Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews
by David Pryce-Jones
New York: Encounter Books, 2006. 171 pp. $23.95
Reviewed by Lorenzo Vidino
Investigative Project on Terrorism
Middle East Quarterly
Pryce-Jones has written a painful reminder for anyone still clinging to the notion that the West, defined by common history and values, exists and that Israel is a full-fledged member. Analyzing more than 200 years of French-Jewish relations and having scoured the archives of the Quai d'Orsay, the French foreign ministry, he tells the story of France's not-so-subtle antipathy for Jews and Israel.
Over the last two centuries, Jews and France have often found themselves on a collision course, and Pryce-Jones, a National Review senior editor, offers two main reasons. First, Paris has long sought to become a "Muslim power." As early as 1850, Napoleon III was elaborating the concept of a "Franco-Arab kingdom." By the beginning of the twentieth century, this mutated into the idea of exploiting Arab nationalism to increase French power over Britain (and, later, the United States). This failed ambition to make France "the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments" meant that the French government flirted with Arab and Muslim dictators and illiberal ideologues from Hajj Amin al-Husseini to Yasir Arafat, from Saddam Hussein to Khomeini, even as it continuously undermined Israel.
Pryce-Jones discerns the anti-Semitic feelings of many at the Quai as a second reason for France's biased stance in the Middle East. The Dreyfus affair and the Vichy regime's anti-Semitic laws were just the most prominent examples of an attitude that Pryce-Jones, relying on hundreds of original documents, shows has been dogma among French elites. Top officials at the Quai quote the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in official memos and routinely depict Jews as inherently deceitful money-grabbers.
While the evidence provided from its archives is fascinating, Pryce-Jones relies a bit too heavily on the Quai's positions in his analysis of French policies. Only at the very end, and almost in passing, does he acknowledge that French public opinion has often been pro-Jewish and "wary of a France musulmane," Muslim France, and that French Jews have experienced only limited discrimination at the hands of the French state. Betrayal did indeed take place, but the entire country is not to blame.
Related Topics: Arab-Israel conflict & diplomacy, Jews and Judaism, Strategic alliances | Lorenzo Vidino | Winter 2008 MEQ
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