An American visitor looks at anti-Semitism in France
I went to Paris this summer to find out more about charges of French anti-Semitism, as evidenced by last year's bloodshed at Jo Goldenberg's delicatessen store and the Rue Copernic synagogue, as well as by smaller, but no less outrageous attacks on Jewish institutions elsewhere in France. I also wanted to understand if and how the French policies toward Israel and Arab countries contributed to anti-Semitism.
Such charges were denied by a variety of people, who said that, at the very least, anti-Semitism in France was and is a complex matter. Jews have the same rights as other citizens, and some have been long prominent in government and politics. True, some anti-Semites are about, including a few who believe the Holocaust did not take place. However, unlike in pre-World War II days, neither the general press or political parties engage in Jew hatred, and public opinion polls show increasing drops in anti-Semitic attitudes.
And yet, for all the explanations, there is an uneasiness, psychological as well as historical. Anti-Semitism does not die, particularly in the land of the Dreyfus trial and Vichy collaboration with Nazis.
From my discussions, a general consensus seemed to emerge:
* The attacks and violence against Jews were isolated incidents and not reflective of French anti-Semitism.
* Social rather than political anti-Semitism still exists, but to a much lesser degree than in prior decades. ''Of course, they don't like us,'' said a Jewish cabbie, ''but they don't call you a 'dirty Jew' any longer.''
* Stereotypical French ''xenophobia'' is primarily directed against Arabs in France assassinating other Arabs, Armenian terrorists assassinating Turks, Basques, and Corsicans using or plotting terrorism, and black Africans having jobs French workers want.
* President Mitterrand, unlike his predecessor, knows Jewish history and has a high regard for Israel, particularly its labor party leaders. Many consider him basically ''pro'' Jewish and ''pro'' Israel, but feel his foreign minister, Claude Cheysson, ''pro'' third world.
* Both the French political ''left'' and ''right'' have decried anti-Semitism , though the left is generally considered pro-Palestinian and third world, while the right is decidedly free of its old anti-Semitism.
* There is some concern, confusion, and/or ambivalence about French Jewish support for Israel, with the complaint that any criticism of Israel unfairly invites the accusation of anti-Semitism.
* The traditional French Jewish community is changing, and its historic leadership no longer reflects unanimity because of the large number of Sephardic Jews from North African countries, who are more outspoken, more religious, and more resentful of the Arab world they fled.
* France is anxious to strengthen relations with the Arab world, as seen in the many Arab bank and store signs about Paris and the high arms sales and sought-after sales to the Arab world.
In short, the violence against French Jews were not manifestations of a revived anti-Semitism, but of Arab terrorists using France as an arena for their anti-Israel activities. Though the present French government leadership has not and will not tolerate anti-Semitism, it has been slow in responding to international and domestic terrorists, who are both anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.
As of now, exactly a year after the Jo Goldenberg bombing, anti-Semitism is not as bad as in decades past, but neither are relations as good as all French Jews and most French gentiles would want.