Anti-Semitism in France: Facing Reality

Demonstrators hold French national flags and boards reading messages of peace on August 3, 2014 in front of the Saint-Germain
Demonstrators hold French national flags and boards reading messages of peace on August 3, 2014 in front of the Saint-Germain L'Auxerrois church in Paris as they take part in a demonstration originally called by a student on Facebook, and gathering Jews and Moslems to advocate peace and fraternity in the context of the Israeli offensive in Gaza. The signs read (from L) 'Tolerance', 'Love' and 'Salem Shalom'. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE ANDRIEU (Photo credit should read PIERRE ANDRIEU/AFP/Getty Images)

For more than 10 years, the Jews of France have been living in a state of anxiety. They no longer recognize France, the Republic they love, the country of human rights and of universalism. They see the resurgence of a dark side of the French experience that they had thought was eradicated forever.

Anti-semitism is again showing its violent face. Over the course of the past decade France had never had less than 400 anti-Semitic acts a year, including the brutal murder of Ilan Halimi by the "gang of Barbarians" in 2006 and the massacre at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse in 2012. And then there was the outrage in May in neighboring Belgium, where yet another Frenchman, Mehdi Nemmouche, committed atrocious murders.

Anti-semitic speech is taking more and more space in the public sphere, as sadly revealed by the "Dieudonné affair." This anti-Semitic "stand up comedian" expresses and widely disseminates insulting and hurtful remarks to incite hatred.

In France, Jewish community leaders and concerned politicians had to work hard to get the reality of anti-semitic violence recognized. But today, the warning signals are on everywhere in Europe. To simply admit the problem is not enough anymore.

It is time to break out of the defensive mode and act. In order to do so effectively we must identify the sources of anti-semitism in France. Political action in the battle against anti-semitism cannot be solely based on assumptions.

With this in mind, the American Jewish Committee, the Jean Jaurès Foundation, and the Foundation for Political Innovation (Fondapol) held a seminar on the topic to to gain a better understanding of the sources of anti-Semitism in France and to develop clear policy recommendations. Afterward, Fondapol with the survey institute IFOP -- conducted two unprecedented opinion surveys of French attitudes toward Jews. The first was an online, self-administered survey of 1,005 people, and the second consisted of face-to-face interviews with 575 people over age 16 who said they were born to a Muslim family.

The results give cause for grave concern. One-quarter of French people think that Jews have too much power in the economy and in finance; 22 percent say that Jews have too much power in the media; 35 percent are of the opinion that Jews use their status as victims of the Holocaust in their own interest; and 16 percent think there is a global Zionist conspiracy. Even worse, 14 percent of French people consider the attacks against the Jewish community that took place during the summer --including the targeting of synagogues and Jewish-owned shops, and the shouting of vile anti-Semitic slogans during anti-Israel demonstrations -- understandable.

Hostile opinions towards Jews are more prevalent among people who distrust political institutions and the media. Anti-parliamentarianism, rejection of Europe, distrust of the state and of traditional media, animosity toward globalization and toward foreigners tend to go together with anti-Semitic views.

Furthermore, anti-Semitic attitudes tend to be most prevalent in three specific subgroups of the

French population: the extreme right, the radical left, and the Muslim community -- itself the object of considerable animosity in France.

Fully half of the supporters of the extreme-right National Front believe that Jews have too much economic power, and 51 percent say Jews have too much power in the media. And while 16 percent of the entire sample said that French Jews are not really French, 39 percemt of the National Front supporters think so.

Among those respondents who support the Left Front, 51 percent believe that Jews use their status as victims of Nazi genocide in their own interest. And 24 percent of these Left Front sympathizers think there are "too many in France," as compared to 16 percent of the entire sample.

Muslim respondents were two and even three times more anti-Jewish than French people as a whole. Thus, for example, 19 percent of the entire French sample adhered to the idea that Jews have "too much" political power, but the rate was 51 percent for all Muslim respondents. While there were no significant differences in Muslim responses on the basis of age, education or social status, anti-Semitic views tended to correlate with the intensity of Muslim religiosity: 37 percent of those born in a Muslim family without religious involvement thought Jews had too much political power, but 49 percent of Muslim believers thought so, and 63 percent of believing and practicing Muslims.

The data also showed the effect of social media on anti-Semitism. Those respondents who say they receive their information on social networks, forums and online videos (such as YouTube) have a much higher degree of anti-Semitism. Indeed, the anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonné and "intellectual" Alain Soral are the main sources for anti-Semitic discourse on the internet and in the broader public domain. Now the two of them are in the process of creating a political party to have another tool at their hand to unite all anti-Semites.

We cannot let the anti-Semitic demagogues exploit our society's problems for their political ambitions. The good news from this survey is the broad consensus it reveals in French society on the need to fight anti-Semitism and racism. All of us have to ensure France remains true to itself, a land of liberty, equality, and fraternity.

This post has been translated from the original version featured on Le Huffington Post.


Simone Rodan- Benzaquen is the Director of AJC Paris and Dominique Reynié is the General Director of the Foundation for Political Innovation and Professor at Sciences Po Paris.