Antisemitism has become “part of the air that we breathe” in France and its various promoters — on the right and left — are coalescing to form a toxic threat to the country’s Jews.
So says Professor Andrew Hussey, director of the Centre for Post-Colonial Studies act London University’s School of Advanced Studies and the author of a groundbreaking study, The French Intifada, published in 2014.
He revealed that his French publisher would not accept the title, instead re-naming it Insurrections En France (“Uprisings In France”), because, Mr Hussey said, “He thought people would talk too much about the Jews.”
Prof Hussey said that currently “there is what is called the ‘new antisemitism’ in France,” which is mainly manifested in the banlieues, the poverty-stricken immigrant neighbourhoods in and around big cities. “There has always been the ‘antisemitism du salon’, or the old antisemitism [as expressed in Vichy] — that will never go away. But then there is the more populist antisemitism as expressed in the banlieues.”
He came across this when he began researching the murder of Ilan Halimi, the young French Jew who was killed in Paris in 2006 after weeks of torture. “I began talking to people in the banlieues in 2008, and it was very contentious politically, because the only person who described it as an antisemitic crime was [former president Nicholas] Sarkozy. The government wanted to put it down to social delinquency and were in complete denial about the antisemitism. I wanted to find out if it was true or not.”
He discovered, after talking to young people and gang members, “antisemitism as a form of youth revolt, despite the fact that they admitted they had never met anyone Jewish”. In the banlieues, he said, “you have a kind of civil war between Jews and Arabs which was exported from Algeria, where they all came from”.
Though there is denial in some echelons of Jewish society, Prof Hussey said “Jews on the ground know it’s real”. (...)
The “casual antisemitism of youth revolt” found a darker expression in the 2012 killings in Toulouse by Mohammed Merah, who murdered seven people, including three children, at a Jewish school. During a 30-hour siege after which he was shot dead by police, Merah said he had attacked the school because, “the Jews kill our brothers and sisters in Palestine”. (...)
In every country, Prof Hussey said, the Israel-Palestine situation had an effect on the local debate. “But when it is downloaded into France, where the stew of antisemitism is so particular, it takes on this poisoned energy. It’s to do with atmosphere. And now, I’m starting to feel that this stuff has long since left the library [and academic research] and become part of the air that we breathe.”