(revised for the FF)
Since 2000, when the Second Armed Uprising broke out in Israel, most anti-Semitic attacks against the Jews in France have come from groups within the Muslim community. French society neither wanted to recognize this fact nor to confront it. The opposite was the case. Instead, the French have preferred to blame Israel as the cause of the violence, and consequently, accused the Jewish community of being aggressive and segregated. There was, however, one exception to this mindset: if the Jews would distance themselves from Israel and accuse it of the “moral sin” of persecuting the Palestinians – killing women and children—they would be accepted heartily by French public opinion.
Now that we know the identity and the origins of the perpetrator of the slaughter in Toulouse on 19 March 2012, it is possible,-– beyond the pain which we feel, — to draw several conclusions from the event and the ensuing reactions. The murderer belonged to the Muslim community and was influenced by religious ideas. He was born in France to an Algerian family, spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and joined a fundamentalist movement close to al-Quaeda. In his own words, he killed the Jewish children “in order to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children by Israelis who murder them in Gaza.” Thus, he expressed the myth of genocide in Gaza which is “apple-pie” French public opinion.
Israelis do not sufficiently appreciate the depth of the myth of “the genocide of the Palestinians” and the “slaughter in Gaza.” Let us not forget that in September 2000 the official French Television Channel 2 first launched this myth with the Muhammad al-Dura affair. Despite the fact that the court expressed doubts concerning its veracity, the al-Dura affair became the rallying cry and symbol of an anti-Zionist war and the revival of the blood libel.
Several weeks ago, official French television aired a program on its popular “Global Review,” which dealt with “Israeli racism in the territories.” It featured only Palestinian propaganda. The complaint of the Jewish community organizations had no effect.
Keeping this background in mind, we must try to understand the most important element of public opinion in France: the reaction of the authorities to the murders in Toulouse reflected wider public opinion. The election campaign came to a halt; there was a moment of silence in all of the schools in the country, and a high-level official representative of the government attended the funerals in Jerusalem. Before his departure, a semi-official ceremony was held in France.
One may ask how public opinion and the discourse in the media could make such a sharp transition from the prevalent anti-Jewish atmosphere of the past decade to such powerful and open manifestations of love. The answer is that the Jews of France constitute a sacred symbol, a taboo. The public consciousness associates Jews with the events of the Holocaust. However, despite the fact that it may be soothing at first glance, on second thought, this is a very disconcerting phenomenon.
For the past twelve years we have been trying to create a suitable perspective as far as Israel is concerned by arguing, introducing data and information in order to change the prevalent opinion. But the facts do not change: In France today, there is a new religion, an irrational faith which is linked to old anti-Jewish myths. The bitter truth remains that the major heirs of the memory of the Holocaust actually are the Palestinians, and French public opinion views Israel as acting cruelly toward this group. On the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, public opinion moved suddenly and savagely from blaming the Jews for brutalizing Palestinian children to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and the lessons to be learned from it. This is a dangerous and dreadful association. The statement of Catherine Ashton of the European Union which compared the murders in Toulouse with events in Gaza represents a clinical sign which confirms the above interpretation of events.
Therefore, despite the good feeling resulting from an overwhelming identification with the victims of Toulouse, this unified opinion is extremely disconcerting on a subconscious level. It began with the 1980 attack on the synagogue on rue Copernic in Paris. It reappeared after the Carpentras affair. This marked the beginning of the “new anti-Semitism.” While the current expressions of solidarity in France may be moral and pro-Jewish, tomorrow they will be turned against Israel and its supporters, namely, French Jews, when Israel / the Jews are no longer described as a victim. This unanimity is dialectical; it turns the Jews into a sacred element, a totem (related to the victimhood of the Shoah) but the sacred is ambivalent: attractive totem and repelling taboo ….
Shmuel Trigano is a Professor in political sociology at the University of Paris.