December 21, 2006

"Talmudic atavism"

Mark Steyn, reviewing a book by David Pryce-Jones, Betrayal: France, Arabs and the Jews. Steyn is worth reading, as always. The lesson of history as revealed in our time is the same lesson as of old: We cannot by our own efforts disentangle ourselves from our sins. And, as of old, the Jews are our litmus paper...

....but then spools backwards across the centuries to build a case for France's present predicament as a monument to the vanity and strategic stupidity of its diplomatic class. There is a lot of anti-Semitism on display -- not the offhand anti-Semitism of your average languid English toff of similar vintage, but something more corrosive and obsessive. There is, in that sense, a direct line between those French emissaries in Russia and Germany blaming Bolshevism and Nazism on "Talmudic atavism," and Daniel Bernard, M. Chirac's ambassador to the Court of St. James's, announcing airily at a London dinner party in 2001 that the problems of the world can be laid at the door of "that shitty little country" Israel. From "Talmudic atavism" to "shitty little country" may mark a deterioration in Gallic rhetorical élan but at least its prejudices remain inviolable.

If you had vaguely assumed that the now routine comparisons of Israelis to Nazis derived from an antipathy to Ariel Sharon or the post-1967 transformation of the Zionist Entity from plucky embattled underdog to all-conquering military behemoth, it's sobering to be reminded that the French were doing the Israelis-are-the-new-Nazis shtick within 10 minutes of the end of the Second World War. Jews, wrote the consul general René Neuville in a lengthy cable from Jerusalem in 1947, are "racist through and through . . . quite as much as their German persecutors." The dispatches of Pierre Landy, French consul in Haifa, rely heavily on "the Israeli Gestapo" and similar formulations. In public, the political class was usually more circumspect, though not always. President de Gaulle famously raged at a press conference that the Jews were "an elite people, self-assured and domineering" with "a burning ambition for conquest." In the ensuing controversy, M. le Président assured the Chief Rabbi that he'd meant it as a compliment....

"...within 10 minutes of the end of the Second World War." I wasn't aware of that, although the history of French anti-Semitism is a long and dishonorable one. The name Dreyfus springs to mind. And the French tendency to counter its European enemies by allying with the Ottomans is a very ancient one.

It is a bitter thing to reflect upon the way I grew up with the idea that anti-semitism was something from the ugly past, no longer known among enlightened folk. And now we see it everywhere. Usually in the thinly-disguised form of "anti-Zionism" or extreme sympathy with the so-called Palestinians. And many Jews are as blind today as they were in the 1930's.

Posted by John Weidner at December 21, 2006 8:06 AM
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