Viewpoint: French anti-Semitism is a sign of the times

BY SAMANTHA ROLLINGER

Published April 10, 2002

A new monster is taking hold in Europe. The depth of its grasp is far beyond the conception of any modern liberal society, yet its fundamental platform echoes hatred of the past. Without reason and without understanding, this hate has begun to spread like a plague. Anti-Semitism: Blind hatred, is thriving in France and slowly seeping into other European countries.

For over two weeks now, French citizens have been watching as hatred has taken hold of communities, forcing many to feel uncomfortable in the country they have called home for generations. French Jews have been evicted from their houses of worship as terrorists burned a synagogue to the ground in Marseilles. More than two dozen other attacks on synagogues preceded this act of terrorism. This abhorrent lack of respect, not only for people and their religious icons, but also for the religion itself clashes with essential democratic values. While French citizens are privileged to enjoy religious freedom, it is this very freedom that is under attack by a blind hatred based solely on ethnic identity. Through the burning of a house of worship, the perpetrators are making a clear statement about both the Jewish religion and the Jewish people and their obscene desire not simply to censor them, but to eliminate them.

The extent of anti-Semitic acts has stretched far beyond Jewish houses of worship. French Jewish youth and Jewish schools have also both been targets of this hatred. Bomb threats have threatened teachers' ability to educate their students in a safe and secure environment. Attacks on a Jewish sports club jeopardize members' ability to safely participate in activities. French Jewish civilians are now continuously in fear and cautious after a gunman chased and assaulted a Jewish couple. Grocery shopping has recently become dangerous as Jewish butcher shops have also become targets of this hate. In addition to these horrific acts, Jewish cemeteries in a number of French communities have recently been defaced. Swastikas and other hateful symbols can be found in many of the cemeteries that were not completely destroyed through these savage acts.

France is not the only home to this vicious breed of hate. Brussels, Belgium saw a synagogue fire-bombed and Helsinki, Finland has watched this hatred take shape in bomb threats on Jewish synagogues, schools and elderly homes. According to National Public Radio, this wave of anti-Semitism has also engulfed Italy. Through editorial comments, political cartoons and statements made in the Vatican Daily, this blind hatred is continuously spreading. As Henrik Broder, a reporter for the German weekly newspaper Der Spiegel stated, "an old demon is showing its ugly head again."

This rise in anti-Semitism and the realization of this blind hatred has brought the dreadful events of World War II to the forefront of everyone's minds. These brutal attacks on innocent civilians echo the same tactics used by Nazis during World War II and affect communities in the same way as the actions of militant Palestinian suicide bombers.

As one Holocaust survivor stated, many people felt that they would never live to again "face a time when Jews were persecuted here." Yet the anti-Semitic atmosphere has left many feeling suffocated by the hatred. Jews in France are now fearing "Yesterday New York, today Jerusalem, tomorrow Paris." This newfound fear has driven some French Jews to take refuge in Israel, one of the few countries allowing their immigration.

The French government reports that culprits of these anti-Semitic acts are supporters of the Palestinian cause in the Middle East. While France is home to both the largest Muslim and Jewish communities in Europe, peaceful coexistence was a comforting reality until recent weeks.

French Arabs have recently become frustrated by some of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's actions. This anger has been transformed into irrational hate. Despite efforts by the Palestinian representative in Paris urging French Arabs not to "translate their hatred for the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon into hatred of Jews of France," anti-Semitic acts in France have only increased.

While French Arabs and other supporters of the Palestinian cause continue their hatred and encourage the spread of anti-Semitism, the French Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin offers them a challenge. As Jospin told CNN on April 7: "If we want to talk about peace in the Middle East, we have to show first that we are capable of living peacefully together at home."

Until the proponents of blind hatred demonstrate their ability to peacefully coexist, peace in the Middle East will remain an unrealized goal repeatedly offered by the Israeli government. Without peace and security, the monster of hatred will continue to thrive and anti-Semitism will continue to spread throughout Europe.

Rollinger is an LSA junior.