DOREEN WACHMANN COLUMN
Can France emerge better from this evil?

WESTERN civilisation and the fate of its Jewish communities are at a crossroads. Last week's events in Paris have stunned us all, but none more so than Jewish Francophiles like myself.

I was blessed in high school to have an amazing French teacher whose enthusiasm for her subject made me a Francophile for life.

At the age of 14 I was thinking in French. Today I can still speak and understand the language although I have had little regular practice over the years.

I still rejoice when I hear it spoken and rush to try and understand it on news reports before the sound is overridden by the translator. At school I found French history fascinating and its literature much more captivating than its English counterpart.

So it has saddened me over recent years to witness the massive haemorrhaging of Jews from one of my favourite countries.

Of course, I love Israel and am really happy that so many French Jews are making aliya. But it saddens me greatly that they should feel forced to do so by growing French antisemitism which does not seem to be hindered by the sort of checks and balances which we British Jews are fortunate to have within our political and judicial systems.

Israel is a wonderful country, but the answer to the world's problems is not, as some might think, for all Jews to make aliya.

Not only is it not practical but Israel does not exist in a vacuum, uninfluenced by world events.

What happens in Israel very much impacts on the world and vice-versa. We live in a global world where events thousands of miles away can affect us directly.

Also, we Jews have an ethical responsibility to try and make the whole world a better place. It would have been far better if the Holocaust had never happened and German society and culture had not descended to the bestial levels which wrought havoc on so many.

Besides offering a safe haven to Jews everywhere, Israel and world Jewry have a global responsibility to try and prevent any other country stooping again so low.

So it has saddened me that so many French Jews felt compelled to leave their country.

Jewish Agency chairman and former leading refusnik Natan Sharansky recently said that the rot set in some years ago when French rabbis gave Jewish men permission not to cover their heads in public for fear of antisemitism.

The man who was incarcerated in a Soviet prison cell knows more than anyone the importance of not being afraid to publicly display one's Jewish identity.

It took last week's shockingly lethal attack on Paris' Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket for French President Francois Hollande to add to the omnipresent "Je suis Charlie", "Je suis policier" and "Je suis juif" ('I am a policeman' and 'I am Jew') to identify with all the victims of last week's attacks.

Much has been written about whether Charlie Hebdo was asking for trouble by being so deliberately provocative in its irreverent cartoons of the leaders of all religions, including Islam.

As Jonathan Freedland wrote in The Guardian, British newspapers by and large try to avoid causing the type of offence in which Charlie revelled.

But what on earth was threatening to Muslims about Jews doing their last-minute Shabbat shopping? What on earth is threatening to Muslims about the State of Israel which is virtually the only country in the Middle East to allow total freedom of worship to all religions?

There is no logic to extremist Islam which cannot be appeased.

Nor can all Muslims be tarred with the same brush. Jews in Hyper Cacher were saved by the heroic Muslim staff member Lassana Bathily. The brother of dead Muslim policeman Ahmed Merabet publicly condemned antisemitism.

France and indeed all Europe must beware of allying themselves with racist parties in the wake of these attacks.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who is of Spanish origin, said: "If 100,000 French people of Spanish origin were to leave, I would never say that France is not France any more. But if 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure."

He has said it. The success of western civilisation depends on how it treats its Jewish subjects.

We Israel supporters have warned for decades that Israel's fight is not just for its own borders but for the western democratic values of freedom, equality and the rule of law.

Now France is at the turning point to see whether it can transform itself into a country in which Jews can feel safe to live.

France has gone through dark times in the past, from the unjust Ancien Regime to the even worse Reign of Terror and the later Nazi collaboration and occupation. But from each of these violent episodes it has emerged and changed for the better.

Its challenge now is to defend both its democratic values and its Jewish population.

Vive la France!

Vive les Juifs Francais!

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