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Jewish World Review April 24, 2002/ 13 Iyar, 5762

Suzanne Fields

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Why French brie isn't kosher | The French once defined high fashion, fine wines and old cheese, and a language crisp with clarity. We were willing to forget the way they roughed up that Dreyfus fellow, assisted in the deporting of thousands of Jews to the concentration camps ("the Nazis made us do it") and then, after the Nazis had been defeated, built a memorial in 1946 to 44 Jewish children who had been snatched from an orphanage and sent to Auschwitz, and wouldn't identify them as Jewish.

The French sometimes correct themselves when their hypocrisies and self-interests are exposed, but only with a lot of pressure from outsiders. So we can hope that someday the French -- along with other Europeans -- who are trying to hide their anti-Semitism behind sympathy for the Palestinians will think again. But I wouldn't bet a wedge of brie, even accompanied by a bottle of good California Merlot, on it.

France joined Austria, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and Sweden to condone, not condemn, Palestinian terrorism. They all voted as members of the United Nations Human Rights Commission - this is the same commission that kicked the United States from its membership two years ago. Canada, Germany and Britain opposed the resolution and brave Italy abstained.

"A vote in favor of this resolution is a vote for Palestinian terrorism," Alfred Moses, a former U.S. ambassador to the commission and now chairman of UN Watch, a monitoring group, told the Toronto-based National Post. "Any country that condones - or is indifferent to - the murder of Israeli civilians in markets, on buses and in cafes has lost any moral standing to criticize Israel's human rights record."

The Austrians, as usual, tried to have it both ways. They signed the resolution but said they didn't like it, particularly the use of the word "Judaization" to describe Israeli policies in Jerusalem, and the accusation against Israel of "acts of mass killing." The resolution affirms "the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to resist the Israeli occupation," and the words by "all available means," logically interpreted as an endorsement of suicide bombings, were deleted only at the last minute.

The French, who have closed their eyes to Islamist terrorism in Israel, have made the Jews in their own country all the more vulnerable as anti-Semitic violence mounts there. The Jewish community in France, the largest in Europe, numbers about 700,000, but this is small compared to the 5 million Muslims who terrify the rest of the population.

The Paris government reports up to 12 violent incidents against Jews every day. Over the past 18 months more than 400 anti-Semitic attacks have been documented in France. Cemeteries are desecrated with swastikas, a synagogue was burned down in Marseilles, and organized thugs in hooded scarves attacked a teen-age Jewish soccer team in a working class neighborhood near Paris. The gang of North African boys fell upon the Maccabee soccer team with sticks and bars, shouting "death to the Jews."

Mercifully, nobody was killed, and the anti-Semitic violence today is nothing like the violence in France under the Nazis, but when the French ambassador to England feels free to compare Jews to feces at an A-list dinner party in London, it's clear where all this could easily go.

France has always indulged moral ambiguity when it comes to the Jews. Unlike the Germans, they felt no need to atone for anything when they were confronted with their participation in the Holocaust. By their lights, they were occupied, by the Nazis. When, in 1972, Marcel Ophuls, the film director, produced "The Sorrow and the Pity," a documentary about French anti-Semitism and cowardice during the Vichy period, French audiences were so outraged that the movie was banned from French television until 1981.

This has been a simmering source of bitterness in the French Jewish community since. The Resistance, which so bravely fought back when a majority of their countrymen embraced the Nazi occupation, did little to save Jews, never attempting even to stop a deportation train to the death camps.

The French have often excluded Jews from their national identity. In 1980, when neo-Nazi groups in Paris attacked a synagogue and killed four Jews, Raymond Barre, the prime minister, condemned the attack but added, in a notorious aside, that "innocent Frenchmen" might also have been killed. The sentiment caused a brief diplomatic uproar, but was nevertheless commonplace.

But the French are less squeamish today, with a large, restless, angry Muslim population in their midst. They condemn the Israelis for defending themselves and ignore the suicide murderers of Jews with no fear of exposing anti-Semitic sentiment. The thugs on the soccer field had no trouble interpreting the national sentiment. Neither should the rest of us.

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© 2001, Suzanne Fields. TMS