Jews Are the Collateral Victims of France’s Decline
I can precisely pinpoint Sunday, April 21, 2002, as the moment I decided to never come back to France to build my adult life.
While I was living in New York, I received a call announcing the dreadful news that Jean-Marie Le Pen, the antisemitic leader of the National Front party, qualified for the final round of the French presidential election. I knew that Le Pen had no chance of winning the presidency two weeks later, but his electoral success was my catalyst and my epiphany.
Still, Le Pen’s achievement was just one part of my personal equation. Two years earlier, when I was still in France and part of the leadership of the French Union of Jewish Students, Jews had to face the first wave of antisemitic violence led by young French Muslims. The Second Intifada was raging in Israel, and the mantle was being taken up by Arab people in Europe as well.
Despite the recurring daily threats and assaults endured by our union members, the then-socialist government was begging us not to press charges. “Do not add fuel to the fire” was the cowardly answer from the French Ministry of Interior. On that Sunday of April 2002, I finally connected the dots. The rise of far-right ideology and the radicalization of French Muslims would feed on each other, continue to expand, and ultimately crush the only minority stuck in the middle — the Jews.
The events of the past few weeks surrounding the Yellow Vest movement are a painful reminder of how unleashed and widespread antisemitism has become since I left France: graffiti reading “Macron = Jews’ Bitch”; swastikas painted on the portraits of Holocaust survivor Simone Veil; “Juden” sprayed on a store window; the desecration of a Jewish cemetery and memorial; and the Salafi-inspired assault against a French Jewish philosopher.
Antisemites are not worried about being arrested or caught on camera anymore. Bystanders do not even consider intervening, because they are used to the fact that antisemitism is now a normal and unstoppable part of France’s daily life. These recent events will just be added to a long list of antisemitic acts, including 11 deaths since 2008. French Jewry will continue to ring the alarm, but not see any real improvement on the ground.
How can a tiny minority, accounting for only 0.6 percent of the French population, be the target of so much hate? According to French government statistics, over the past few years, between a third and half of all racist acts have been antisemitic — despite the fact that Arab and black minorities are more than 10 times larger than the Jews.
The answer lies in France’s societal and economic decline over the past 30 years. Since 1988, the French unemployment rate has averaged 9.4 percent, significantly higher than the OECD’s 6.6 percent, driven by poor GDP growth of 1.6 percent. France has missed the globalization opportunity, partly due to notoriously rigid labor laws and an inadequate education system. France has also arguably missed the digital transformation. Venture capital investments accounted for only 0.06 percent of France’s GDP, compared to 0.4 percent in the US and Israel.
Beyond its economic woes, France had been initially unwilling and later unable to counter the radicalization of its Muslim youth. The penetration of satellite dishes, then social media, and the presence of many radical imams, coupled with France’s weak law enforcement culture, have yielded disastrous results. According to a survey conducted by the ADL in 2015, 17 percent of French people “harbor antisemitic attitudes,” but this number increases to 49 percent within the Muslim community.
President Macron is now paying the price in the polls, but how could anyone reasonably expect his government to fix years of structural challenges and bad decisions in just a few months?
The Jews, in the meantime, have become the ideal scapegoat for disgruntled citizens of all social, political, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. They are the bankers and the globalists, the controllers and hypnotizers of the media, the great manipulators of history, the child-killing colonizers, and lobbying warmongers too. The Jews are the only minority accused of being too liberal yet too ethnocentric, disloyal yet part of the national elite.
After the terrorist attacks of January 2015, former Prime Minister Manuel Valls famously claimed that “without the Jews, France would not be France.” While well-intended, Valls was, at the very least, naive and arguably very wrong.
France without its Jews would still be France, just a different kind of France. Paris would become Toledo, Spain, where synagogues were turned into museums. Marseille would turn into Krakow, Poland or Lviv, Ukraine, where non-Jews dressed as Hasidic men operate Jewish-themed restaurants. Lyon would look like Istanbul, where the remaining Jewish community prays inside a fortified synagogue. And Strasbourg would morph into Baghdad or Aleppo, where all traces of Jews have been erased.
Benjamin Canet is a New York-based investor, a board member of UJA-NY, and a former Secretary General of the French Union of Jewish Students.