[Originally published under the headline "French Jews and the Macron Experiment"]
Why are left-wing and right-wing radicals getting so powerful in contemporary France? Essentially, they tackle an issue that the classic political class prefers to ignore: the demographic upheaval known as "Great Replacement," an expression coined some years ago by a talented-if-controversial writer, Renaud Camus.
Immigration from non-European and non-Judeo-Christian countries, and especially from Muslim countries, has reached such proportions that the gradual replacement of the native populace and culture by a new population and a new culture seems entirely plausible. Leftwing radicals tend to welcome it as a change for the better. Rightwing radicals see it as a cosmic disaster – except for some of them who are ready to strike an alliance with radical Islam in order to topple "plutocratic" and "Jewish" Western democracy.
In the 635-page confession he co-authored in 2016 with journalists Gérard Davet and Fabrice Lhomme, Un président ne devrait pas dire ça (Things A President Should Not Say), former president Hollande admitted, "the French have a problem with Islam, it's a fact," and that it might lead to a "partition" of the country.
The French Muslim community is the largest and the fastest growing in Europe. In 50 years, from the late 1960's to the late 2010's, the population of the Republic of France (including the overseas territories which are as French as Hawaii and Alaska are American) grew from 50 million to 67 million: a 34 percent increase.
In the meantime, the Muslim population seems to have grown, either naturally or as a result of migration trends, from 1 million or so to 5-6 million at least: that is to say a 500-600 percent increase. As for the ratio of Muslims against the national population, it grew from 2 percent to 7-9 percent.
The real impact of Muslim immigration is even bigger in generational terms: the younger the population, the higher the proportion of Muslims. While less than one-tenth of French citizens were Muslims in the 2010s, proportions were one-fifth regarding French citizens or residents under 24, nationwide, and even higher in some places.
A 2015 Ipsos investigation in the greater Marseille area in southern France found that 25.5 percent of the local youths in their mid-teens identified as Muslim. Similar figures were to be found in all other big cities in France, where most of the population lives.
According to a Fondapol survey released in 2014, the proportion of "strictly religious" French Muslims rose from 27 percent in 1994 to 42 percent in 2014. To again quote the survey on Marseilles, 83 percent of the young Muslims describe religion as "something important or very important," against only 40 percent of the non-Muslims (and 22 percent of the Catholics).
Another Ifop survey released in 2016 suggests that 29 percent of French Muslims hold Sharia – Islamic religious law – as more important than the law of the land, and 65 percent condone the Islamic rules of female "modesty" in the public sphere, including hijab or burka, Islamic garb, and burkini, the Edwardian-style all-body bathing suit.
Have these views and attitudes fostered "no-go zones," or de facto enclaves in many parts of the country – or terrorism? For years, vigilante Muslim groups have set up illegal "street mosques" or enforced Ramadan observance or female modesty in Muslim-populated neighborhoods. Other militant groups have even made inroads in non-Muslim neighborhoods.
Systematic harassment of "immodest" women, both Muslim and non-Muslim, has become commonplace. During the 2018 month of Ramadan (from mid-May to mid-June), dozens of Muslim BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) militants raided supermarkets all over France to impose the removal of Israeli products; there were also instances where similar gangs assaulted shops and supermarkets in order to break bottles of wine or liquor.
Regarding terrorism, it should be stressed that more than 2,000 French Muslims joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in its 2013-2016 heyday and French-born jihadists (or jihad-inspired thugs) killed about 200 people and wounded or maimed 300 more in successive terrorist attacks on French soil.
From the murder of soldiers and Jewish teachers and pupils in southern France in March 2012 to the murder of cartoonists and Jewish shoppers in Paris in January 2015, from the killing spree in Paris in November 2015 and Nice in July 2016 to the murder of an 86-year-old Catholic priest during mass a few days later, and from the brutal murder of Sarah Halimi (a 65-year-old retired Jewish doctor) in April 2017 to the no-less-brutal murder of an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor (Mireille Knoll) in March 2018.
It is no wonder then that right-wing columnist Eric Zemmour, whose essay "Le Suicide français" (The Suicide of France) sold more than 200,000 copies in 2014, steadily warns of a "coming civil war." Or that one of France's premier writers, Michel Houellebecq, sold 350,000 copies of Soumission (Submission), a 2015 novel about the election of a "moderate Islamist" as president of France in the 2020's.
French Jews do not feel more comfortable within this context than other European Jews. It may even be argued that they feel less comfortable since, through the second half of the 20th century, they had enjoyed a stunning revival both in demographic and cultural-religious terms.
There were about 300,000 Jews in France in 1945, right after the Holocaust, including some 100,000 thoroughly assimilated or even converted "ex-Jews" who had been rebranded as Jewish by the Nazis and the collaborationist Vichy regime and were desperately trying to make sense of all that. Seventy-five thousand Jews, both French-born and foreign-born, had been rounded up and murdered in Auschwitz from 1942 to 1944. Some 30,000 additional Jews may have perished in various other ways.
In the late 1940's, tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors from Eastern Europe came to France, most of them as refugees applying for immigration to Palestine or the United States. Many stayed. More refugees came from the Islamic countries in the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's, in the wake of civil disturbance, war, independence or revolution: first from Turkey and Egypt, then from Morocco and Tunisia, then from Algeria, and finally from Iran.
In 1962, the Jewish population of France had doubled to 600,000, including many who had abandoned their Jewish identity through assimilation or intermarriage. By the mid-1970's, it was said to reach a peak of 700,000.
Such a critical mass allowed for a sudden burgeoning of Jewish religious and cultural identity: synagogues, kosher food, Jewish day schools, Jewish media, Jewish literature (domestic or translated), community centers. France's geographical proximity with Israel stimulated family tourism, Zionist tours, an eagerness to learn Hebrew.
By the mid-1980's, there was a general revival of Orthodox Judaism in the country, soon to be followed by a growth of Reform and Masorti (Conservative) Judaism. "Marginal" Jews, who in previous generations tended to intermarry and vanish, were suddenly more likely to "return" to Orthodoxy or to join non-Orthodox congregations. The only shadow in this otherwise rosy landscape was, from 1967 on, the French government's anti-Israel and pro-Arab policies.
Reborn French Jewry was however on a collision course with the rapidly growing and increasingly assertive Muslim community, whatever the good relations that might exist between individual Jews and Muslims or between the religious or intellectual Jewish and Muslim establishments. Moreover, the unreconstructed anti-Semitism prevalent among many French Muslims helped a hitherto repressed classic non-Muslim anti-Semitism, right and left, to come back with a vengeance.
By 2000, news from the so-called Second Intifada ushered widespread anti-Jewish violence. There were similar outbursts after the Lebanon war of 2006 and the Gaza war of 2014. Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala, a French-Cameroonian humorist and anti-Semitic agitator, became a popular idol. And most French Jews felt that the government or the news media were more often than not resorting to denial, or even attempting to turn anti-Jewish violence into "inter-communal clashes."
So much so that the Wandering Jew hit the road again. Thousands left neighborhoods overwhelmed by Muslim radicals or townships ruled by radical left-wing municipalities for predominantly Christian and conservative places, seen as much safer: all in all, 50,000 Jews are said to have moved from some parts of greater Paris to other parts. Then, there was emigration to Israel – Aliyah – another 50,000 at least or more according to some estimations, in only one decade. Finally, many Jews moved to Britain, North America, and Australia.
The common factor between these migrations is a lack of trust in the future of France – shared, as a matter of fact, by many Christian and secular French. Another incentive is that once raised a proud and happy Jew, one finds it difficult to relapse into a near-Marrano status.
Michel Gurfinkiel is the Founder and President of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a Ginsburg-Ingerman Fellow at Middle East Forum, and editor emeritus of Valeurs Actuelles.