Area Jews call on France to account for anti-Semitism

"There is clear evidence of growing anti-Semitism in France, and no one but the Jews seems to care about it," he wrote to the conference organizer, explaining his decision to stay home.

Franzblau was cheered for that decision April 24 when he related it to a group gathered outside the French Consulate in downtown San Francisco.

For a change in recent weeks, it was the French Consulate rather than the Israeli, that was the site when demonstrators held signs and shouted through bullhorns.

Shouting such phrases as "Holocaust, never again!" "Shame on France" and "Liberté, egalité, fraternité, what a joke!" protesters expressed alarm at the recent outburst of anti-Semitic incidents in France, as well as its foreign policy, which they contend favors the Palestinians.

Planned long before the strong showing of right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen in France's April 21 primary, the rally may have gathered steam as a result, drawing about 150 people. It was organized by a new local group, Grassroots for Israel, to protest the French government's inaction regarding a climate of growing anti-Semitism, including attacks on individuals, the desecration of cemeteries and synagogues, and the burning of a synagogue in Marseille.

According to one of its founders, Eric Gold of San Francisco, Grassroots for Israel is "a bunch of concerned Jews who felt that there was not enough of a Jewish presence on the streets of San Francisco."

Gold said the group supports Israel unconditionally and is concerned about the growth of anti-Semitism worldwide.

Frustrated that the organized Jewish community takes too long to reach consensus before acting, Grassroots for Israel has been involved in a number of rallies recently, including the April 5 counter-protest in front of the Consulate General of Israel.

"The vast majority of Jews in San Francisco love Israel," said Gold, "and they have been thirsting for more opportunity to show their support."

Last week's rally gave them that chance, except this time it was directed at France, and they were not there to show solidarity toward that country.

In a letter delivered to French Consul General Gerard Coste, they wrote: "We are considering a boycott of French wine, cheese, perfume and clothing. We are also considering refusing to visit France as tourists. We would like France to improve its performance in three areas: anti-Semitism, anti-Israel rhetoric and weakness on terrorism."

"I see Europe is up to its old tricks," said Joyce Lieberman of San Francisco. "Things aren't changing. France will not dictate what our borders should be," meaning Israel's borders. "We kicked France out of Louisiana, and we'll kick them out of Israel."

San Francisco resident Sylvie Braitman told those assembled that during the war, many French gentiles kept it secret that her mother was hiding among them, and thereby prevented her from being turned over to the Nazis. But she does not see that same kind of altruism in her native country today.

"I am here today because I am French, I am Jewish and I am scared," she said.

Saying that she was still very fond of France, Braitman said through its foreign policy, the government was allowing expressions of anti-Semitism to be heard. "They feel the pressure of 5 million Arabs," she said, "and feel guilty because their record of caring for them is not that good."

The fact that Le Pen, who called the Holocaust "a detail in World War II history," got such a high percentage of the vote in last week's presidential primary was "a wake-up call," she said. But she saw young people protesting in the streets, which gave her hope. "I feel I need to support France in its fight against anti-Semitism," she said.

Fruma Mikhlina, originally from Belarus, held a sign comparing the French government of 1942, when it was a puppet of the Nazi regime, to the 2002 regime, calling it a puppet of Arab regimes.

"I remember 1942," she said, "how it began. I remember the Holocaust. We have to support Israel and the Jewish people."

Icek Mozes of San Francisco said that "with 400 acts of anti-Semitism in France and no arrests, that's reason to be in front of the consulate today."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."