If the English-language Israeli news is to be believed,* Israel is turning into one giant patisserie-fromagerie. French Jews are everywhere, arriving either as immigrants or as tourists. But what kind of tourism is this, exactly? French Jews visiting Israel seem to be making several points, none of which have much to do with why most people choose a place to vacation. One, they want to show support for Israel at a time when it needs it most. Two, they consider Israel (as in, not France) to be their home. Three, they want to show their opposition to the French government. One French-Jewish vacationer to Israel was quoted in Haaretz: “When I saw our prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, on TV landing in Beirut to show his support for the Lebanese, I immediately booked an earlier flight to Israel. The French politicians are always supporting the Arabs and opposing Israel, and I have to show the State of Israel that I support it.” And four, most tellingly, they are not frightened by what’s going on in Israel. Why not? As one woman in this fascinating video from Ynet explains, “Not afraid, not at all, more afraid in France.” France is not at war, Israel is. So what does this mean, that they are more afraid in France?
The Haaretz piece, which my father kindly emailed to me yesterday, does a good job in explaining why Israel seems a reasonable place for French Jews to visit or even move to permanently. In Israel, French Jews become Israelis, full citizens, and full members of society; even on vacation, French Jews in Israel seem to feel at home. For a variety of reasons–among them the existence of Israel; Vichy; a new, immigrant French-Jewish population–French Jews today, unlike their pre-WWII, or especially pre-Dreyfus Affair, equivalents, don’t appear to be all that interested in putting a French identity before all others. It’s not about whether French Jewish visitors to Israel actually feel safer during their stays than they did the previous week in France, but about which place, ultimately, they see as the best, and therefore safest, option.
But here’s what makes this story interesting– can you honestly call these visitors “tourists”? How can it be a “vacation” if you’re going to make a point, and a bleak one at that, about your own country at a time of peace being so terrible for your community that you consider a country at war to be relatively safe? They may be staying in hotels, going to cafes and beaches, and taking time off from work, but French Jews in Israel seem more like political demonstrators than like vacationers. This is unfortunate, since the very point they’re trying to make is that Israel is a normal country where one ought to want to vacation, but the fact that it’s a news story that someone would dare vacation there, well…
*The English-language Israeli press is, on this issue, not to be believed, according to a friend I saw yesterday who is an honest-to-goodness French Jew and thus knows better than I about all this. Yes, there are French people in Israel, but no, France is not the hotbed of anti-Semitism it’s made out to be in the U.S., and Israel, my friend argues, has ulterior motives in making it out as if French Jews consider Israel, not France, to be their country. So, uh, nevermind.