By Nabila Ramdani
March 1, 2015
Five teenagers were arrested last week in eastern France for desecrating more than 300 Jewish graves. In a shocking attack, tombstones were smashed up and swastikas daubed in red paint in a cemetery in the Bas-Rhin department, where 2,605 Alsatian Jews were murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War. Less reported was that all of those caught were from traditional middle-class French families, and none had anything to do with Islam.
Roger Cukierman, the head of France’s Jewish community, would certainly not be interested in such inconvenient details. In an interview on Monday, the notoriously provocative head of the Crif (Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France) said: “We need to say things clearly: all acts of violence against Jews today are committed by young Muslims.”
Though he offered the token qualification, “Of course, it’s a tiny minority of the Muslim community”, Cukierman later used the term “Islamo-fascism”, and stated that Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National (FN) and a white Christian, was “blameless” when it came to anti-Semitism. Le Pen is certainly trying very hard to position the FN away from its vehemently anti-Jewish roots. Instead she now associates Islam with almost all of France’s ills. Cukierman believes in the same “enemy within” narrative, and wants to demonise a Muslim community of more than five million at a time of heightened sensitivities. That the three gunmen linked to Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and Al Qaida who struck in Paris in January murdered Muslims, and indeed numerous others who had nothing to do with the Jewish faith, was similarly lost on Cukierman.
He also ignores the fact that white Chelsea football fans in Paris last week mimicked the hissing sound of the Nazi gas chambers, and that the most recent high-profile criminal prosecution for anti-Semitism in the French capital was against John Galliano, a British fashion designer who was brought up as a Roman Catholic. And no, the comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala — another convicted Gallic anti-Semite — is not a Muslim either.
Cukierman has form. Last summer he infamously accused pro-Palestinians, many of them Muslims, of being responsible for “attacking” the Roquette synagogue in central Paris, comparing its alleged desecration to Kristallnacht, the ‘Night of Broken Glass’ when Nazis launched pogroms across Germany and Austria in 1938. There was deep embarrassment all round when Serge Benhaïm, the president of the Roquette synagogue, confirmed there had been no attack at all and — on the contrary — an armed Jewish vigilante group was filmed assaulting protesters nearby, while chanting ‘F#*@ Palestine’.
Cukierman belongs to the same propaganda school as Zvika Klein, the former Israeli army spokesman and self-styled Zionist who produced a 90-second video said to “prove” that Paris is “just like Ramallah”. Klein wears a Kippah in his carefully edited film and, despite scant evidence, takes care to link all anti-Jewish feeling with immigrants in rough areas. Claims are by no means justified by the images — at one point he accuses a girl who can’t even see his headgear of “spitting” (with no proof at all), and he even tries to stigmatise schoolchildren, particularly ones who chant “Viva Palestine!”. Klein includes Muslim women in his coverage, even though they show no antipathy towards him whatsoever.
Yes, young Muslim Frenchmen are involved in crime — they tend to come from socially deprived backgrounds, experiencing the same problems of unemployment and discrimination which produce antisocial behaviour the world over. That’s the reason so many of them end up in prison, along with a disproportionate number of black men. But it is also the case that the vast majority of French Jews gets on extremely well with their Muslim counterparts, and strongly objects to poisonous attempts to divide communities. The reality is that Cukierman’s views will be condemned by all kinds of people, no matter what their affiliations. Alexis Bachelay, of the Socialist governing party, said Cukierman “makes an odious connection between anti-Semitic acts which he attributes exclusively to a category of people that he designates by their religion.” Hateful claims based on no evidence can be as much of a concern as extremists manipulating religion to take up arms. Such horrors are universal, and community leaders must learn to deal with them responsibly.
Nabila Ramdani is a Paris-born freelance journalist and academic of Algerian descent. She specialises in Anglo-French issues, Islamic affairs, and the Arab World.