The solidarity rally for French Jews held last week in Paris must have seemed impressive to Israelis. But as impressive it was seeing about half of French government ministers as well as other prominent individuals participating, it was too little, too late. The situation in France is not going to get any better.
The media only recently reported that in 2018, anti-Semitism has increased by 74% compared to the previous year. The headline only serves to confirm what we are witnessing: physical and verbal attacks against Jews, desecration of Jewish cemeteries and monuments, hate messages scrawled on Jewish businesses and vehicles, and others.
Although it has been mostly absent from the headlines since Macron’s election, anti-Semitism has not gone away. Therefore, the solidarity expressed, across party lines, last week is heartwarming to many in the Jewish community. But while the rally may have provided some measure of calm, it will not solve the problem.
It is doubtful how much this play of unity can affect the perception of the general population in a country where radical elements are increasing. It is unfortunate to see the reaction of the progressive elite in the country who revert to the same mantras that are reminiscent of the messages we heard five years ago when then-Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared that the Jews were the avant-garde of the French Republic; an impressive compliment, but it had no practical influence.
Valls was perceived as a true friend of the Jewish community but in the interim he has become an insignificant figure and left the country about a year ago. His words were forgotten, and it is hard to point to any real progress on the front.
What hasn’t worked in the past will not work now. France’s handling of anti-Semitism is misguided and French Jews have had enough of declarations. They do not need another protest march that condemns what is bad and praises what is good. Last week’s march included figures who lack any understanding of the matter. For the Green Party representatives, it was just another stage on which to virtue signal ahead of the elections. As far as they are concerned, anti-Semitism is merely an unpleasant matter, but nothing to get too excited about.
The French population also understands this: in the past, such rallies would attract hundreds of thousands of people, but last week only 20,000 showed up.
Furthermore, many participants stubbornly ignore the fact that anti-Semitism has become embedded among certain segments of French society. Therefore, the presence of the elites at the rally only serves to reinforce the conspiracy that Jews control the halls of power.
An appropriate response requires that the reality be confronted. Public discourse cannot continue to approach the subject as merely a universal expression of hatred of the other. Bold journalism should not be afraid of exposing the background of perpetrators of such crimes. Finding appropriate solutions requires acknowledging that today's anti-Semitism has passed from the extreme right to radical Islam. This is an open secret, but proponents of identity politics insist on minimizing and diluting it, thus preventing confronting the problem head on.
Furthermore, the plight of the Jews in France is not detached from attitudes towards the Jewish state. The Yellow Vest protesters who attacked the Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut in Paris last Saturday yelled slogans unrelated to the protest they were part of. Their cries of “Palestine” and “Zionist garbage” exposed what it is that bothers them about the Jews.
In that respect, France is fertile ground for such unsubstantiated accusations and legitimacy for violence. No wonder it is ultimately aimed at the Jewish community.
Progressive parties and their representatives in the media — those who participated in the protest last week — are actively fueling this hatred through the war they wage against the State of Israel. Thus, in the suburb of La Courneuve, north of Paris, the "Festival of Humanity" takes place annually, an important event for the Communist Party and its allies. Every year, the most prominent BDS activists are hosted there.
Perhaps it is clear to senior party officials where the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is, but it turns out that the residents of the surrounding slum neighborhoods are less sensitive to these nuances.
The authorities' position on the matter is indeed moving in the right direction. Following his conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Macron announced that expressing anti-Zionist positions would be considered among the many forms of anti-Semitism. But it is not clear how the move will not remain purely declarative. Macron already made it clear that he was opposed to incriminating those positions. The hate propagators know how to play with the limits of freedom of expression and the censor's capabilities in the era of social networks are nil.
And as far as French Jews are concerned, “we had to attend the march, but it will not change anything.”
Nicolas Nissim Touboul is a projects coordinator at the Institute for Zionist Strategies and was born in France.