Jews are not welcome here!

The resurgence of antisemitism has manifested itself recently through two emblematic occurrences: the verbal aggression of Alain Finkielkraut during a protest march of the “Yellow Jackets” in Paris and the resignation of several British Labor Members of Parliament. Unfortunately, these represent only the visible part of the iceberg which saw, in France alone in 2018, an increase of 74% of reported anti-Semitic incidents.

What strikes me in particular are the findings of an IFOP poll according to which, alongside the extremes which either condone or condemn unreservedly antisemitism, the great majority of the population (60%) appears totally indifferent or, expressed otherwise, most citizens consider themselves not to be concerned.

How is it possible, a mere 75 years after the Shoah, to tolerate the stigmatization of fellow citizens because they belong to a given community – which ever it may be? How come that – once again -this stigmatization is focusing on “Jews”?

I have paid a lot of attention recently to this question and feel – in the present context – the need to share more widely my thoughts. I am convinced that it is particularly difficult to conduct a sensible debate on the question of antisemitism because of the ambiguity of the concepts and the meaning of words used in the argumentation.

First of all, if the meaning of antisemitism is generally accepted to mean “the hatred of Jews”, it becomes therefore imperative to define in the first instance the meaning of “Jew”.

Is it defined as: Belonging to a “race”? Practicing a specific religion? A filiation transmitted by a Jewish mother? A trait recognizable by certain rites (circumcision)? Benefitting from the right to settle in Israel? To carry a “recognizable” patronym? Is the concept, as believed by the Nazis, capable of being divided to produce ¼, ½ or ¾ Jews based on the filiation of their parents and grandparents? Etc.

It is true that Jews themselves do not agree on a definition which gives a perfect illustration of the saying: “where there are two Jews, there are three opinions”! That is why the definition that suits me personally is: “Is a Jew, any person that considers himself to be one”. However, it is necessary to be nuanced because the answer is capable of varying according to the context:

Being viscerally opposed to any form of discrimination, in any context in which antisemitism is expressed, I will always declare with pride my Jewishness. Indeed, though I only conform to the 3rd and 6th criteria mentioned above, I will always consider to be personally attacked whether explicitly or not.

On the other hand, within the framework of a religious debate, I strongly uphold my freedom – in the name of being a free thinker – to have the right to believe (or not) and to give Catholicism my preference as the medium through which I express my faith. In such a context, it is clear that I do not consider myself “Jewish”.

I will therefore leave the reader to decide for himself whether he considers me to be Jewish or not. Maybe their conclusions will draw on a similarity with the use of the word “Jesuit” which is regularly employed to describe people who are not members of the Order, but who, despite the underlying implied pejorative meaning, reveals nevertheless a suppressed feeling of envy if not of admiration.
If Jews themselves are not able to agree on a definition among themselves (most would reject any pretention on my behalf to claim being a Jew while for non-Jews, the presumption would be the opposite), it is hardly surprising that an ill-informed public opinion should be easily swayed by clichés extolling imaginary physical or moral characteristics attributed to Jews, by tales accusing them of barbaric practices or in believing in the existence of a worldwide Jewish plot to dominate the planet!

This confusion, which is deliberately abetted, is made easier by the use of certain words. For instance, the word “Semitic” refers to the mythical descendants of Noah’s son Sem and defines those “… who belong to a number of middle-east populations speaking or having spoken in antiquity Semitic languages” (among which figure notably the Arabs and the Jews); the word “anti-Semitic”, on the other hand, refers exclusively to the “hostility to Jews”. It follows that it is not difficult to spread doubts when referring to one of the more recent forms of antisemitism which aims at eradicating the State of Israel from the map.

Going one step further, it is easy to railroad the – supposedly intellectually neutral – debate relating to “antizionism” (in which Jews and non-Jews join in justifiable criticisms of Israeli policies) to cover up latent antisemitism, as was manifest in the verbal abuse to which Alain Finkielkraut was subjected.

The pest of antisemitism must be opposed with the greatest determination; if reinforcing the legislative corpus is clearly necessary, in particular to exercise more efficient controls over the social media to prevent the dissemination of hate messages, the most urgent measures concern the rigorous enforcement of existing legislation. In addition, the main effort should be directed to education. It is of paramount importance to convince citizens that antisemitism is a virus that threatens the entire population and puts in jeopardy its most fundamental rights; it is a symptom that, as was the case in the 1930’s, leads to catastrophes of which they are inevitably the first victims. This was particularly well expressed by author Franz Fanon from Martinique who died 58 years ago and wrote:

“When you hear criticism of Jews, pay attention, it is you that is being talked about”

The fight against antisemitism is not first and foremost a fight in favor of Jews but, rather, a combat for the dignity of each citizen who is called to live in peaceful intelligence with his fellow man within a community, be it at national or European level. To remain aloof by believing that “it does not concern me” is a significant step towards tolerating discrimination and opening up the path towards dictatorship.

Brussels, 24th February 2019