Journalist sees no future for Jews in France

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They say 60 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong. However, when it comes to Jews, apparently they can be. Dead wrong.

That’s the impression journalist Marie Brenner gave in a sobering address at the annual “Choices” fund-raising dinner hosted by the Women’s Philanthropy Division of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay. The event was held April 14 at Oakland’s Caffe Verbena, with over 300 in attendance, most of them women.

Brenner is an award-winning reporter for Vanity Fair, best known for her expose of the tobacco industry (later made into the film “The Insider”) and lengthy pieces about women in peril around the world. A Jewish native of San Antonio, Texas, she has recently begun to focus her reporting on a virulent new strain of anti-Semitism spreading around the world, especially in Europe.

“It’s a frightening time for the Jews in Europe,” she said. In France, a new “communitarianism” has taken hold under which Jews are “forced to declare themselves and retreat into their communities,” she added. “This is the basis of race hatred.”

As proof, Brenner cited recent statistics showing a 90 percent rise in physical attacks on Jews in France, with a total of 3,000 such crimes reported there since 2002. The result: 40 percent of French Jews polled now say they want to leave France. This despite newly enacted laws designed to combat anti-Semitism. Those laws, said Brenner, are not being enforced.

“I never thought I would say this, but it is a terrible mistake to think that crimes against Jews are a thing of the past,” said Brenner.

Contrary to the popular image of the wealthy Ashkenazi families such as the Rothschilds, most French Jews — up to 70 percent — are actually lower to middle-class Sephardim of North African extraction. They number 650,000 compared to 8 million French Muslims. This makes France, according to Brenner, the “test tube of Europe.”

The new anti-Semitism is different from past incarnations, according to the journalist. Today it takes the form of a vicious anti-Zionism. “In Europe,” says Brenner, “now you have to say, ‘I hate Israel.'” Among the evidence for this, a recent poll in England showed that 40 percent of Britons would “be suicide bombers [against Israelis] if they could.”

Most significantly, the Muslim population across Europe is expanding at a rapid rate. “They call it Eurabia,” said Brenner. “By 2020, France, Spain and Holland will be 50 percent Muslim.” Most of the attacks on Jews in France come at the hands of Muslim youth.

All this has caused Jews to go into a kind of hiding. Observant Jews wear baseball caps instead of yarmulkes. Families have taken their mezuzot and hung them on the inside of their doors rather than the traditional outside. “I felt,” said Brenner of her travels in France, “like I went back in time to Laura Hobson’s ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ in 1949, where the word ‘Jew’ was said in a whisper.”

The picture she drew for her audience was, she said, “not like 1939 Germany but 1932. You have to know the code. If there is European reverence for every Holocaust memorial, beware. It means, ‘We like dead Jews, not live ones.'”

Brenner’s call to action centered on aiding French Jews, especially French Jewish youth, to leave the country. She urged audience members to open their doors and hearts to French Jewish college students, to help them obtain visas and leave the country. “We helped the Soviet Jews,” she said. “Now there’s a need again.

Wrapping up her remarks, Brenner said, “I’m an optimist.” Given the bleak description of European Jewish life today, it was hard to figure out why.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.