A Jew in France

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

W.B. Yeats, 1920

A lot has been written lately about the rise in anti-Semitism in France. The New York Times and The Guardian have reported in the last week on increased incidences of the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues with the painting of that most recognizable symbol of hate: the Nazi Swastika, and the denunciation of these acts by the Macron government. An article in Le Monde quoted Macron as saying in a speech to CRIF, a coalition of French Jewish organizations: the resurgence of anti-Semitism in France is unequaled since the second world war. In contrast to Mr. Trump, President Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe unequivocally denounced hatred and the haters, saying “this is not the country we are.” It may not be the country they want, but it is undeniable that there is a long history of anti-Semitism in France, a country with the largest Jewish population outside of Israel and the United States, and a country that deported 78,000 Jews to Nazi death camps.

Entrance to Camp de Rivesaltes
Camp de Rivesaltes

There is certainly an alarming increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents but it is unclear if this reflects a burgeoning hatred in the population or the increased freedom to broadcast opinions that used to be kept quiet. There is no doubt that as this and other western countries become increasingly polarized, the rhetoric becomes more heated and people gravitate to the extremes of left and right as moderates disappear. In France, Macron’s election destroyed the centrist Socialist and Republican parties; in Britain, Brexit has fractured both the Conservatives and Labor; and in the US, Democrats have moved to the left as Republicans lined up behind Trump. The void in the middle opens a path for populist demagogues as has happened in Brazil, Austria, Hungary, Italy, and the United States.
Macron seemed to be aware of this dynamic when in his speech to CRIF he supported the adoption of a definition of anti-Semitism that is enlarged to include anti-Zionism.

What to make of this?

It can be perceived as a political act, both in attempting to woo a frightened French Jewish community and as a lightly veiled reference to the left-wing leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon who has been accused of cloaking his anti-Semitism in criticism of Netanyahu’s policies. Tarring the left with the same brush of bigotry that sticks to Marine Le Pen on the right, leaves Macron as the only acceptable choice for a majority of the country. Opposition to the Zionist policies of the Israeli government is not anti-Semitic.
I support the right of Jews to a homeland. I oppose the destruction of the Palestinian people to annex more land for Israel. I am not an anti-Semite, but including opposition to Zionism in a definition of anti-Semitism seems to put all Jews in the same boat which is not very different from saying all Muslims are terrorists.
Macron also spoke of additional laws to ban online hate speech by anonymous postings and an investigation into the increasing number of Jewish students who have left school under the fear of violence.
Macron had to respond with more than words of sympathy. It remains to be seen whether his initiatives will become effective actions but it may not matter. Prejudice is as old as humanity and cannot be legislated away.
©2019 Ron Scherl

Camp de Rivesaltes
Camp de Rivesaltes

A Sunny Sunday

Square Saint Lambert

6 May 2018

I sat next to a woman just as she sighed with satisfaction and closed her book: Avant que les Ombres s’Effacent. Louis-Philippe Dalembert. Before the Shadows Fade turns out to be the story of a Polish Jew who flees Nazism to Haiti, of all places. Turns out Haiti had passed a law in 1939 guaranteeing asylum for the persecuted, and citizenship to all who asked. I keep getting drawn back into this story, first with the surprise of discovering the similar policies of Mexico, and now Haiti, two countries who saved many thousands of Jews turned away by the United States.

My parents adored Franklin Roosevelt—so much so that as a kid I thought he must be Jewish—but FDR bowed to the isolationists and anti-Semites in clamping down on European immigration. US visa offices were closed and all applications had to be approved by the State Department in Washington. People like Hiram Bingham and Varian Fry did their best, but their efforts were severely hampered by their own government.

I don’t know how much the American public knew at the time. I can only assume my parents were misinformed.

Square Saint Lambert

But, hey. It’s a beautiful day in Paris and this piece was supposed to be just an impressionistic summer observation of an ex-pat with a camera.

Reading woman left and was replaced on the bench by a young boy wearing glasses and reading Harry Potter et la Coupe de Feu. That’s more like it.

There’s a man juggling on the green—not very well—and the green is crowded. Balls are landing all over but the sun worshipers are happy and cheer him along. There are lots of kids on wheels and lots more kids with balls and when the two intersect, a few tears flow, but dads are there to brush them off and get them back on the bikes. Seems like a lot of dads watching kids, which would make me wonder about the divorce rate if I weren’t so intent on a sunny day.

Beach towels, football jerseys, books, and selfies. Young women in bikinis, sunglasses, and straw hats, winter pallor slick with oil. The young are all on the green, the rest of us seek benches in the shade.

Let’s close this with an unusual war memorial. I just can’t help it. If anyone can tell me who the three gentlemen on the left are, and what the inscriptions “T.O.E.” and “A.F.N.” stand for, I’d appreciate it.

War Memorial at the Mairie of the 15th.

Merci beaucoup.

©2018 Ron Scherl

Democrats

Winter returned for its curtain call this weekend. Temperatures fell, a little snow flurried around and quickly departed, and I stayed home except for a visit to the American Church for a meeting of Democrats Abroad. This kind of event doesn’t hold much interest for me but I am committed to exploring as much of Paris as I can, and I thought a few hours of conversation in English would be a mental vacation.

This was the Annual General Meeting which meant most of the time was given to parliamentary procedures like reading the minutes of the last meeting and proposing changes to the by-laws. Yawn. I had hopes for the political summary but it was just a recap of the number of seats at stake and how much money had been raised for the next election. There was little discussion, few questions, zero conflict. I’d bet a directive had come from the DNC that mandated unity: There shall be no disagreements. We are united in opposition to the odious buffoon in the White House. This is not only boring, it’s anti-democratic and totally contrary to the spirit of the Democratic Party, which has never been unanimous in support of anything. Thank you, Barbara Lee. But when you want to stifle disagreement, overstuff the agenda with procedural minutiae and promise there will be time for questions later. There won’t be.

Owen Franken addresses the meeting

The only spark of controversy came from the appearance of Owen Franken, brother of former Senator Al. Owen was having none of this peace and love thing. He was mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. What set him off was an announcement of a new party policy on sexual harassment. The terms of the policy haven’t been released yet, but the announcement gave Owen a platform to defend his brother and denounce Senator Kirsten Gillibrand who took the lead in taking him down.

Al Franken was shafted by his party and unnecessarily thrown to the wolves. This meeting was an appropriate place to discuss it, but the leaders were having none of it, and he was shut down by the chairwoman for violating parliamentary procedures. I called Owen to ask him what he was trying to get across and he told me that he just wanted to open a discussion of sexual harassment in the hope of creating a policy that might prevent someone else from being thrown under the bus over unproven allegations. He left when it became clear that wasn’t going to happen.

Wine and cookies were served.

Wine and Cookies

©2018 Ron Scherl