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A few notes from the Jews of France A few notes from the Jews of France
by Joseph Gatt
2020-09-30 09:43:43
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A French, Jewish and Israeli perspective on the Jews of France, in no particular order.

-Canada, the UK, the US or even Brazil and Argentina, Russia or Ukraine, have proven over history that they were loyal to their Jewish community. In the mentioned countries, the Jews have been welcome since the establishment of the republics or the Glorious revolution. This loyalty to the Jews was tested throughout history, and the mentioned countries never betrayed their Jews (almost did under Stalin).

-France on the other hand was divided during World War II. The “resistant” were loyal to the Jews (and often patriotic French Jews themselves). The “Nazi collaborators” on the other hand betrayed the long-held French tradition of welcoming Jews.

fra0001_400-Unlike other Nazi-occupied territories where the Jews had very limited self-defense means, French Jews organized the resistant, aided by a large number of French non-Jews. Who were these French non-Jewish resistant? Historians are divided over the question. Some say they were Communists (because Nazism was anti-Communist). Others say they were fervent nationalists who wanted to free France from Nazism. Others claim they were mostly Parisians. Others claim they were mostly deserters of the French army. Truth is there was a little bit of everything.

-Canada, the UK, the US, or even Brazil, Argentina and other nations that host Jews have had more or less stable governments and political systems. And ancient Jewish communities. And smaller Jewish migrations. That helped Jewish communities and migrants adapt to the local political systems and organize around those political systems without being tone-deaf to them.

-France has had something of a shaky political system since 1946 (and even before that) and a shaky political system since 1958.

-Furthermore, Jewish migrations to France were massive (those exiles from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia). So you have a new Jewish community who has to adapt and blend in to a shaky, unstable government, a government which is unpredictable and where there are frequent mutations. The Jewish community could not adapt to that.

-What do I mean by government instability in France? Unlike Israel and other nations where the very nature of the government is to avoid elitism at all costs (Bibi Netanyahu is “in trouble” of sorts because many Israelis believe he's an elitist element in an Israeli political system which rejects elitism). France is an elitist system.

-But, in France, if you count the votes, around 60% votes tend to vote against that elitism at almost every election. Yet, the system (a two-round election system) means that 60% of the votes are cast out, the remaining 40% of the votes are distributed to account for 80 to 90% parliamentary seats, ministerial posts and other elected positions. Not to mention that around 50 to 60% of French voters abstain. That means that technically 70 or more percent French eligible voters reject the elitist government in place (or don't care).

-What is French elitism? It's a system where only the graduates of a number of high schools, elite semi-private colleges, and elite public graduate schools have access to “elected” positions.

-The products of that elite education system are often “hated” by the 70% eligible voters who reject the elitist system.

-So the 70% eligible voters often play a game of cat and mouse with the French government, where they demonstrate every spring, and the demonstrations last until early summer, and the government eventually either makes huge concessions to the masses, or government officials resign, or in some rare cases there are huge reshuffles.

-Either way, the French government is constantly on shaky grounds, as it tends not to have the support of 70% the eligible masses who reject a system which only allows graduates of elite schools to work at high-ranking positions.

-Why do the masses reject the system? First, because the system tends to be self-serving, voting laws that protect the interests of the governing elites. What do I mean by protecting the interests of the governing elites? Mainly maintaining the system according to which a minority vote grants access to elected positions through a two-round system. Interestingly, the governing elites tend not to work too closely with the business elites, but there are a few cross-sections here and there.

-But the French government tends to be accused by the masses of spending too much time on “political maneuvers” and “preparing election campaigns” and not enough time spent on the economy, security or other important issues.  

-The Israeli system is one where any team with a platform and a vision can run for the elections, and defend their platform and vision. The French system is more about two or three big parties with no clear platform or vision, but big “names” (who often benefit from almost delusional hagiographies in the media) and those big “names” are trusted to lead the nation, and very often, like in any marriage, after the honeymoon phase, end up gaining weight and disappointing, or losing weight, their skin gets dry, their hair turns grey, and they still disappoint.

-The masses want to preserve a welfare system, and this is where it gets absurd. The government taxes to fund the welfare system, so in the end, you end up paying in taxes what you receive in welfare. Welfare benefits are more of a symbol than anything.

-More importantly, the masses tend to oppose a government that defends its results when the economy is clearly lagging.

-The tone-deaf Jewish community. When the economy is struggling and the masses are opposed to the elites, the right thing to do for the Jewish community would be to take a step back and wait for better things to happen.

-But some elements of the Jewish community have been siding with the government elites in one form or another. Even better, Jewish members of the government elite and friends will accuse anyone who criticizes them of being “anti-Semitic.”

-The French media landscape. Unlike most countries where the media landscape tends to be fragmented, the French media landscape is composed of about a dozen shows that dominate overall viewership rates.

-Those dozen shows often have the same dozen or so guests on every week. Most guests will put you to sleep, but people watch them anyway. It's either those “infotainment” shows, or watching a movie. And in France where pubs close at 6 PM, you have no other option but to watch the infotainment show if you don't want things to get too lonely.

-Oddly enough, the French media landscape often invites the same half-dozen Jewish pundits who side with the government elites unconditionally, and you'll rarely find a Jewish pundit invited on shows that “opposes” or “criticizes” the government elites.

-So this media mirage where very often eccentric and hawkish and often brutal Jewish pundits religiously defend the government elites give the French the impression that the 550,000 French Jewish population are all members of the government elites. They're NOT.

-In fact, this media mirage had done more harm than good to the French Jewish youth. Many grow up middle class or lower-middle class, many believe that being Jewish, they should probably be up there with the elites. So many will cut corners and try to cheat their way up to the elites, or start risky ventures that they think will work because things seem to be working fine for the Jewish community, and many crash and collapse.

-The garment industry and wholesales industries used to employ quite a few Jews, but the advent of big retailers and trusts (that is retailers who control everything from raw materials to the final product on the shelves) along with imports from North Africa and China, have made those businesses struggling businesses.

-Finally in most countries, the education system teaches you “how to think.” The French education system mostly teaches you “what to think.” So I'm always surprised to meet French Jews who seem to be indoctrinated and seem to be incapable of holding ideas of their own. The very nature of Judaism is the ability to reflect and observe and analyze, but the French Jewish community in many cases can find it hard to think outside the box.

-The future of France's Jews? Many are very comfortable in France. The French system has its tokens and symbols, and many French Jews worked hard to acquire those tokens and symbols. Those tokens and symbols can not be transferred to Israel or any other nation. So they'll probably remain in France.

-30% Jewish kids go to Jewish schools instead of public schools. Media claims anti-Semitism is the main reason. I wouldn't think so. I'd tend to believe that lagging educational standards (including teachers with ridiculously low teaching capabilities) is the main motivation.

-But France is a special case. Unlike Israel, the US or other countries where you more or less improvise your way through life, France has all kinds of “diplomas” and “symbols” and “ranks” that you work hard to obtain, and that are only recognized in France. So unless some kind of tragic events take place, I would say that the French Jewish younger generation is comfortable where it is, and is comfortable keeping its children in the system.

-French Jewish relations with the diaspora and with Israel? In theory, excellent relations. In practice, French Jews are raised in a French system where you “repress your desires” as much as you can. So most French Jews tend not to be comfortable around those free-thinking, straight-talking, unrestrained behavior and unstructured friendships and relations that they can find in the diaspora and in Israel. When the French Jews can't find restraint and structure, they try to create it and impose it.

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