Michael R. Shurkin

France and Antisemitism, p.2

As Cherfi himself acknowledges, the problem predates the beurs. Most Jews in France are North Africans who immigrated alongside their Muslim neighbors in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Cherfi says that while growing up in the immigrant ghettos of Toulouse his "parents were antisemites, the way one is in the Maghreb." "The word 'Jew,' in Berber, is an insult." However, he maintains that this antisemitism was not political either and had nothing to do with Palestine. One simply did not like Jews - except for those that one knew. "Those, those of the housing projects, my mother adored, they were our brothers, one couldn't touch them." It was Jews in the abstract that one "detested," and such sentiments did not prevent real familiarity. On the other hand, Cherfi also indicates that today he has little interest in building upon that familiarity to combat bad feelings. "I have no desire to improve the situation, to pretend, to deny the cultural conflict, the cleavages…it is my way of being faithful to the misery of Muslims, in the world, to our failure."

At the same time, the Palestinian cause has given form to this vague anti-Semitism. "To cry 'Vive Palestine!' made one an instant hero," Cherfi says. Zebda placed a photograph of a young Palestinian with a slingshot, an image from the first Intifada, on the cover of their first album, and they played in concerts in support of the Palestinian cause. The result was that, in Cherfi's words, they "gained a ready-made public."

So, for Cherfi, antisemitic beur violence coexists with pro-Palestinian sentiment, but is not meaningfully related to it. Rather, the Palestinian cause is a rallying-point that crystallizes nebulous beur resentment into a politically fashionable cause. Mouloud Aounit, the leader of MRAP, an anti-racist organization aligned with far-left, cautions the two distinct phenomena should not be confused:
I protest against this venal instrumentation of antisemitism that has as its goal of taping shut the mouths of those who criticize the policy of Israel. The debate on the conflict in the Middle East is about politics, justice, and the law. But one wants to enclose us into a communal or religious face-off. Jews against Arabs. It's terrible. Today, it's true, there are hooligans who attack synagogues. I understand the anguish of the victims of these antisemitic acts. But I refuse the amalgamation that a portion of the Jewish community is in the process of making between these hooligans and all the youths who are revolted by the fate of the Palestinians. The polls show that support for Palestinians is not only a fact of the community, a fact of beurs, a fact of youths. For today the young Muslim Arabs are stigmatized, accused. It is not by pouring gasoline that one extinguishes the fire (Le Nouvel Observateur, n. 1942).

So, French Muslim antisemitism (or call it what you will) is quite complicated. On the one hand, there are the violent "hooligans." On the other hand, there are the Muslims who do not attack synagogues but are anti-Zionist. Even if the latter group consciously provides a rationalization for the former group, they deny that the two phenomena have anything to do with one another. Even if the targets in both cases are Jews. This is a rather convenient explanation for people like Cherfi to provide, of course; it exculpates their incendiary music and imagery from any responsibility for "hooligan" violence - even though the perpetrators of the violence are also buying Zebda's music. And it is convenient from Aounit, who does not want his political agenda being tarnished with the violence that uses it as a pretext.

So much for the official line on French Muslim antisemitism. Outside the Muslim community, antisemitic views are widespread in the general French population, but most official reports say that they are neither common nor spreading. In Le Monde (4/3/02) the sociologist Nonna Meyer sifted through the results of several years' worth of public opinion polls to confirm what she considers to be the narrow limits of French antisemitism. She reports that some 34% of French people agreed in 2000 that Jews had "too much power," however she insists that the "hard core of convinced antisemites" does not exceed 10%. Those who agree that Jews are too numerous (20%), moreover, very likely argue that there are also too many Asians (62%), Blacks (86%), and Arabs (97%). In other words, those who don't like Jews are basically bigots without a specifically anti-Jewish outlook. Mayer's conclusion is that "France is not antisemitic."

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Images: Beurs and Palestinians - Zebda album covers

November 2003

Niles Goldstein

France and Antisemitism
Michael Shurkin

Jay Michaelson

No Pulp
Dan Friedman

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Josh's Jewish Reminders
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From previous issues:

Eminem & Class Rage
Dan Friedman

Why We Still Need Beethoven
Michael Shurkin

The Red-Green Alliance
Dave Hyde
Sex, drugs, and God in all