French editor speaks on anti-Semitism

by Rebecca Leffler | 3/5/04 6:00am

It's a country famous for croissants, escargot and unabashed pompousness, but more recently France has become more well-known for reports of a huge resurgence of anti-Semitic aggressions plaguing its streets.

Nicolas Weill, editor of France's major daily newspaper Le Monde, argued in a speech Wednesday evening that the current wave of anti-Jewish violence is the most recent reflection of deep-seated anti-Semitism passed on from older generations.

Weill, who has written myriad books on the subject, addressed the question of whether or not "the current resurgence of anti-Semitism is the indication of a fundamentally new phenomenon."

Recent anti-Semitic acts occurring in France "haven't tried anything new" and "stem more from the desire to designate an enemy than from a subtle analysis of what is going on," Weill said.

In his opinion, "traditional" anti-Semitism has not disappeared, but just manifests itself differently in younger generations.

Weill cited statistics showing that 80 percent of the overall violence in France in 2000 and 62 percent in 2003 were a direct product of anti-Semitism. A recent survey has shown that 59 percent of all Europeans identify Israel as the nation most likely to threaten world peace.

Yet, according to Weill, this anti-Jewish hatred is multifaceted and not the product of what many intellectuals consider to be a "single-cause explanatory model."

Weill recognized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Holocaust as possible origins of this rampant anti-Semitism, but dismissed the notion that either historical event as the main cause of the phenomenon.

"I am dubious of the direct effect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on anti-Semitic events," Weill said.

He cited instead communication of anti-Jewish myths and idioms from one generation to the next as the primary cause for the recent acts of hatred.

Weill pointed, however, to the media saturation of the Holocaust as possible cause for the lack of attention French media have paid the anti-Semitic attacks.

"The tardiness of the reaction to anti-Semitism by the media is caused by a Holocaust fatigue," he said.

Still, despite such academic analysis on the part of intellectuals in examining the historiography of this phenomenon of hatred toward the Jews, Weill admitted that anti-Semitism is not on its way out of the political spectrum.

In his words, "anti-Semitism never really disappears. And it doesn't magically revert to its latent or potential state. To express this in simpler words, I would say that anti-Semitism sometimes ebbs and remains at low water."

Weill delivered his speech, "Is contemporary anti-Semitism really 'new?' A reflection on the interpretation of the current wave of anti-Jewish violence in France" in Carson Hall Wednesday evening.

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