Antisemitism in France: Yes, No, and Maybe

vu de pompidou

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo/ policewoman/ kosher market killings here in Paris that took 17 lives last January, people have asked when they might expect to see a ‘point de vue’ on two subjects: whether daily life has changed, and whether antisemitism is on the rise in France. The two are terribly intertwined, for Jews and non-Jews alike.  Were these acts ghastly aberrations, media-genic statistical outliers? Or, is antisemitism at their root and on the march? If it is taking ground, then by how much, how fast? By what measure? How much does one, can one know?

I only live here: in the Marais, the old traditional Jewish enclave. I don’t have insider information and I’m not even sure I think what I think. But everyone can have an opinion– and apparently everyone does. President Netanyahu of Israel expressed his when he invited the Jews of France to up and move en masse to that ultimate safe haven, the Middle East. (Bibi is showing a remarkable gift these days for meddling in other country’s sensitive affairs.) Madonna, obviously qualified since she doesn’t live in France, doesn’t speak French and rivals Sarah Palin in her disdain for basic facts, freaked out millions with her recent statement that France today ‘feels like Nazi Germany.’ With much more restraint, Roger Cukierman, president of the Jewish Federation in France acronymed as Crif, remarked that there are parts of town where Jewish men are today uncomfortable wearing a ‘kippa’ (yarmulke)– and that it is strange to drop one’s child off at a school door guarded by special troops bearing machine guns.

Indeed. I recently stopped at a synagogue entrance to ask the armored and armed to-the-gills protectors whether I could take a picture. ‘Sorry, that is forbidden, it would be too dangerous. Someone might kill us. Even press photos have to have the features blurred out. If it gets on the Internet– a colleague has already received threats…’ I thanked them. It must be hard, carrying all that weight, literally and figuratively. Nothing to do, while needing to stay on high alert every minute. One sees these young men and women everywhere, standing or patrolling in twos and threes.

In the weeks after the January 11th March of Solidarity, friends and I sensed a positive change in the streets and public places. People seemed jolted out of their blinkered paths, more mutually aware and caring of those who might need a hand, or directions, or even a hand-out. There were sympathetic smiles. Eyes met eyes with a not-so-Parisian warmth.

That effect has faded some, to be replaced by a jigsaw of anxiety and frustration. Millions of moderate Muslims fear reprisals and mounting mistrust and prejudice. The ‘ordinary’ (non-Muslim) French wonder where and when the next attack will land and clamor for more accountability and the reining-in of radicalizing imams. The far-right National Front is raking in new members who demand the borders be shut. The government has moved swiftly on a number of fronts: beefing up surveillance, changes in sentencing and the prison system, programs for Internet and social media activism, outreach in the schools (How late, how late. After all, that’s where the recent violence was nurtured over years.) Angry young Muslims vocally protest systemic disadvantage while rejecting the principles of laicité and embracing conspiracy theories according to which the Charlie Hebdo killings were a government plot meant to discredit Muslims, and/or were completely faked. And certainly some Jews, although not all, are feeling like they’re wearing targets on their backs.

So, a climate of fear in Paris? No. Not for the vast majority of people going about their lives, enjoying the spring weather and rambling around city streets well into the balmy night. Call it a climate of destabilization and intense searching: for explanations and urgently needed effective solutions to the alienation of a young, inflammable, often ghetto-ized and poorly educated demographic. It’s to them that the new radicalized antisemitism offers a dangerous focus. I’m not Pollyanna: similarities to the Nazis’ expert exploitation of frustrated Germans looking for a scapegoat in the Depression aren’t lost on me. But here is a bit of perspective: statistics for homicide in the most recent year available (2012) show the US at 4.7 per 100k inhabitants, and France at 1.0 per 100k. Even the murders of January 2015 won’t have moved that needle, or changed the fact that France is the vastly safer place to live and raise one’s children.

Fine, you may say, but does that still hold true for Jews? I think so. Recently Roger Cukierman stirred a p.c. hornet’s nest by stating a simple fact: that while certainly not all French Muslims are antisemites, all perpetrators of anti-Jewish violence have been Muslim.   I wonder if he in turn would agree with my personal experience– that among non-Muslims, while antisemitism hangs on in some insalubrious minds of the older generation, it’s hard to find among those 50 and under. Jews in Paris do wear their kippas with style, provide leadership in politics, art and business, and toss confetti at dozens of glorious marriages every Sunday in the synagogue up my street. They’re French, to stay.

(Note: the photo, taken from top of the Pompidou Center, shows a black ‘Je suis Charlie’ banner draped from a building.)


  1. equinoxio21 · · Reply

    A nice, balanced post. Thank you.
    And yes, stats don’t lie. I live in a country of 120 million inhabitants (roughly twice the size of France) and 12 to 15,000 narc-related homicides a year. France is at about 760 or something. Anyone can do the math.
    Now, there is a real issue in france (has been fueling the Front National for years): non-integration vs. immigration. And again, not for all. I’m always positively impressed by the number of young immigrés (particularly girls/women) perfectly at ease in french society, working in shops, client services and sounding and looking frenchier than the french. On the other hand, stats also show that males from immigré backgrounds fare much worse than girls. (On that note, the Pew center reports that in the US there are now far more College female students than males! Wonder how that will affect the men/women power structure in the US, 20 years from now)
    The various french governments of the past 30 years have just ignored the problem (“No, no that would be racism. Pas d’amalgame”!), tried to sweep it under the rug, and as I said, only fueled Le Pen’s sick ambitions.
    Camus once wrote “Mal nommer les choses serait ajouter aux malheurs du monde”.
    Let us remember ETA in Spain: a handful of desperate men and women are enough to plant bombs.
    Soooo. Something has to be done about it. First acknowledge that there is a probkem. Then solve it. Integration is the key. But then the French have lost pride in their (our) country. So how do you make someone from “outside” be proud of a country you’re not proud of?
    (Sorry for rambling. I am concerned…)
    But, again… merci for your post.

    1. Brian, your rambling makes complete sense. I too try to name the things…

      1. equinoxio21 · ·

        Il faut appeler un chat un chat! 😊 have a nice week-end in paris. Spring is (should be) just around the corner!
        Take care.

  2. Williamsson · · Reply

    This really is beautifully balanced, “reporting,” in other words, with no visible axes being ground. It is clearly true that France is one of the safer societies in which to live these days: engineers always talk about “the delta,” the rate of change, and i suspect this is what has got people’s attention, that and the– for whatever reason– ghettoization of Muslim populations in the Paris suburbs. Above all this piece is refreshing, an antidote to the mindless “I am Charlie” hysteria of recent weeks. (I want to say “if you are Charlie then I’m a Hottentot,” as those proclaiming that well-intended gesture of solidarity are usually those with the least knowledge of France, Islam, and certainly the way in which Charlie Hebdo differs from most other magazines….

  3. Merci. You have done us a great service. I wondered. The Paris I love is sometime snobbish, hardly ever hateful, ready to offer a gracious hand to this quite capable woman abet with white hair. I don’t doubt there is antisemitism somewhere in France as there is in the US as there is anti-someone or something everywhere as near as I can tell. You offer perspective. Often lacking in our troubled world.

    1. Anti semitism somewhere in France, somewhere in the US. Good job downplaying it.

  4. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts as someone who has lived in Paris for a long time. Do you think this can be extended out to other cities in France? I recall from my travels that equating expereinces in Paris to all of France is much like equating those in New York or Los Angeles to the rest of the U.S.

    1. Irene, you are right that one cannot simply extrapolate from Paris. Some regions have (even) greater tensions around Muslim communities, e.g. Marseilles, Montpellier, Roubaix. Other are pockets of high concentration of the right-wing FN, which has a history of exploiting antisemitism, even though current leader Marine LePen says those bad old days gone. That said, most French people wherever they are, are far more connected with what goes on in ‘la capitale’ than, say, folks in Waco TX are with NY, LA or DC.

  5. “that while certainly not all French Muslims are antisemites, all perpetrators of anti-Jewish violence have been Muslim. ”

    That’s a very important point. I’m not Jewish, but my Armenian ancestors have had similar problems with Muslim neighbors for a 1000+ years and one lesson rings particularly true; cultures will clash – regardless of how “multicultural” a country wants to insist it is.

    Something has to give in France. Hopefully, it is the nonsensical hatespeech laws which could be the ultimate curbstomp to the Jews in France. Imagine not being able to voice concerns because it may offend potential muslims?

    1. lia1990 · · Reply

      Imagine not being able to protest(peacefully) when the major pillar of your religion is dishonoured in the name of “freedom of speech”. If you cant say good about any religion, y do u have the need to say bad”. You know that will create misunderstanding and “bad people need a small spark to start a fire” that can burn down evrrything. And bad people dont have any religion.

  6. taleoftwodans · · Reply

    Europe is becoming more anti semetic by the day and incidentally more Muslims are moving to Europe…

  7. As said before, nice and balanced. I like posts like this. You have provided me a great insight.

  8. In addition to expressing my appreciation for a well written piece, I would like to point out that legislation cannot change hearts and minds. Stifling them feeds the problem, it grows and resurfaces as a greater challenge.

    1. It’s one of those statements that has gained legitimacy through repetition. I have heard before and it sounds right until you examine it closely. Legislation and the determination of compassionate individuals willing to speak out against injustice can and has often worked to change hearts and minds. Human nature being what it is, it’s never going to be everyone’s hearts and minds. I grant that. It doesn’t mean we should stop when it seems too hard. I’m of an age that has experienced many changes: towards gays and gay marriage, towards people of colour, towards women’s rights. I don’t believe in selective compassion.

  9. ltina202 · · Reply

    Reblogged this on tinaness202.

  10. I think that antisemitism exists all over. In France as well as the US. I was just in Italy and there was antisemitism graffitti on the walls next to the synagogue in Rome. So Sad…

  11. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

    1. Nothing is simple. Thanks for sending along the piece to your readers.

  12. Reblogged this on themsorg.

    1. Thanks for the re-blog. In good company!

  13. treatwilliams · · Reply

    Je suis charlie baby

  14. Ideology. Vision. Discussion. · · Reply

    It is true, unfortunately many Jews suffer anti-Semitism. Not just from Muslims (they being one of the prime culprits though), but many other people, too.

    1. you should be black and living in Israel.It seems many Jews have been hated for so long that they cant help put pass that bitter cup around.

  15. Thoughtful. I was concerned by the very emotional reactions at the time, understandable, but the media able to spread more of this than careful consideration of the effect on different communities. Egalite and fraternite seemed to be left out of the responses.

    1. I am also uneasy about the tenor of some responses to my article. Have suppressed a few that were, let’s say, counter-productive. Some others are on the border but included here. Thanks for your comment and all those in the same spirit!

      1. It needs to be spread more and is about human values and compassion. Just found out yesterday about the Ulster Quaker work for peace through all the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Local and non judgemental I think was part of their peace process efforts. They still work with young troubled people there.

  16. seyesworld · · Reply

    Reblogged this on naijainfotechworld.

  17. Reblogged this on lellone.

  18. darroyolifecoach · · Reply

    Reblogged this on dalbas!.

  19. Ashraf Ahmed (Mamun) · · Reply

    Reblogged this on Ashraf Online and commented:
    A Note on ‘Antisemitism in France’.

  20. Anti-semitism is so sad (any type of prejudice is terrible)- I just don’t understand why anyone can hate someone just because of their religion- practising Judaism isn’t hurting anyone, so why are people so prejudiced towards Jews?
    For anyone celebrating Pesach next week- Pesach Sameach xx
    (My Hebrew is almost non-existent so if that’s wrong I’m really sorry)

  21. A beautifully well balanced piece. No judgement or or prejudice, just written purely from an observer perspective…this art has been lost in writing and journalism of late. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article 🙂

  22. Reblogged this on The Science of Hippyness and commented:
    I’m not one for re-blogging. I leave that stuff for Facebook and Twitter. However sometimes, when you find a gem like this, so beautifully written, reporting from a place of pure observation and non-prejudice, it begs to be shared with the world.

    For the world needs more written words like these to calm the hate…

    1. Thank you, ‘science’! This will keep me working in the morning.

  23. vaiby966 · · Reply

    Reblogged this on .

  24. thenjuvi · · Reply

    Reblogged this on Queen-V.

    1. Thank you! And for the follow!

      1. you’re welcome !

  25. Great post and very true. I live just outside of Paris in the banlieue and after the Hebdo attack there has been an unease but on the other hand people seem to speak and even smile at each other more.

    1. Thanks for this testimony, Laura. Good job publicizing the jeans issue on your blog!

  26. Have you checked out our theme for Issue 5: The Pen is Mightier?? Very apt…

    1. Thank you, Zeitheist. Feel free to repost, with attribution.

  27. Hot Pavement · · Reply

    Really good stuff

  28. Thank you
    Fantastic Blog
    Good luck

  29. Reblogged this on cyberclerk.

  30. davidjohncullen · · Reply

    Reblogged this on davejohncullen.

  31. Not that I know much about French affairs, but Islamophobia is very much on the rise in France also. The are 5 times as many educated, ununemployed North-Africans compared to native French in the country as well. There are many underlying issues in the rise of antisemitism. While the Muslims became scapegoats for the “ordinary” French Jews became scapegoats for the Muslim French.
    After all what was the chances for a seperate attack on a kocher shop the day after a terrorist attack which had nothing to do with Jews.

  32. Very nice blog post by the way. I forgot to mention that.

    1. Thanks, and for your thoughts as well. Where are you writing from?

  33. That’s a thoughtful and balanced post. I find myself wondering whether there’d be less anger and, yes, less antisemitism among Muslims if the world at large was equally worried about anti-Muslim sentiment, because it’s widespread and hysterical–and damaging. I don’t mean in particularly France, but in the west (a vague term, I admit) at large.

    As for Madonna… Madonna? That’s absurd on so many levels that I hardly know where to start.

    1. Thanks, Ellen. I much enjoyed your take (decorous rant?) on ‘British values’ as well.

  34. This is an extremely eurocentric post that ignores the cultural, political and ideological drivers of antisemitism in North Africa and the wider Muslim world. Yes, many immigrants might feel the reason they can’t get a job in Paris is due to Jewish employers discriminating against them but that is just the tip of a vast cultural iceberg that includes how Jews were lumped with Europeans in French Colonial North Africa (think of the Oran Massacre), how Jews are portrayed by the ulema in Islamic education, and how Jews have waged aggression in Gaza.

    1. Thanks for contributing your views on antisemitism in the wider Muslim world.

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