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Ariel Sharon and the French
Last uploaded : Tuesday 20th Jul 2004 at 01:32
Contributed by : The Editor


I cannot refrain from being mystified by the French reaction to Ariel Sharon?s ?in your face? declaration that Jews in France should make aliyah en masse.

Both Jewish and non-Jewish French spokespeople have, with considerable vehemence, denounced the Israeli Prime Minister?s exhortation as a ploy to appeal to the American Zionist movement. The theme used by these critics of Sharon is that France is not a bad place for Jews.

The seminal event in European history that galvanised the men creating the fledgling Zionist movement was the Dreyfus case. The greatest writers of the time, including Emile Zola, were mortified that the French authorities had accused Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus of treason.


In turn, Zola was charged with high treason for defending the honour of Dreyfus in his famous article, ?J?accuse.? Theodor Herzl, a secular Jewish writer, was inspired by the Dreyfus case to spur the Zionist movement on to its dream of a Jewish homeland. It is conceivable that without the French and Dreyfus, there might never have been an Israel. (Anlgo-Jews often snap at me when British anti-Semitism rears its head, admonishing me that ?there is no such thing here.? Doh? England was the world?s birthplace of the Blood Libel and the first country to expel its Jews. The expulsion transpired in 1290 and the Jews were forbidden re-entry to Britain for 400 years.)

Recently I visited France (see our feature about D Day)


and spent time in various small villages across
Normandy as well as walking my feet off in Paris. Admittedly, I stayed in the 16th Arrondissement, which is an affluent, middle class Jewish enclave of Paris, so to say I felt 'no hostility to my presence there' is absurd. I do not ?look? Jewish and I do not wear a Magen David; my hotel was in a charming and safe locale. The reports of frequent and violent attacks, however, on Jewish property, places of worship and individuals and groups in France -- including children on school buses -- speak for themselves.

Many French Jews and their leaders have reacted to Sharon?s exhortations with irritation and some with downright anger. Perhaps they are as comfortable in their homes as are most Diaspora Jews. Some will say, ?Sharon, with his policy towards the Palestinians, has created an atmosphere that generates more hatred of Jews; Israel is more dangerous than France??

There is another aspect to this controversy that exercises the mind : Early this year French President Chirac banned the wearing of the hijab, or headscarf, by female Muslim students. There was a worldwide outcry but Chirac did not then exclaim, ?The heads of Muslim countries are not welcome here.? Yesterday Chirac announced that Ariel Sharon?s impending visit to Paris would not be appropriate until an explanation is made concerning the aliyah remarks. Call it oil and politics, one supposes?

When the al Aqsa Intifadah exploded in September 2000, anti-Israeli journalism began to dominate both the pages of non-American newspapers and the screens of European television. Attacks on Jewish targets increased across the world. When Israeli dignitaries suggested Diaspora Jews take advantage of aliyah, I was on the receiving end of a surprising -- and illuminating -- degree of venom from British colleagues and friends: ?What right do Jews think they have just emigrating to Palestine?? What separated me from them was the miraculous concept inculcated in me from post-Shoah childhood that Jews finally had a place to go when non-Jews made their lives unbearable in their home nations. To the angry people who despised the concept of aliyah, the idea that Jews had a right of return to the Holy Land was enough to make them gag. If this is how otherwise educated and cultivated non-Jews react, then perhaps the thugs in France burning synagogues and attacking school parties are as perilous as Sharon perceives them to be.

It is conceivable that Sharon was excessive in his zeal when he exhorted all of French Jewry to emigrate to Israel. Yitzhak Rabin once said that as a young man in Palestine it broke his heart every day when Hitler rose to power and there was no State of Israel -- no haven -- for European Jewry. Sharon sees a pattern of violence in France that has increased in recent years and is reminding the world that Israel will protect and defend every last Jew on earth, whatever the peril.

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