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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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  • BH in Iowa

    Leaving Vichy France is a personal choice that any French Jew would be a fool not to make.

  • Richard

    The Jews gave the French Citroen Automobiles and Desault Aviation (Mirage Jets) among other things. If that’s not enough for the French perhaps the Jews should leave France.

  • Paul

    Describing as “vulnerable” the criminals and violent hooligans who represent a significant minority among France’s Moslem communities – especially those who are of
    North African origin – is implicitly to make excuses for behaviour which hardly occurs within other minority groups – many of whose members have also suffered from economic disadvantages and whether direct or indirect discrimination.

    It is ridiculous even to think of applying this term to those young louts who brazenly celebrated the murders at Toulouse and continue to gloat about the recent outrages

  • June Grant

    The oldest hatred is alive and flourishing, fed by criminally biased media reports about Israel. While my family in that sceptred isle shrug it off, they were shocked that I sported my “Chai” boldly in public on a recent visit there. French Jews have had some rude awakenings since, among other incidents, the murder and torture of Halimi, the Toulouse murders and the latest (but sadly not the last) terrorism in Paris. However, it is no easy decision for Europe’s Jews, who after generations have found security in their countries, to decide to come to Israel. It could be construed as giving in to terror.

  • steven L

    Mr. Levy suggests to treat antisemitism as a chronic sometimes fatal disease that Jews better get use to. Hiding become a second nature for European Jews and he knows it. Antisemitism is there to stay. So no need to complain. Before 1946 Jews had no place to go; now they have a few place to go but not in the EU until further notice.

  • SHmuel HaLevi

    Choices are indeed the prerogative of everyone. And that means not only of the French Jews.
    We are not going to make choices endangering our people in Israel if and when others choices cause those others to be in danger a danger they knew well in advance it would develop. Their choice is theirs and ours is ours.
    Crying wolf just for kicks is not that smart.

  • NCS

    His brilliant head is in the clouds.

  • Pinchas Baram

    why can’t the French write a straight sentence? why all the twists and turns and upside down logic?

    Islam is often barbaric and hates Jews. France is effete. It allows the Moslem dogs to enter and multiply and intimidate. The Jews are the canaries in the mine– and will be dead before France really wakes up, which it won’t.. one reason being socialist dependence on Arab votes (much as in Israel).

    Monsieur Levy is convinced that France is a country of asylum in its DNA. Which sentiment makes me smile and reminds me of what mutual funds typically say in their intro: past performance is no guarantee of future earnings…

  • ML

    The sad truth is not every Jew can live in Israel and not every Jew wants to live in Israel. Bibi says we can make aliyah, but then it’s only certain Jews who are really welcome in Israel. Jews should have the choice to live where they want to. I applaud the author of this article.

  • aall55

    Maurice Levy ‘criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu is a rare opinion : French Jews felt warm to their heart by the “invitation “made by Bibi and choosing to stay in France is suicide .

    It is not the first time that Maurice Levy is a little besides the point , and should stick to his business .

  • N. Edwards

    It is almost an impossible decision to move out of a country which has been your home, where you studied, loved, did business, acquired friends. But Europe has become again what it has been before and during WW II, a virulent anti-Semitic place. The optimists of those days, who believed in the civility of Europe ended up in gas-chambers. The pessimists wound up in North, Central and South America. Jews today should be pessimists – nothing good can come out of today’s madness. Israel is the only answer.

  • Eric R.

    If Jews stay in Nazi France, they will be massacred by the Muslims, and those deaths will be cheered by the native Gaulic French, especially the leftist elites.

    If Jews choose to stay in France, they are choosing to die. Period.

    • Ron Kall

      The Jews should leave, but before doing so how about arming themselves and take the fight to the muslims!!