by Isi Leibler
Over the past decade the status of the 500,000-600,000 French Jews, who constitute the third largest Diaspora community, has continued to deteriorate.
This can be attributed to a combination of the dramatic increase in the numbers and power of Islamic extremists, the revival of indigenous anti-Semitism and consistent French support of the Arabs in the
In recent years, burgeoning hostility emanating primarily from radical Muslims has led to increasing desecration and bombing of Jewish sites and synagogues, as well as violent altercations on the streets climaxing with the 2006 kidnapping, brutal torture and murder of Ilan Halimi, a young Parisian Jew. Hostility has become so pronounced that Jews are now warned not to wear kippot in public even in central thoroughfares such as the Avenue des Champs Elysees in
The media is obscenely hostile to
Although traditionally inclined to vote for left-wing parties, Jews overwhelmingly supported the presidential candidacy of Nicolas Sarkozy who they regarded as a friend.
Sarkozy, who was baptized to Roman Catholicism as a young child, has Jewish roots. His mother was of Salonikan Sephardi Jewish descent and only last month one of his grandsons, whose mother is Jewish, underwent a traditional circumcision. As minister of the interior, Sarkozy ruthlessly suppressed Muslim violence and introduced a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitic crimes.
The vast majority of Jews were therefore delighted when he was elected president, anticipating that he would usher in a new era for Jews.
Their expectations were further raised shortly after the election when Sarkozy accepted an invitation to be guest of honor at the annual banquet of the Jewish representative body, CRIF, where he reiterated his warmth toward Israel, pledging never to shake hands with any leader who refused to recognize the Jewish state and called for the introduction of compulsory Holocaust courses in the curriculum of the French educational system.
THE EUPHORIA soon subsided. Although unquestionably a marked improvement from the open hostility toward
Yet, some Jewish leaders are hesitant to write off Sarkozy, noting that he has a close personal relationship with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and has displayed an excellent track record on
However, in stark contrast to their British counterparts, French Jewish leaders in recent years have never hesitated in protesting and mounting effective pro-Israel demonstrations whenever they considered that their government was applying double standards or behaving unjustly toward
Former CRIF president Roger Cukierman set the tone when he organized an impressive march by tens of thousands of Jews and supporters of
Although some attribute the courageous approach of French Jewish leaders to the ongoing memory of the Holocaust, the ethnic composition of the community is the more likely contributing factor.
Many of the older Ashkenazi Jews have become acculturated and drifted away from Jewish life. Jews originating from
THEIR COMMITMENT to
In the course of a recent visit to
Prasquier waxed lyrical about the impressive 25th annual CRIF dinner over which he presided with the participation of more than 800 guests, including President Sarkozy and 23 ministers as well as political leaders, ambassadors and representatives from the Catholic Church and Islam. Prime Minister Francois Fillon was the principal speaker and the event was broadcast live on French TV, generating discussion concerning anti-Semitism, Islamic extremism, relations with
Prasquier takes particular pride in the dialogue between Jews and French Muslims which, unlike American interfaith extravaganzas, are never conditional on prior "compromises" over
Prasquier expressed great concern about the burgeoning hatred and violence against Jews which had steeply increased since Operation Cast Lead. However, he insisted that it was incorrect to describe
Recognizing that most French Jews would not be making aliya in the immediate future, he believes that CRIF's primary obligations must be to strengthen the French Jewish community.
Although French Jews are the most committed Zionist Diaspora community, there are nevertheless numerous extremist anti-Zionist Jews making their presence felt. They are lauded by the general media, but shunned by mainstream Jews, the vast majority of whom proudly associate themselves with the Jewish state.
Most Jews are extremely depressed and foresee a bleak future for their children in
In this environment, while some Jews will be immigrating to
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