At Vice Versa, a French bookstore in downtown Jerusalem, the staff has noticed the shift in both the number and the genre of the books crossing the counter. The number of new customers is slowly ticking up, Nathalie Hirschsprung, the proprietor, told me, many of them are young parents, and the children’s section is doing particularly well. These new arrivals want to integrate, but also want their kids to read French. “If you ask why they came, they may tell you terrible things about antisemitism,” she said, “but they remain attached to France and to French culture.”
Unlike most of the recent arrivals, Hirschsprung is secular and of Ashkenazi descent, with a different French story. Her grandmother was sent to Auschwitz via the French internment camp of Drancy, and two of her uncles were sent there directly. She came to Israel first as a cultural representative of the French Foreign Ministry, and eventually decided to stay. Because most of today’s new olim are traditional Sephardic Jews, there’s demand for prayer books and religious texts in French translation, and though Vice Versa does sell Jewish philosophy, Hirschsprung leaves the sale of prayer books to Galia Books, another French shop in an ultra-Orthodox part of town. Most of her shelves are dedicated to secular literature.
For 74 shekels, for example, you can buy the bestseller Submission, by Michel Houellebecq. In this satire of modern France from 2015 we meet the character of Myriam, a university student who exists as an object of sexual attention for the miserable narrator, Francois, but who also demonstrates that whatever the actual size of the Jewish exodus, it is important enough to have assumed a place in an important political novel by one of the country’s most famous writers.
As an Islamist political party rises to dominance in the rudderless France of the novel, a distraught Myriam tells the narrator that her parents have sold their home in Paris and are leaving for Tel Aviv. They sense that something bad is coming. She’s going with them temporarily, over the summer vacation, but will be back. “I don’t speak a word of Hebrew,” she says. “France is my home.” Over the next few months, however, the frequency of her emails decreases, and so does the number of smileys and heart emojis. She stops calling him “dearest.” She meets someone else. She’s not coming back.
Jewish communities have historically thrived in urban centers, such as New York City and Paris. Jews don’t really like rural areas; Jews prefer urban and suburban areas where congregations can thrive.
However, as an urban area becomes Islamicized, anti-semitism takes root.
Many French Jews have responded to this uncomfortable but factual reality by voting for Macron, a centrist and Zionist. Many thousands of others have responded by leaving France.
Unless action is taken to avert the same situation in America, the same result is possibly, even likely, in America.
The question for discussion is:
Are American liberals capable of acknowledging the situation in France, correctly attributing the source of most anti-Semitism in France, and correctly applying that lesson to the Democratic party’s Jews?