‘Muslims, neo-Nazis not to blame for French anti-Semitism’

Disaffected youth and marginalized individuals are more likely to perpetrate anti-Semitic attacks than those with ties to the Palestinian cause or neo-Nazi groups, as Jewish groups have charged, according to an anti-Semitism report France released Tuesday.

The study “shows that the link with the Middle East conflict is the most misleading or is constructed through false reasoning or exaggerated representation,” according to remarks made by Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin released with the report he commissioned.

He said there have been 166 anti-Semitic acts committed during the first nine months of this year, more than all of last year. “Racism and anti-Semitism are the very negation of our national identity,” he added.

The report recommends setting up a center to monitor anti-Semitism, educational initiatives to combat it, a toughening of the laws against it, and surveillance of anti-Semitic groups.

Jewish leaders welcomed the report as an indication of French resolve – often criticized as lacking – in fighting the resurgence of anti-Semitism. But they took issue with the report’s finding that “only a small proportion of [perpetrators] are North African [or] originate from a country that has links with the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

“It’s a fact” that many of those who have been prosecuted for attacks on French Jews have Arab or Muslim backgrounds, according to European Jewish Congress secretary-general Serge Cwajgenbaum, who attributed the downplaying partly to politics.

“For many reasons one doesn’t want to antagonize some communities,” he said.

He also noted that the increase in anti-Semitic attacks is due to a larger array of perpetrators, decreasing the relative proportion of Arab and Muslim actors.

“Anti-Semitism has spread out and become a social element,” he said.

Dr. Shimon Samuels, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director for international liaison in Paris, attributed the increase partly to the eroding of the “protective Teflon” that Holocaust memories provided Jews among a population eager to overcome that past.

“Once you had the blow-back from the Middle East conflict,” he said, “then all the taboos were washed aside. The floodgate burst.”

The 37-page report, authored by Jean-Christophe Rufin, a former vice president of Medicine Without Frontiers and current president of Action Against Hunger, found that instead of “simple” rationales for anti-Semitic acts, such as affiliation with the extreme right wing, more complex explanations were “to be found in uprooting, the loss of reference points, social failure, and confusion about identity.”

The findings are based on interviews and reviews of statistics from the Interior, Justice, and Education ministries, though Rufin said no central, standardized method for compiling data exists and called for its creation.

Members of the Jewish community hailed the recommendations, and Samuels said the report was the first of its kind done by the French government and shows “the culture of denial is coming to an end in France.”

He added, however, that his statistics on anti-Semitic incidents “far exceed” those of the Interior Ministry, despite its records being far improved from three years ago, when anti-Semitic acts were routinely characterized as vandalism.

“The reappearance of anti-Semitic acts over the last years is an uncontested reality,” the report states. “The threats and violence against French Jews constitute an evident, new, and extremely worrying fact. Any attempt to downplay this fact or to counter-balance it with arguments that other communities or other minorities also suffer discrimination and violence is totally unacceptable.”

Joseph Nasr and Jodi Stokol contributed to this report.

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Jerusalem Post, Israel
Oct. 20, 2004
Hilary Leila Krieger

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday October 20, 2004.
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