Violence in France is not deemed antisemitic, but concerns about a potential right-wing backlash arise.
Jerusalem, July 6, 2023 – Two prominent French Jewish leaders participating in a webinar organized by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) said that the recent violent unrest in France was not motivated by antisemitism. However, they expressed concerns that the riots, primarily carried out by migrant youths, could fuel a far-right backlash that may have negative consequences for the French Jewish community.
Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, Managing Director of AJC-Europe, and Yonathan Arfi, President of France’s umbrella group of French Jewish communities (CRIF) and Vice-President of the World Jewish Congress, explained during the webinar that the riots were mainly a reflection of the dissatisfaction of predominantly North African migrant youth with the French government and the discrimination their community faces. The unrest has led to destructive acts such as arson attacks on police stations and public buildings, vandalism of luxury shops, looting, and the defacement of the National Shoah Memorial with problematic graffiti.
However, it is important to note that this recent wave of violence is different from the 2014 riots, during which Jews and synagogues were specifically targeted. Nonetheless, Arfi voiced concerns that if the unrest continues, Jews could become targets due to the perception of their close alignment with the authorities and the state. Some people view the Jewish community as siding with the authorities against the Arab and African communities.
Rodan-Benzaquen further highlighted the predicament faced by French Jews, caught between extremists from Islamist, far-left, and far-right groups. She noted that while some Jews who consider the far left the ultimate enemy may lean toward the far right, they should remember that it is fundamentally a contradiction of Jewish values to align with far-right ideologies, as they are often associated with antisemitism.
The webinar was moderated by JPPI Senior Fellow Dr. Dov Maimon, who manages the Institute’s relations with Jewish communities in Europe. Participants also included Ofir Sofer, Israel’s Minister of Aliyah and Integration, who expressed hope for the French government to overcome this challenging period and assured that Israel stands ready to assist French Jews who wish to make aliyah (immigration to Israel). Additionally, Major General (Res.) Doron Almog, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, shared his concern for the French Jewish community and emphasized that the Jewish Agency is prepared to assist those wishing to make aliyah in times of heightened insecurity.
While the expressions of concern from Israel were appreciated, both Rodan-Benzaquen and Arfi reiterated their commitment to maintaining a strong Jewish community France as long as it remains a prosperous and democratic country. Arfi emphasized that French Jewry plays a unique and essential role as a bridge between Israel and the Diaspora and expressed his hope that there will continue to be Jews in France for years and decades to come.
Rodan-Benzaquen drew parallels between the violent antisemitism the Jewish community in France has faced and the challenges now vexing by the U.S. Jewish community She believes French Jews have learned lessons that could be shared and highlighted the import contribution of the European Jewish voice to the well-being of liberal democracies and the Jewish people everywhere.
Professor Yedidia Stern, President of JPPI, responded to the participants and audience, expressing his hope that JPPI’s efforts could help change the current paradigm in Israel, where the focus is on internal agendas. He stressed the importance of unity among Jews and the need for Israel to fulfil its promise to defend Jews worldwide as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Stern stated that the riots in France present an opportunity to raise awareness and foster cohesion between Jews worldwide.