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In mid-August, as London's neighbourhoods underwent violence, looting and fire, France's Jews looked on with a familiar disquiet. Jews were in no sense the target of this summer's rioting, but a decade ago, something similar went wrong on the streets of Paris that has not been put right since. The present era of European street violence began with widespread assaults on Jews around Paris in the autumn of 2000, the year of the so-called "second intifada" in Israel. The following year saw riots in Oldham and Rochdale — overshadowed in retrospect by the destruction of the World Trade Center just weeks later.

No rest: A desecrated gravestone in the Jewish cemetary of Brumath, France, November 2004 (Getty)

There were 744 acts of anti-Jewish violence and threats in France in 2000, the worst year since the war. While these were, beyond any shadow of a doubt, anti-Semitic acts, they were not perpetrated by the sort of anti-Semites against whom French people had steeled themselves to be vigilant. Violence was particularly intense in those north Paris neighbourhoods, such as Sarcelles and Garges-lès-Gonesses, where an established and ageing Jewish population, much of it descended from North African immigration of the early 1960s, lived at close quarters with newer Muslim immigrants, many of them young. The attacks were stemmed by an aggressive government response starting in 2002, but they have never died out. The years 2004 and 2009 were worse. They form the backdrop to a more general sense of being ill-at-ease, or no longer quite so at home, that many French Jews describe.

Paris has more Jews than any country in Western Europe. It also has more Arab Muslims. Clashing visions of how the French state ought to respond have led to a divergence of interests between the two groups. But while the Arab population is rising rapidly, the Jewish population is ageing and shrinking due to emigration, intermarriage and small family size. It has fallen to under half a million, according to the authoritative Hebrew University demographer Sergio Della Pergola. It is now hard to teach the Holocaust in schools, due to harassment and disruption from mostly immigrant students. A third  of Jewish students have abandoned the state school system for Jewish schools, while another third go to Catholic ones — more for reasons of security than pedagogy. Regularly scheduled, robustly attended demonstrations question the legitimacy of the state of Israel. 

But a problem that France presents at its most intense is not exclusively a French problem. The senior politician of the Dutch centre-Right, Frits Bolkestein, has worried aloud that Holland's unassimilated Muslims may make the country a dangerous place for its 40,000 Orthodox (and therefore visible) Jews. In Germany, the Left party has held fraught internal meetings to discuss whether its members' passionate anti-Israel sentiments were shading over into anti-Semitic ones. 

France's behaviour towards its Jews in World War II has for decades served as the lodestone for its political ethics. For a quarter-century after the war, an official silence surrounded the collaboration of France's wartime Vichy government with that of Nazi Germany. Since the early 1970s, when the American historian Robert Paxton and the documentary filmmaker Marcel Ophüls revealed that collaboration in detail, discussion of France's misdeeds has been wide-open. But it has the power to fascinate and wound. Two major movies about the Holocaust were showing in French cinemas over the summer — the American film Sarah's Key and the French-made La Rafle, which describes the night of July 15, 1942, when thousands of Jews, including children, were rounded up by French authorities. They followed a spat over whether to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the death of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, arguably France's greatest 20th-century novelist but certainly one of its most notorious literary anti-Semites. 

France looked at the record of World War II and found it so unspeakable that it insisted on stamping out the merest glimmer of the doctrines that had made such things  possible. It was not the only country in continental Europe that did so. But there was an added drama to the French state's relations with France's Jews. For the first two decades of Israel's existence, France was its most important ally. The two countries even cooperated to develop their nuclear weapons programmes. But after Israel fought the Six-Day War against a coalition of Arab powers in 1967, France's president Charles de Gaulle withdrew his support, and in terms that made it seem his real gripe was not with Israel but with Jews, whom he called "an elite people, sure of itself and dominant". Nonetheless, for decades after the 1970s, remembering the Holocaust in a dignified and appropriate way (le devoir de mémoire, as the French called it) was the core "spiritual exercise" of France — in its schools and on its public days of remembrance. Jews wound up,  willy-nilly, at the centre of France's moral system.

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December 4th, 2011
6:12 PM
After reading the article, one can come only to one conclusion "Anti Semites will NEVER die, only multiply". Given the opportunity (this time under the wings of the Arab dress), the new Anti Jew Brigades don't feel the need of scaling back, on the contrary, they're proud of coming through the front door.

September 9th, 2011
2:09 PM
Please could you let us know more about the 'Hertog/Simon Fund for Policy Analysis'. I cn't find any information on this fund. Thanks

September 6th, 2011
12:09 PM
Excellent but utterly depressing article. It mirrors very much what is happening in Sweden (where I come from). Jews have been fleeing Sweden's third city Malmö in droves in the last few years due to harassment and violence from Muslim immigrant youths, and the despicably wet response (some would say implicit collusion) by the city's rabidly anti-Israel socialist mayor. Of course current events in the Middle East are always used as a pretext for 'righteous' indignation. One cannot but wonder (I'm not Jewish myself) whether the issue isn't the congenital anti-Semitism one finds in contemporary Islam. It is a rising tide of poison that can only be stemmed by political leaders with courage and vision. Unfortunately, such leaders are in precious short supply in Europe (although I can think of one Dutch exception).

Bashy Quraishy
September 3rd, 2011
2:09 PM
Dear CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL In read your article "When An Old Hatred Returns By Europe's Back Door", with great interest and a bit of sadness. As a human rights activist, initiative taker of Jewish Muslim Co-operation Platform in Europe and a campaigner against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia for many years, I can understand your harm and anger on the increasing anti-Semitism in France. Having said that, I am also puzzled; how conveniently, you have coupled anti-Semitism in France, riots in London, Islam and Muslim Arabs and presented it as a danger to Europe. I shall not discuss with you the whole contents of your viewpoints, but there are two issues, I wish to correct. You say: “The present era of European street violence began with widespread assaults on Jews around Paris in the autumn of 2000, the year of the so-called "second intifada" in Israel. The following year saw riots in Oldham and Rochdale — overshadowed in retrospect by the destruction of the World Trade Center just weeks later". Here you are insinuating that Muslims are always behind riots in UK and riots in Europe are somehow connected to what happened in Paris in 2000. Here is a list of riots, which will tell you that Muslims have seldom been involved in riots. This is absolutely false. Here is a list of recent riots, which will give you a better understanding of who is rioting in London alone and why. • The 1958 Notting Hill race riots between White British and West Indian immigrants. • The Red Lion Square disorders happened in 1974 following a march by counter-fascists against the National Front. • In 1977 the Battle of Lewisham occurred when the Metropolitan Police attempted to facilitate a march by the National Front • The 1981 Brixton riot against the Metropolitan Police. Especially on 10 July, rioting extended to other parts of London and numerous other cities around the UK • The 1985 Brixton riot against the Metropolitan Police after they shot the mother of suspect Michael Groce. • In the Broadwater Farm riot of 1985, residents of Tottenham riot against the Metropolitan Police following a death during a police search • Poll Tax Riots occurred in 1990 against the introduction of a poll tax. • Welling riots, October 1993. A march organised by the ANL, the SWP and Militant resulted in riots against the Metropolitain police. • The 1995 Brixton riot against the Metropolitan Police occurred after a death in police custody. • The 1999 Carnival Against Capitalism riot • The 2000 anti-capitalist May Day riot • The 2001 May Day riots in central London by anti-capitalist protestors. • In 2009 G-20 London summit protests occurred in the days around the G-20 summit. • The 2010 UK student protests against increases in student fees and public sector cuts. • The 2011 anti-cuts protest in London against government public spending cuts. • The 2011 England riots, initially in London, following the police shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham Secondly, please do not present 2000 anti-Jewish riots in Paris as the work of Muslims. Intifada in Israel/Palestine and its dire consequences all over, are political and nothing to do with Islam. I sincerely believe that Arab youth anger should not go over innocent Jewish people in Israel or Europe but at the same time propagating against Islam is despicable too. You are not helping Jewish Muslim dialogue by poisoning the mind of people with constructing facts, which are not there. Kind regards Bashy Quraishy

September 2nd, 2011
9:09 PM
Its sad that this is happening, its even more sad that its not being covered in the main stream media!

September 1st, 2011
5:09 PM
Nicely explained. There are of course thousands of NGOs dedicated to anti-zionsim, especially since the UN Durban conference. NGOs like this one....

Nathan Weinstock
September 1st, 2011
2:09 PM
Dear Mr. Caldwell, As a retired Belgian who spends part of the year in France, I appreciated your article very much and share your view on th subject. Do your read French ? If so, I'm sure you would be interested in my latest book which was published this week by Odile Jacob in Paris (see below). Kind regards, Nathan Weinstock Nahan WEINSTOCK "Terre promise, trop promise. Genèse du conflit israélo-palestinien, 1882-1948". Odile Jacob

Jeremiah K
September 1st, 2011
12:09 PM
Good analysis. This rings in with this article "The Secret Passion of the New Antisemitism"

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