree with Benjamin Netanyahu: being French and Jewish, I don’t wish that others should dictate where I go, and I am thankful to France for all it has done. I remain convinced that France is a country of asylum in its DNA. For this, it must offer to all the same degree of security and confidence. Who would like to drive their children to school, or go to pray, under police protection? The national contract must allow for each and every person to live his or her faith, and differences, whatever they may be, in total security.

And if certain Jews wish to leave for Israel, the decision is theirs – freely and personally – and preferably, for positive reasons. That is even the meaning of the Aliyah, that a Jew joins Israel “to be raised up” by conviction, and not by default. But it should be about choosing – that’s what the French Republic is all about, respect in diversity.

Maurice Lévy is a leading French businessman currently the chief executive officer of Publicis. He has served in that role since 1987. This article was originally published in French by Le Monde.

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