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Jewish World Review April 3, 2006/ 5 Nissan, 5766

Suzanne Fields

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The rising tide of anti-Semitism | Anti-Semitism is an ancient virus, ebbing with time but never going away. Napoleon liberated the ghettoes in the countries he conquered, but the monarchs of Europe put them back as soon as the little corporal was sent into exile.

Jews were tormented in the Middle Ages as "Christ killers," but in the 21st century Christians and Jews in the West have for the most part made peace with each other. Jews thrived in the Ottoman Empire as diplomats, doctors and writers; today the Islamists are virulently anti-Semitic. They not only want to erase Israel and the Jews from the map, but they want to revive anti-Semitism throughout the world as the means to do that.

They're making progress.

This is most dramatically perceived in France. The French suffer chronic anti-Semitism, but it's often camouflaged in mixed motives and hidden in changing circumstances. The ugly roots of the Alfred Dreyfus affair in the 1890s were seen in the murder last month of Ilan Halimi, 23, the son of Moroccan-born Jews, who was tortured and killed in Paris. Such anti-Semitism can be linked to French behavior during World War II when the Vichy government enthusiastically rounded up their Jews, including children, and turned them over to the murderous Nazis. Alfred Dreyfus died in 1935, but had he lived a few more years he would have witnessed several members of his family deported to the death camps under the command of Marshal Petain, his old comrade in arms. In 2002, vandals spray-painted the Dreyfus statue in Paris with the yellow star the Jews were forced to wear.

The French at first treated the Ilan Halimi affair as a crime, rising from a gang culture, but such obfuscation was soon exposed. "Plenty of people did know, both that Mr. Halimi was being tortured and that he was Jewish," The New York Times reported from Bagneux, the suburb of Paris where Halimi was held for three weeks. Everyone knew; no one called the police, and some neighbors even came to watch the young man suffer torment. Twenty persons participated in the abduction and subsequent e-mail and telephone negotiations with the young man's family. They read from the Koran to his parents while their son screamed in the background. His captors targeted him only because he was a Jew, so the silent bystanders were complicit in the crime.

The public did not become "willing executioners," but the nature of the current anti-Semitism among France's Muslims in the suburban projects is similar to Nazi anti-Semitism. It smells like what historian Saul Friedlander identifies as "redemptive anti-Semitism," purporting to see the purging of Jews as idealism on behalf of group purification. The Islamists, like the Nazis before them, forge a psychological link with latent anti-Semites. The alliance becomes lethal when it connects with those who won't speak up. The reasons for silence include cowardice, fear, intimidation, indifference, and finally contempt.

"The anti-Semitism felt in France may be ideologically rooted in anger against Israel, but it is fed by a new generation also taking up old anti-Semitic delusions — that all Jews are rich, that all Jews are powerful, that Jews are to blame for all the poverty and problems faced in immigrant communities," Henri Hajdenberg, former head of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions, said in an interview in France. Although this is the first time since World War II that a Frenchman was killed because he was Jewish, France has recorded approximately 1,500 anti-Semitic incidents over the past two years, including venomous graffiti, vandalism and swastikas painted on synagogues and gravestones. Several Jews have been attacked on the street since Mr. Halimi's murder.

Thousands of French men and women marched in protest over his slaying, and the French political establishment including President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin attended his memorial service. But Arabs and Africans have become increasingly brazen in their anti-Jewish rhetoric in the French suburbs. The 6 million French Muslims make up the largest Islamic community in Europe, and few are brave enough to criticize them for fear of setting off riots, the protest of choice.

But France is not alone in recording a rise in anti-Semitism. "Valley of the Wolves," a virulent anti-Semitic, anti-American film is playing to cheering audiences in the Turkish communities of Germany. In it, a Jewish doctor cuts out organs of Iraqi prisoners evoking memories of Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who experimented on Jews. London's mayor not long ago insulted a Jewish journalist, likening him to a Nazi concentration camp guard. In a poll conducted by the London Times in December, 37 percent of British Muslims said that British Jews are "legitimate targets as part of the struggle for justice in the Middle East." Emile Zola's famous letter to the French people on behalf of Alfred Dreyfus echoes across France today: "J'Accuse."

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© 2006, Suzanne Fields, Creators Syndicate