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French Jews Decry Attacks, but Don’t Want to Ruffle Feathers

Leaders in the French Jewish community recently traveled to New York and Washington with a clear message: Now is not the time to boycott France.

Some U.S. Jews have called for a boycott, charging that the French government is not doing enough to combat what Jewish officials call the worst spate of anti-Semitic attacks since World War II.

The European Jewish Congress counted some 360 anti-Jewish incidents in France in the first three weeks of April.

According to France’s Interior Ministry, more than 60 percent involved anti-Jewish graffiti or verbal abuse. But there also were a dozen attempts to set synagogues on fire or damage graves.

Still, such a boycott would be “counterproductive,” said Roger Cukierman, president of CRIF, an umbrella organization for secular French Jewish groups.

He was speaking at a meeting with American Jewish leaders sponsored by the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York on May 8.

While in New York, Cukierman also spoke to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Last Friday, Cukierman told congressional staffers in Washington that he believes the new French government seems to have “a willingness to fight anti-Semitism” seriously.

Such a boycott would thus “offend” the French government, he said at the meeting in New York.

Cukierman suggested that individual, private contacts with French officials would be effective, as long as they are done in a nonoffensive way.

French Jewish leaders are afraid of offending the majority, Cukierman said, because unlike in the United States, which is a nation of immigrants, “if you are French and something else you are attacked for not being purely French.”

A boycott on French tourism or products would only increase anti-Semitic sentiment, he said.

In Washington, CRIF officials told congressional staffers and leaders of the American Jewish community that French Jews are fearful but hopeful that the change in government means a change in a daily life that suddenly has included physical attacks and vandalism in Jewish cemeteries and synagogues.

U.S. lawmakers will get a chance to show whether they are sympathetic to the French Jewish community’s plight. A resolution calling on European governments to condemn anti-Semitism is making its way through the House of Representatives.

The United States should pressure France, but in a friendly way, Cukierman told JTA in Washington.

“We must influence French media, but to be aggressive against the French government is not the right thing,” he said.

Another CRIF leader hinted that the United States might need to pay more attention to the anti-Semitism in France.

“There is a link between anti-American and anti-Jewish feelings,” CRIF board member Richard Prasquier said at the meeting in Washington.

French government officials need to be more outspoken against the anti-Semitic acts that have taken place, said Alexandre Adler, a senior columnist at Le Monde newspaper.

Jews don’t feel outright anti-Semitism or outright aggression, but there have been changes on a personal level, Adler said, as people avoid certain social gatherings where anti-Semitic sentiments are likely to be shared.

“You hear incredible things from civilized people,” he said.

Other CRIF leaders in Washington pointed out France’s pro-Arab political stance and the level of anti-Israel sentiment in the government.

“To be anti-Semitic is not politically correct, but to be anti-Zionist is politically correct,” CRIF board member Meyer Habib said.

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