Diplomat challenges U.S. Jewish views on France

Francois Zimeray, France’s ambassador-at-large for human rights, was in Los Angeles recently, and during a two-hour breakfast of croissants and assorted fruits, shared two observations:

First, though Israel has real enemies in the world, it also has a lot of friends, and not everybody wants to put down the Jewish state.

Second, while there are anti-Semites in France, France is not an anti-Semitic country.

Neither of these statements appears particularly controversial, but, he said, given the mail he regularly receives from American and other Jews, he is either blind or indifferent to the dangers facing both Jews and Israel.

Zimeray got an early start in politics. At 27, he became France’s youngest mayor at 27, and then a youthful member of the Chamber of Deputies on the Socialist Party ticket.

In 1999, he was elected to the European Parliament, where, to the annoyance of his party colleagues, he pushed for an investigation into how the Palestinian Authority spent the monies afforded it by the European Union.

Now 50 and looking like a casting director’s pick to portray a suave French career diplomat, Zimeray has been serving as his nation’s human rights envoy for seven years.

He travels constantly and covers a lot of bases. His jurisdiction includes general human rights, women’s rights, Holocaust issues and anti-Semitism, areas that are assigned to four different officials by the United States.

Before coming to the West Coast, Zimeray had spent considerable time in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), where the reigning junta seems to be easing its pressure on the political opposition.

A regular item on his agenda is the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and during regular visits to the Middle East, he tries to persuade both parties to “put yourself in the shoes of the other side,” admittedly a challenging political exercise.

Speaking personally, rather than as a government official, Zimeray said he believes most Israelis, regardless of ideology, hold three interconnected viewpoints: The world doesn’t understand us; the world doesn’t like us; and nothing we can do will change these attitudes.

Zimeray speculates that Israelis’ perceptions are rooted in a survivor mentality, believing they are on their own and cannot rely on outside friends.

Whatever the causes, and even granting some validity to Israel’s fears, Zimeray believes that such views are counter-productive and that the Jewish state indeed has more friends than it realizes.

If one of Zimeray’s jobs is to assure Israel that it does not stand alone and that France is fully committed to the Jewish state’s survival, another is to allay Arab suspicions of Israel.

One Paris-based program toward that end is the international Aladdin Project. Working through French embassies and consulates, Aladdin staffers translate and distribute in Arab countries the writings of such authors as Primo Levi and Anne Frank, invite Muslim religious leaders to visit
Auschwitz, and “counter the Arab perception that the Shoah didn’t happen,” Zimeray said.

The French diplomat attributes part of his concern for human rights to his Jewish family background. “We were not religious, but we were infused early on with the concept of tikkun olam” [healing the world] and were taught that “indifference is a crime without forgiveness,” he said.

Among the critical letters and e-mail Zimeray receives, anti-Semitism in France is perhaps even more of a cultural hot-button issue than the Middle East conflict.

Given the emotions surrounding this topic, Zimeray scheduled two days in Los Angeles on his way to a conference in San Francisco, specifically to talk to the Jewish media here.

Our conversation on this topic ranged from the century-old Alfred Dreyfus affair, in which a French-Jewish military officer was framed on a treason charge, to the collaborationist Vichy regime of World War II, and to present-day France with its large Muslim immigrant population.

France, Zimeray said, has a Jewish population of some 600,000, which is about the same as metropolitan Los Angeles. While Zimeray acknowledged “anti-Semitism has not disappeared,” he added that this “is only part of the story.”

Not unlike changes in American society over the past half century, anti-Semitism no longer gets a free pass and is no longer accepted as the social norm in France, Zimeray argued.

“Anti-Semitism is condemned by our courts, our education on the Holocaust is exemplary, and society in general gives no indulgence to anti-Semitism,” the French diplomat said.

While anti-Jewish attacks by young Muslims are a reality, the majority of the Muslim community has two goals — integration into French society and peace in the Middle East, Zimeray noted.

On balance, he believes that “France is one of the less-anti-Semitic countries in the world,” and his conclusion is backed by Shimon Samuels, who heads the European Office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Samuels, on a flight between Iraq and Moscow, e-mailed that compared to the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and even Germany, “anti-Semitic discourse is much lower in France.”

Nevertheless, Samuels noted the rise of anti-Jewish violence by “black African alienated youth” under Iranian influence, and boycott brigades trashing the kosher shelves of supermarkets.

There have also been a number of high-profile incidents, among them the 1980 bombing of the rue Copernic Reform synagogue in Paris, which killed four pedestrians. The killing led to the creation of the Jewish Community Protective Service by CRIF, the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions.

The most notorious case since was the 2006 torture-murder of Ilan Halimi, a young French Jew of Moroccan descent, by a self-styled “Gang of Barbarians.” The young thugs, mainly children of African Muslim immigrants, were motivated by both anti-Semitism and a hoped-for large ransom.

According to statistics by the Protective Service over the last decade, anti-Semitic incidents in France peaked in 2004, during the fighting in Gaza. During that year, there were 974 incidents. From this high, the figure has been dropping from year to year, reaching a low of 466 in 2010, the last year for which figures are available. Of this number, 36 percent consisted of graffiti scrawlings, 24 percent of verbal threats or menacing behavior, 12 percent physical violence, and one homicide attempt.

Even with the decline, and factoring in different population sizes, the 2010 rate of anti-Semitic incidents in France was roughly double that of the United States.

French Rally Against Jew’s Torture Death

Paris — The brutal murder of a young Jewish man in Paris is roiling the community and reviving questions over whether France is a safe place for Jews.

In an incident that has dominated headlines across the country, Ilan Halimi, 23, was lured away from the store where he sold mobile phones on Jan. 21 by a woman, abducted and then held in a suburban housing project for three weeks by a criminal gang, where he was repeatedly tortured, according to French officials. Halimi’s captors allegedly beat, burned, stabbed and poured toxic fluid on him.

He was then dumped, barely alive and reportedly with burn marks all over his body, at a suburban train station on Monday, Feb. 13. Halimi died while being driven to a hospital.

Until last week, officials and detectives investigating the case said they were not linking it to anti-Semitism. But in a turnaround, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told a Jewish communal gathering last week that officials had decided to treat the case as an act of anti-Semitism.

De Villepin said the minister of justice had ordered that Halimi’s torture and murder be considered “premeditated murder motivated by religious affiliation.”

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy was among tens of thousands of Parisians, mostly Jews, who rallied last weekend in what was billed as a community march against hate.

“There can be no tolerance of this act of torture and murder and anti-Semitism,” said Sarkozy. “This concerns the Jewish community and all French people.”

Among the marchers was Sandrine Berda, who runs a catering business. “It seems that so much is going on now to try to force us to leave Paris,” Berda said. “I am here to show there are lots of Jews here, and if we leave, Paris will become a pitiful city.”

Police estimated the number of marchers at 33,000, although others put the number much higher.

The question of whether France is still safe for its estimated 600,000 Jews was a major topic of discussion among the demonstrators.

“Many people decide on the safety of Paris by what happens to their children at school,” said Diana Tabbacoff, a psychologist originally from Brazil. “I think everyone believes we must react against ignorance, but personally, my daughter has not suffered for being Jewish. If she did, I would think of returning to Sao Paulo.”

Ironically, officials recently announced that anti-Semitic acts in France dropped by 47 percent in 2005 over the previous year.

The earlier spike of anti-Semitic attacks was largely perpetrated by youths of North African origin, and these incidents had increased in France during the first few years of the Palestinian uprising against Israel. This rise had been largely attributed to tensions over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The climate for Jews had seemed to improve, however, in recent months, as had France’s relations with Israel. One factor was Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to Paris last summer and the Israeli pullout from Gaza.

But the recent incident has rocked the Jewish community, with many saying they had felt all along it was a deliberate act against Jews.

“We are here to demonstrate for France, because we live here and we are fed up,” said David Riahi, a student at the HEC business school, marching under the banner of the French Union of Jewish Students. “This is not about calling for people to go live in Israel or the States.”

But one marcher was skeptical that anything could be done to improve the situation.

“Will this really move people to take a look at what is going on or push the government to take more action?” asked Eric Chicheportiche, former head of the France-Israel Chamber of Commerce. “I really don’t know, and I really don’t know what can be done.”

Although most of the marchers were Jewish, there were North African Muslims and blacks in the crowd, and all agreed that this was an anti-Semitic act.

“There are cultured and educated Arabs marching here today who believe we can live and work in peace with Jews [and other French people,]” said Khadidja Cherkaoui, who is finishing a master’s degree in management here. “This was an anti-Semitic act committed by savages.”

Cherkaoui said some typically racist attitudes may come from school.

“I have heard of youngsters being taught by certain teachers that Jews are all rich,” she said. “That is not true and is racist, like saying that all Arabs are terrorists.”

While the statistics show the climate of anti-Semitism has improved in
France during the past few years, Malik Boutih, the former president of the
activist group SOS Racism, who is currently a Socialist Party official, said
the problems of anti-Semitism and racism remain. “We need firm reaction from the government to deal with anti-Semitism,” he said.

“We need firm reaction from the government to deal with anti-Semitism,” he said.

Also noted was the enormous stupidity of the crime.

“These guys are total idiots,” said Audrey Benyoun, marching with friends and her father. “They got absolutely nothing from this except this demonstration. I think a lot of French people are fed up with hearing about such stupid acts.”

While the Jewish community is almost unanimous in its belief that the kidnapping and torture occurred because Halimi was Jewish, many French still want to believe that it was simply a criminal act committed by sick individuals.

Police have made 15 arrests among associates of a gang that apparently called itself the Barbarians. Eleven face charges of conspiracy, kidnapping and murder motivated by anti-Semitism. Those arrested include suspects of North African and black African Muslim origins and of white French background.

French police officials said they originally thought the only motive of the kidnapping was money. After questioning several of the suspects, the police reported that there had been six other kidnapping attempts, four of them against Jews.

Officials said the suspects told police that because Jews were all rich, someone would find the money to ransom them. Only one of those attempts was reported to the police when it took place.

Authorities tracked the accused ringleader, Youssouf Fofana, to the West African country of Ivory Coast, where he was arrested. Extradition proceedings are under way to return Fofana to France.

JTA correspondent Lauren Elkin contributed to this report.

Nation & World Briefs

Jewish Man’s Murder Angers Parisians

At least 1,200 people demonstrated in Paris on Sunday to show their anger at the murder of a Jewish man. Ilan Halimi, 23, was kidnapped, tortured and murdered. His body was found last week at a train station outside Paris. Halimi apparently was lured into a trap by a woman of North African origin who came into a Paris store where Halimi sold mobile phones. The demonstrators at Sunday’s protest shouted slogans and carrying banners that read “Justice for Ilan” and “Avenge Ilan!”

The French government is considering Halimi’s murder to be an anti-Semitic act. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Monday night that the minister of justice had ordered that Halimi’s death be considered “premeditated murder motivated by religious affiliation.”

Villepin spoke at the annual dinner of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, or CRIF, the umbrella organization of secular French Jewish groups. In addition to pledging that the government would do its utmost to find Halimi’s killers, Villepin pledged that the French government would fight anti-Semitism throughout French society. The dinner, which was attended by some 800 ministers, elected officials, ambassadors and religious officials included Muslim representives from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Mauritania, Pakistan and Tunisia.

Holocaust Denier Sentenced

An Austrian court sentenced David Irving to three years in prison for denying the Holocaust. Irving, a British historian who pleaded guilty to the charges at the opening of the trial earlier on Monday, looked stunned in the crowded courtroom after the jury and three judges returned the sentence. Holocaust denial is a crime in Austria, a country once run by the Nazis. Irving was arrested in November when he came to Austria to give a lecture. The charges against him are based on a speech and interview from 1989 in Austria, in which he denied that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz. After he arrived at the court, Irving told reporters that he had changed some of his views since 1989 and now recognized that gas chambers had indeed existed and that “millions of Jews died, there is no question.”

Israel Cracks Down on Hamas

Israel decided to impose sanctions on the Palestinian Authority as soon as Hamas takes over its government. Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Cabinet voted Sunday to stop the monthly transfer of tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority, to step up scrutiny over crossing points into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and to prevent entry into Israel by members of Hamas. The measures go into effect when Hamas, which won last month’s Palestinian Authority elections, forms the new government.

“It is clear that, given Hamas’ majority in the Palestinian Parliament and the fact that Hamas will form a government, the Palestinian Authority is effectively becoming a terrorist authority,” Olmert told fellow ministers.

The measures were not as tough as had been expected, especially after the Defense Ministry recommended a halt on entry to Israel by Palestinian workers. Israel has been under Western pressure to not impose sanctions severe enough to boost Hamas’ standing and increase pan-Arab and Iranian support for the Palestinian Authority.

Jewish Skater Earns a Silver

Jewish ice skater Ben Agosto and his partner, Tanith Belbin, earned a silver medal in ice dancing at the 2006 Olympics. Agosto and Belbin finished second to Russians Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov in the ice dancing competition, which concluded Monday. Agosto’s mother is Jewish and his father is Puerto Rican.

Zionist Congress Election Faces Low Turnout

The Feb. 28 deadline to vote for U.S. representatives to the World Zionist Organization’s (WZO) 35th Congress of the Jewish People is fast approaching, but the majority of American Jews seem largely disinterested. Of the estimated 5 million to 6 million Jews in the United States, less than 100,000 are expected to cast ballots by the deadline in an election that will choose 145 delegates from 12 groups that range from the Russian American Jews for Israel, to Religious Zionist Slate to the ARZA/World Union, the Reform movement’s slate.

If registration trends continue, it appears that fewer Jews will participate this year than in 2002, when nearly 89,000 voted. Five years earlier, almost 108,000 Jews cast ballots. Participation has drifted downward, despite an extensive media campaign by the American Zionist Movement (AZM), the WZO’s U.S. wing, to educate American Jews about the organization and to get the vote out. The WZO, which has an annual budget of $12.5 million, was founded in Switzerland by Theodor Herzl to support the creation of a Jewish homeland and now works to improve Disapora relations, combat anti-Semitism and to strengthen Jewish identity and education around the world, among other initiatives.

In addition, WZO members account for half the board of governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which encourages Jews to immigrate to the Jewish homeland and helps them resettle there. The projected low turnout in the current WZO election might reflect, among other things, a diminished emotional link to Zionism among younger American Jews, said Chani Monderer, election manager of the American Zionist Movement.

The 35th Congress meets in Jerusalem June 19-22.

Individuals 18 and older who accept Zionism can register and vote through the AZM at www.congressofthejewishpeople.org. Registration is $7 for the general public and $5 for students. –Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Anti-Israel Rally in Rome

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators burned Israeli and American flags during a march Feb. 18 through Rome, sponsored by several left-wing groups. Protesters chanted anti-Israel slogans and carried banners equating Israel’s security barrier to apartheid. At one point, three protesters, two of whose faces were hidden by kaffiyehs, burned and spat on an Israeli flag.

Bank Admits Nazi Ties

Germany’s Dresdner Bank helped finance the crematoriums at Auschwitz, according to a study commissioned by the bank. During the Nazi era, Dresdner was part of a construction company that built the crematoriums at the death camp in Poland, according to the report, which was released last week after seven years of research. The company also financed Nazi weapons plants and did business with Nazi-linked authorities in Eastern Europe.

“We accept these truths, even if they are painful,” said Wulf Meier, a Dresdner board member.

New Cartoon Furor in Russia

Russian human rights activists criticized the decision of provincial authorities to close down a newspaper that published a controversial cartoon of religious leaders. The Moscow Bureau on Human Rights said the decision to shut down the Gorodskie Vesti newspaper in the southern city of Volgograd was a show of “incompetence” and epitomized the inability of local officials to deal with interfaith issues. Last Friday, city authorities in Volgograd annulled the license of Gorodskie Vesti, which published a cartoon depicting Jesus, Moses, Buddha and Mohammed in front of a television showing two groups of people about to start a fight. The caption read: “We did not teach them to do that.” The decision to shut down the paper came despite the fact that no local religious community in Volgograd said it was offended by the cartoon. The officials stated the closure of the city-owned paper was needed to avoid “incitement of ethnic hostilities.” According to the Moscow Bureau on Human Rights, a group that monitors anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Russia, Volgograd officials never paid attention to another local newspaper, Kolokol, that over the years has consistently published anti-Semitic and xenophobic articles and published “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” an anti-Semitic forgery.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


Jewish Militia: Fact or Ficton?

In Paris on Sept. 28, two-dozen men armed with clubs and wearing motorcycle helmets stormed the Pays de Cocagne bookshop on the Rue Vieille du Temple to the cries of Israel vaincra! (Israel will be victorious.) Six people were slightly injured.

The men disrupted the book-signing event of Alain Soral, the self-proclaimed agitator, anti-feminist, anti-gay, pro-Palestinian philosopher and boxer. The men broke windows, knocked over bookshelves and sent fans of the writer running out the back door of the bookshop into a courtyard, some of them bleeding. Neither Soral nor his bodyguard were hurt in the incident.

Witnesses claimed the attackers had tear-gas bombs and that they got away within minutes before the police arrived. A video of the attack is posted on the French Islamic Web site www.oumma.com.

Soral, who is well known for his anti-Zionist opinions, said he had received death threats after a recent controversial appearance on the television station France 2. In that interview, he said that “certain Jews never autocriticize,” hinting that Jews always blame others for their woes.

Soral said Sept. 20, “If you tell a Frenchman, a Zionist Jew, that maybe some of your problems come from you, that maybe you’ve made some mistakes, it’s not systematically everybody else’s fault if no one can stand you anywhere you go, because really, that’s their history [the Jews’] for the last 2,500 years. Everywhere they put their feet in, they get kicked out after 50 years — you have to admit it’s bizarre; everybody’s always wrong except for them.”

For his appearance at the book store signing, he had asked for police protection and it was denied.

The reaction of French Jews to the attack is mixed. French Jews are grappling with a wave of anti-Semitic hate crimes committed by young Arab men to cries of “Allah akbar.” The attack committed by young Jewish men to cries of “Israel vaincra!” has disturbed some but thrilled others.

Paris Mayor Bernard Delano sensibly condemned the assault, saying, “Violence never moves anything forward.” Leaders of the Jewish community were also quick to condemn the assault and called for calm and dialogue over violence.

In contrast, the talk on the Internet in Islamic chat rooms is heated and predictably paranoid. Participants are blaming the attack on an “extreme black-shirt Zionist organization.” They also see the attack as part of a pattern of violence against anyone who speaks out against the “Nazi occupation of Palestine.” The chat room visitors (whose user profiles all place them in their 20s) write in French cyber slang about their outrage at how “the French government is always protecting the Jews, and how the Jews are the biggest threat to world peace.”

“I was there,” posted one participant. “I saw the whole thing. I saw them [the Jews] getting ready minutes before it happened. One guy said to not only go after the men, but to go after the women, too. I called the police, but they took their time. What do you think that means? They’re in on it.”

To these people, Soral is just articulating what they believe: That you can’t say you are against Israel without being labeled an anti-Semite. In other words, it’s getting harder to wear your Jew hatred on your sleeve, like the Nazis did — literally.

I entered a French Islamic Web site using a male Arab name and chatted with JMENfou (slang for I don’t give a s–t) who wrote, “These [Jewish] militias are beating people up all the time, and the police don’t do anything about it. It’s Betar, and they are very good at breaking heads open. They train in Israel. They’re Likud, extreme right wing.”

“Sharon is a murdering piece of filth,” wrote zazoo.

Ahmed332 wrote, “I wish I had been there. I would have remade their skin. They’re always hanging around the universities, looking for a fight. Next time I see one, I’m going to give him a new face.”

On more than a dozen French Islamic Web sites, the chat rooms were abuzz with the same word: Betar. It’s Betar, Betar, Betar, those Zionist extremists who are poisoning all of France.

The unanimous blaming of Betar by the anti-Israel set made me curious. The Web site www.betarfrance.org looks harmless enough, with music and pictures of Begin, Jewish calendar information, Hebrew lessons and organized trips to Israel. There is a fund drive, and there are self-defense lessons indicated by a cartoon character in a judo outfit — a flash animation of a comical little guy swatting at the air.

Deeper reading of the site reveals a Zionist bent, but there is no call for violence, only self-defense. The Betar mission statement is about knowledge of Israel and about how to become a responsible Jew, aimed primarily at boys ages 8 to 18. The site encourages a trip to Israel to express solidarity and pride in the Jewish state.

I found it hard to imagine a group of cute little French boys in kippahs going on a field trip to the Third Arrondissement to beat up people in a bookstore.

I called Betar in Paris to find out what their response was to the sacking of the bookstore. Within minutes, I was given a cellphone number for Arnaud Sayegh, the director of Betar de France.

When I reached Sayegh, he was in Israel. He was a bit defensive at first but no more so than the little cartoon guy on the Betar Web site.

When asked about the violence that took place at the bookstore, he said, “They are always blaming us. We’re used to it. We don’t have a militia. We had nothing to do with this.”

“I always encourage dialogue, but you can see how the way things are right now, that sometimes people think you have to put dialogue on the side,” he continued. “It gets to be too much after a while. Have you heard the way people are talking lately? It’s out of control.”

I asked Sayegh what he thought of Soral.

“He’s a virulent anti-Semite, and things he has said have wounded some people very much,” he responded.

Talking to Sayegh gave me the feeling of talking to a Boy Scout leader, not the leader of a paramilitary Zionist army ready to take arms against anti-Semitism in France. But maybe I was being naive.

Someone e-mailed me a picture of a Betar demonstration. I saw some very big, beefy guys standing around, wearing yellow T-shirts emblazoned with a big, black fist rising out of a Star of David. It didn’t look to me like it was an incipient Hebrew lesson or tree planting.

I asked some Jewish friends who live in Paris about Betar, and I was told that there is also an older boy’s unit of Betar called Tagar.

“It’s a militia,” said Michael H., a Paris lawyer, “and none of our friends would ever send their kids there. Can you imagine sending your boys for paramilitary training in the middle of Paris?”

In July, when tensions in France between Jews and Muslims were at a boiling point, I interviewed an angry young Jewish man, whom I’ll call David, in the back of his shop in Paris. He told me of the militias and his words were tough.

“We can’t take it anymore,” David said. “The government does nothing. I swear, we are ready. If I see something — if something happens in front of my eyes — I’m going to lose it. I’m going to do something. You see what’s going on? Jews are getting stabbed and they do nothing. It’s going to explode here soon.”

Clearly, the buzz on the street was that a Jewish militia was forming, yet today, all the leaders of the French Jewish community deny the existence of a militia.

In Jewish chat rooms like www.Feujworld.com (Feuj means Jew backwards in Verlan, the argot of the under-30 generation), the bookstore incident is the only topic of conversation.

“What a bunch of dumbasses — taking it out on books! These guys should be given to the courts to deal with” said one chat room participant.

Another warned everybody to “watch out for these guys. They’re face breakers.” But he added, “Soral got what he deserved.”

And still another participant was feeling cocky behind his keyboard in cyberspace: “If I had been there, I would have killed that Soral for what he did. I wouldn’t have just smashed windows.”

What is Feujworld, I asked.

“The center of the world 😉 ” was the reply. “LOL” (laugh out loud).

Kalthoum S., a Muslim who has rejected her faith for feminist reasons, told me that she thinks it is understandable that there are Jewish militias in France.

“It’s fact. There are militias,” she said. “Don’t you know that? So what? Everyone has a right to defend their own apples. It’s all-out war now.”

I have conflicting feelings about “l’affaire du bookstore. First, that Soral is a first-class jerk who is himself a bully and deserved to get punched in the nose. Second, that Soral, despite being intellectually repulsive to me, is a jerk who has every right to express his opinions. And lastly, whoever these tough guys were who raided the bookstore, they had no right to beat up people and destroy property.

I’d like to be thrilled about a Jewish militia breaking up the book-signing of an anti-Semite and breaking heads, but I know it’s wrong, and the Jewish community knows it’s wrong. They’re uncomfortable with the idea of a Jewish militia. And that’s because Jews are people of the Book — people of the law. And a militia is by definition extralegal.

Militias are really just vigilantes. The problem is that it’s only when Jews become vigilantes and stand up for themselves and fight back that anti-Semites suddenly develop a distaste for vigilantism. How many of these aggrieved anti-Semites would be just as enraged if the situation were a little different?

Imagine the incident in another way. Imagine a white racist writer signing books for his followers at a Barnes and Noble in Los Angeles. Imagine him saying the same things about African Americans that Soral said about Jews — that their history, black history, for hundreds of years was to always blame others for their problems; that blacks are not capable of autocriticism. Just take Soral’s own words and replace the word “Jew” with the word “black”:

“If you tell a black man, a militant black, that maybe some of your problems come from you, that maybe you’ve made some mistakes, it’s not systematically everybody else’s fault if no one can stand you anywhere you go, because really, that’s their history [the blacks] for the last 2,500 years. Everywhere they put their feet in, they get kicked out after 50 years — you have to admit, it’s bizarre; everybody’s always wrong except for them.”

You have to admit it sounds ugly. And what would you make of his racist fans, who line up for his autographed book?

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a riot. And if there were a riot, who would feel sorry for a bunch of racists who got smacked around a bit? Who would be defending this guy’s right to his opinions? I’ll tell you who: the Ku Klux Klan and maybe a lawyer from the ACLU — probably a Jew.

I can understand why some people are gladdened by rumors of a Jewish militia in Paris. After years of government inaction in response to stabbings, synagogues being destroyed, tombs desecrated and Jewish women and children being beaten up, Jews are fighting back.

I just wish that they would use their muscle to protect a synagogue or an elementary school, not to break the law and storm a bookstore. Israel Vaincra is a good idea, but this is not the way to achieve it.

Carole Raphaelle Davis lives in Los Angeles and Nice, France. She can be reached at cdavis6029@aol.com.

What’s New in Paris?

The spring 2004 fashions have arrived in the chic boutiques of Paris, and along with 50s-style full skirts and prim lace collars, anti-Semitism is back in fashion. In France this season, Jew-hating is all the rage — literally.

Attacks against Jews and their property have escalated to an alarming extent. The French Jewish community (at 600,000, the second-largest Jewish population outside of Israel) is living in a state of anxiety. Hostile acts against Jews are posted weekly on the Web site of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (www.crif.org), and on www.consistoire.org/incidentsfr.html, a government hate-crime report center. Here are just a few examples from the last few weeks:

A 14-year-old boy wearing a yarmulke came out of the Ourq metro station and was followed by two young men. They called him a “dirty Jew” and robbed him in front of a crowd of witnesses. The men knocked the boy down, beat him on the head and broke his nose. The boy begged for help from passers-by, who simply walked away.

In central Paris, a teacher from a Jewish school was beaten up by young men, who ripped the Star of David from the teacher’s neck and trampled her. They called her a “dirty Jew” and lit her hair on fire. They also told her, “We’re going to burn all you Jews.”

A group of four young men interrupted a class in the auditorium of the University Medical School of Saint-Antoine in Paris. They yelled, “We’re going to kill all the Jews” and, “We’re armed and we’re going to take you all down.”

When a Jewish student confronted the men they beat him and robbed him. The professor who was teaching the class said nothing and the men walked out without a care while the class looked on in silence. The dean of the University has been told of the situation but has not yet responded.

On the walls of the Rue Des Rosiers (in the Marais, the Jewish quarter), once again there are signs of the Star of David in yellow paint accompanied by the slogan, “And don’t forget the showers of Zyclon,” referring to the gas used in Nazi death camps.

Also in Paris, a 12-year-old girl coming out of a Jewish school was attacked by two men. They beat her, held her down and slashed her face with a box cutter. They carved a swastika into her face and walked away. Her parents have filed a police report.

A swastika carved into the face of an innocent Jewish girl proves how anger directed at Jews in France has moved beyond mere hate-speech and racist vandalism. The symbols of hate have jumped from desecrated tombstones and subway walls to the actual skin of Jews.

Unlike the last big wave of anti-Semitism in France, the people who are committing these crimes today are predominantly first-generation descendants of immigrants from the former French colonies in North Africa — Muslim Arabs. Radicalized Islam is taking root all over Europe, encouraged by the international Arab press, the successes of Al Qaeda and sympathy for the Palestinian intifada. This malignant hatred is fueled by the Internet, where thousands of French, European and Arabic-language sites give voice to and connect cyber-haters in Internet chat rooms. Virtual Jewish blood is flowing from ever-growing e-mail lists while live screaming for Jewish blood is heard at pro-Palestinian/anti-American demonstrations on the Grands Boulevards of Paris.

A 12-year-old Jewish girl walking home from school in Paris is not an Israeli in “occupied territory,” but these days she might as well be. She is defenseless and we must step forward to protect her. This new generation of anti-Semites, “Arabullies,” are also virulently anti-Israel.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, if one speaks in support of Israel at French dinner parties, one is shouted down. Even at my own dinner table, when I told a guest of my fears about living in Paris in such a climate of anti-Semitism, he insisted, “There is no anti-Semitism in France, don’t be ridiculous.”

When I told him about everything I had read about the rising tide of anti-Jewish hatred, he told me I was being “influenced by the Jew lobby” and that whatever I was reading was “Jewish propaganda.”

When I told him that among other papers, I was reading The New York Times, he said, “You know, The New York Times is a Jewish paper and Jews control all the media.”

He said it with a smile, even knowing that I am a Jew. What made his comments especially chilling is that he is on the Catholic Board of Education of Paris.

So this spring in Paris, like every spring, the fashion runways are a jumbled mix of styles, as each designer angles to dominate the nouveau look of the season. This season, I’m afraid the designers of bigotry and hate are already having a good year. In fact, those long, belted black leather Waffen SS coats look an awful lot like Gucci’s sexy new fall line. I wonder what will be modeled on the Paris runways next spring — striped pajamas? Starched black shirts? Europeans have always had a soft spot for this fascist garb; I just hope America doesn’t follow suit.

Carole Raphaelle Davis is an actress, singer-song writer who was born in
London and raised in France and New York City. She now lives and works in
Hollywood and can be seen May 12 in “My Wife and Kids” on ABC and in “Angel” on
the WB. She can be reached at cdavis6029@aol.com