A fellow UChicago grad forwarded me this article calling for a Jewish boycott of France from something called the Israel Hasbara Committee. Someone referring to him- or herself as “A Jew Living in France” lists a variety of anti-Semitic incidents, including acts of vandalism, and concludes that, “Nowhere have the flames of antisemitism burned more furiously than in France.”

And here’s the interesting bit. Time to stop all those visits to Petit Bateau and the Zabars cheese counter:

Second, boycott France and French products. Only the Arab countries are more toxically antisemitic and, unlike them, France exports more than just oil and hatred. So, boycott their wines and their perfumes. Boycott their clothes and their foodstuffs. Boycott their movies. Definitely boycott their shores. If we are resolved we can exert amazing pressure and, whatever else we may know about the French, we most certainly know that they are like a cobweb in a hurricane in the face of well-directed pressure.

But alas, things are not so simple. First off, does suicide bombing count as anti-Semitic violence, and if so, should Israel, too, be subject to boycott? The French government today comes out firmly against anti-Semitism…

But the thing about France, as I emailed my former schoolmate, is that it may have more anti-Semitic incidents per capita than some other places, but it also has many more Jews. 600,000’s the estimate usually thrown around, along with “third, after the US and Israel,” neither of which can be confirmed, as France (thankfully, I’d say) does not count its Jews.* In other words, Jews appear to consider France more hospitable than all but two other countries on the planet. Countries seen as so “bad for the Jews” that they barely have any must appear incident-free. (Although there’s always the odd case of anti-Semitic violence in places with no Jews, where someone non-Jewish is seen as a bit “Jewy” and all hell breaks loose.)

So does this mean that Nazi Germany must have been the most hospitable place for Jews in all of history, what with the unprecedented level of anti-Semitic incidents? No, but it’s still fair to say that, of those places where anti-Semitism is a problem, a history of Jews living comfortably usually exists. Not being French, and not (yet) having done the necessary research, I cannot say for sure, but my sense of it is that French Jews are in danger somewhat less than, say, American gays, who also face many an “incident,” and who, unlike French Jews, do not have full civil rights.

Of course, things in France are not all fantastic. As one of my Hebrew-class classmates pointed out this evening, and as I suppose I’d mentioned on WWPD before, French Jews are heading east in record numbers, and those who have not actually made aliyah often are either considering it or buying property in Israel, just in case. This might have something to do with much of the current Jewish population in France being, much like the Muslim North African population, relatively new to the “hexagon,” or it might be a sign that World War III is about to reach the Marais. I don’t know which, but hope to write a paper on this soon, so we shall see. It’s probably better to be Jewish in Israel than in France in many cases, and is undeniably better to be Jewish between 72nd and 96th on the West Side than just about anywhere else. But my overall point here is that anti-Semitism can be combatted in France without abandoning proper Camembert for good.

*A tangentially related point, having to do with affirmative action. Last night I attended an intriguing panel discussion at NYU’s Maison Francaise on “positive discrimination” in France. Unfortunately, though, one of the most important points about affirmative action was pretty much brushed over. The debate is often seen as those who fear minorities and women gaining unfair advantages (aka conservative white men who already have far too much, etc.) versus those individuals who understand that the playing field needs leveling. But what about those who agree the playing field needs leveling (aka anyone of the liberal-reasonable slant), but who see the very act of asking people to identify themselves racially, the very act of a government collecting such data, as creepy and dangerous enough to merit keeping race, per se, out of affirmative action? In America at this point, people are so used to filling out their race on forms from who knows where that it becomes second nature, like a phone number and a permanent address. That’s bad news. Aside from a brief remark from Patrick Weil explaining how, among other things, Vichy makes France today wary of counting its minorities, there wasn’t much mention of why people– Jews especially, in France especially but also American Jews with even the most minimal historical understanding– might oppose certain forms of affirmative action for not at all reactionary reasons.**

**Had I figured out a way to ask this more succinctly, I’d have done so at the talk. Sometimes I do this in time, but last night it was not to be. Next time…

Cross-posted at WWPD.

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  • Yes! Boycott French cinema! Enough of that pseudo-intellectual Rohmer! Oh wait, I think he’s Jewish. Mathieu Kassovitz is way too excitable, so get rid of his films too. Wait, he’s also Jewish. So Let’s boycott Diane Kurys and Claude Lanzmann. And Claude Lelouch. And Claude Berri. And Serge Gainsbourg since it’s his fault we grew up listening to a woman moaning passionately in Je T’Aime. Nope, Jewish, Jewish, Jewish, Jewish and Jewish. And Marin Karmitz is also Jewish and doesn’t he own half of the French film productions along with two gazillion French cinemas? In fact, aren’t half of the prominent French filmmakers Jewish? Heck, even Polanski lives in France now.

    But since there are no Jewish French farmers or cheesemakers, I totally agree about boycotting those antisemitic bastards.

    But not wines because even though they aren’t as good as California wines, somebody has to support the Rothschilds.

    Speaking of Rothschilds, let us reconsider a boycott of French banks.

    But yes, I don’t believe there are any French Jewish Catholics so let’s boycott the Catholics. Oh shit, we had Lustiger didn’t we?

    But I completely agree that we should boycott Bernard-Henri Lévy because his life is too French and too perfect.

    Oh and boycott French mimes. Marcel Marceau was Jewish…

    More, lots more French Jews in this link.

  • Great comment, Middle! It’s clear from that list of French Jews that they’ve made an absolutely negligible impact on world culture– so boycott away!

  • I got that same mass email Israel Hasbara posted a few weeks ago. It’s like one of those snopes.com emails – part truth, part hyperbole, and not totally accurate (for example a Montpelier synagogue was attacked with molotov cocktails but they missed). What the email implied is that these incidences indicate a sudden explosion in anti-semitism in France. The problem is that almost all the examples – including the Montpelier incident, the Toulouse incidences regarding the butcher and sports club, occured five years ago. It’s as if the emailer copied a Jeff Jacoby column in the Jewish World Review from ’02…


    Okay, Israel Hasbara, like other websites, bit on the email. But it does open up interesting discussion. Jacoby pointed out in ’02 that out that anti-semitism wasn’t being revived in France – it simply never left. Phoebe’s correct in saying one needs perspective. Look at any anti-semitic watchdog reports and you’ll see European countries have as many incidences of anti-semitism in relation to it’s Jewish population as France.

    While on business in France I worked with a Jewish guy who’s family was well-entrenched in the Jewish community. His view on anti-semitism in France was much like Phoebe’s… it exists, it’s palpable, but he didn’t see it as representative of France as a whole. We were walking down a street in Nantes and Le Pen campaign posters were plastered everywhere. I loudly cursed the asshole Mr. Le Pen and my associate immediately shushed me. Brittany was a Le Pen stronghold and his supporters were everywhere and were eager to kick some Jewish ass. In the end, however, Le Pen overestimated his popularity or the support of his anti-semitism by the general population.

    On the positive side, a few years ago I was staying in Northern Paris near the Parc de la Villete ( think it’s in the 19th arrond – Phoebe?) and found myself on a busy street full of Arab shops, restaurants, grocers etc.. I crossed an intersection and suddenly it suddenly transformed into a street full of kosher markets, butchers and other Jewish owned businesses. I walked into a Judaica store and the woman who owned the place eyed me with enormous suspicion. She didn’t speak english but her daughter did and we got to talking about the neighborhood, how pleasantly surprised I was to wander into it, about relations between the Arab and Jewish businesses, etc. She said they were struggling for business but was happy to be there.

    Moral: There’s enough proof of anti-semitism in France that you don’t need to distort the truth.

    And, like middle said, when you call for a boycott, know who you’re really boycotting. I shouldn’t have spent money in a struggling Judaica store? I shouldn’t been doing business with a Frenchman even if he’s Jewish? Boycotting French products take money out of Jewish hands. Jews are not living in shtels in Paris. But the writer of that email should know this – if he or she is actually a French Jew.

  • Well Joshua, that makes sense. Boycotting French products because they’re overpriced and useless is completely valid.