Jewish World Review April 26, 2002 / 14 Nisan, 5761

Lewis A. Fein

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Evil on the Left Bank: France's War Against Jewish Life -- Few images better capture France's current descent into murderous anti-Semitism, combining pathos and irony, than Paris during Nazi occupation and, most recently, the city's joyous celebration of the new millennium. For the first image - a famous photograph of a defeated Parisian, an anonymous suit humanized by the spontaneity of his emotions - is the essence of modern France: an excuse for moral revisionism, where, because surrender and shame dull the French spirit, one man's passive acceptance of evil is now somehow an icon of dignified defiance - Napoleon with a Christian Dior tie.

The other image - of the Eiffel Tower, illuminated in gold and offset by celebratory fireworks - is nothing less than toothless triumphalism. That is, modern France considers itself a world power, replete with the blood and treasure - indeed, with the long history of bravery and individual rights - that characterize great nations.

Yet, France is a cautionary tale against what large parts of Europe cannot abandon (anti-Semitism) and what few European nations choose to accept (moral clarity). For French citizens draw an erroneous connection between hard choices - independent of circumstance or morality, like German fascism versus American freedom - and murderous consequences. And, as Jews once again die in Europe (joining an invisible processional, one that stretches from Amsterdam to Auschwitz and the Sorbonne to Sobibor), Frenchmen simply say things could be worse.

It is this sense of defeatism that makes France such a haven for moral relativism. It is this betrayal of courage that makes France a laboratory for "civilized" hatred; a sign that language, law, literature, tradition - all those things that define a country's progress - can coexist with anti-Semitic violence, provided society can produce an Islamist version of Sartre or Camus to excuse it. It is France's war against, or its neglectful attitude concerning, its Jewish citizens that emboldens a particularly dangerous subspecies: intellectuals.

Intellectuals largely identify with perceived victims, individuals that - regardless of the degradation, poverty or violence they themselves perpetuate - manipulate public sympathy. This sympathy is itself the byproduct of national self-hatred and convenient amnesia: an idea that the difference between great and small nations is merely the degree of thievery involved, and that murderous terrorism has its own noteworthy context.

This sympathy is the intellectual's pause, a conjunctive expression that says - "Yes, terrorism is wrong, but . . . Israeli Jews are Zionist thugs or Ariel Sharon is a war criminal or America invites additional violence." In the process, terrorism flourishes. Terrorism flourishes because the people that will report, analyze and teach its political effects - in short, intellectuals - silently endorse evil.

These individuals endorse evil reactively, upon having observed Israel's difficult survival and having deduced that "the Jews" are too fortunate; upon having watched American troops liberate Europe and having concluded that "the Yanks" are uncivilized; upon having surrendered to, sympathized before or collaborated with almost every barbaric regime - from Hitler to Stalin - that defines modern evil.

These acts of anti-Semitic violence are merely the first sign of a broader war against modernity, a war just as threatening to Christians as it is to Jews. But, today, in places where millions once lived and now only thousands remain, Jews are again targets for hatred. Jews are targets for violence, discrimination and silent anger - an irrational rage that blames all problems, great and small, on the Jewish people.

There are no camps, trains or guards during this latest wave of anti-Semitic hatred. There is no Hitler, Himmler or Goering this time. There is only the silence of Europe's many, repeating what it always does before gruesome terror - nothing.

JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles.Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, Lewis A. Fein