The most serious impact in Europe of the breakdown of the peace process
and the rioting of the Palestinians has been in France. Synagogues and other
Jewish sites have been attacked in or near cities in different
parts of the
country, particularly near Paris, where large agglomerations of immigrants
from Moslem, mostly North African countries, live.
|"[President Chirac] has never understood Israel and the Israelis, and their feeling of insecurity and isolation in the midst of a hostile Arab world."
|- Henri Hajdenberg,
head of CRIF
So far, material damage has been minor, and no one has sustained serious
But the alarm of the Jewish community – the largest in Western Europe,
estimated at 700,000 and half of them refugees from North Africa – is
high. Public debate has been focused on whether there is a new wave of
anti-Semitism, which Henri Hajdenberg, the head of the Jewish umbrella
organization, the CRIF, does not believe. He sees the arson and other
attacks on Jewish sites as attempts by "groups in the suburbs who try
to spread what is happening in the Near East to France."
But ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman thinks that the attacks are
"more than just heat-of-the-moment crimes as a result of tension in the
Middle East." He believes that "these are hate crimes that have a
devastating impact on entire communities, while re-opening deep wounds for
the Jewish people."
The response of the government has been routine. Some 50 suspects were
arrested by late October, and about a score are being prosecuted. President
Chirac and Prime Minister Jospin have condemned the violence, but Mr. Foxman
feels that the official response has been inadequate. He said that
"government and local authorities must take a more public role in
denouncing the attacks."
The view that the attacks on synagogues were not anti-Semitic, but rather
the expression of frustration and anger in poor Moslem communities in French
suburbs—is controversial. Mr. Foxman objected to this characterization by
the French Interior Minister Daniel Vaillant who saw the attacks as those of
juvenile delinquents. In his response, the French official did concede that
the violence may have had ethnic motivation.
Both the public debate and the attitude of the government reflect the
impact of French objectives in the Middle East on both domestic policy and
public opinion. It is a policy that Jews consider pro-Arab and that inhibits
the kind of hardheaded response to anti-Jewish acts that are believed to
stem from what is happening in and around Israel. A poll published in the
widely read daily Liberation shows that twice as many people in
France who have an opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict attribute
responsibility for it to Israel (31%) than to the Palestinians (15%). Half
of the respondents do not name either party as responsible.
This fits in with the view of Henri Hajdenberg that President Chirac
"has never understood Israel and the Israelis, and their feeling of
insecurity and isolation in the midst of a hostile Arab world." He
notes that Israelis see France and Europe – with France as the most vocal
and assertive member of the European Community – as defending the
Palestinian side with such partiality as to eliminate Europe from a credible
role in the diplomatic process
There is a strong sense in the French-Jewish community that France is
playing a pro-Palestinian and pro-Arab role in the conflict. Mr. Hajdenberg
was particularly concerned at President Chirac’s statement soon after the
outbreak of the new round of hostilities that "one does not respond to
the feelings of a people, by sending tanks." The French-Jewish leader
called this an emotional reaction to television images, rather than
It has also been reliably reported that it was President Chirac who
discouraged Yasir Arafat from signing an armistice agreement that was ready
for signature after intense diplomatic negotiation in the French capital.
The issue appears to have been the setting up of an international commission
to supervise the armistice. The United States, as the traditional third
party and mediator between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,
was to play this role on the planned commission. But France currently
Chair of the European community, sought a wider group of which it would have
been a member. Reports from the Paris meetings indicated that, when this
failed, the French President urged the Palestinian leader to withhold his
Another recent instance of friction was a complaint by Prime Minister
Jospin, at the annual dinner of the CRIF, about legal actions in the United
States against French banks, accusing the banks of failing to restore Jewish
assets after the war. This, said Jospin, "is not only unnecessary but
also likely to prejudice the awarding of compensation to the victims."
Some present at the dinner interpreted Jospin’s warning as a veiled
threat, and it sparked criticism from American representatives at the
dinner, which usually is a congenial and festive event. Jospin pointed to
the findings of a French commission that led to the budgeting of $380
million to compensate victims. He found it "difficult to
understand" that an American judge considered himself authorized to
deal with the subject. It was explained to the Prime Minister that American
judges are independent and American lawyers free to act before the courts as
they see fit. The protests subsided and the dinner proceeded.
The incident is part and parcel of a persistent tension between France
and the United States, due in large part to a widespread feeling in parts of
the media and the intellectual community that the United States seeks
"hegemony" in the world, and particularly in commercial and
cultural life. There are objections to American films, fast food outlets,
like McDonalds, and other imports that turn out to be popular, especially
with young people, but are deeply resented by the intellectual
This unrelated negative reaction to America coincides with the resentment
of America’s dominant role in the Middle East peace process, in which
France, seeing itself as the leading power of the European Community, seeks
to play a more central role.
All this explains but in no way diminishes friction and resentment
between the government, other important institutions and the Jewish
community, as well as between French institutions and America. ADL works
with the French –Jewish umbrella organization, CRIF, with which it is in
frequent contact, and tries to develop closer relations with the French
diplomatic establishment in the United States. So far this has not been very
successful, but the efforts will continue.