One of the many continuing and ongoing wonders of our wonderful little state is that everyone (except for most American Jews) seems to wish to visit us. We are treated all year long to a plethora of visiting heads of states, commercial delegations, foreign legislators, religious leaders of all faiths, professors and intellectuals, artists and musicians and a few million other nice people.
This is very good for our tourist industry, hoteliers and flag makers. It is not so convenient for us ordinary Jerusalemites who find that our already overcrowded streets are now randomly blocked by the passage of certain seemingly important foreign dignitaries.
But that is really a small price to pay for undoubtedly being the most important country in the world, or at least at the United Nations. This week we are being treated to an official state visit by Francois Hollande, the president of France. The tricolor flies boldly along Jerusalem’s streets though the traffic congestion below is somewhat worse than usual.
I am very happy that we have such visitors. After two thousand years of being the world’s doormat, I am delighted to witness much of the world beating a path to our door. The prophets of ancient Israel told us thousands of years ago that such days and visits would occur.
We are so accustomed to the everyday miracles that are part of our existence here in Israel that we are blasé even in the face of prophesies fulfilled before our very eyes. Napoleon visited the Land of Israel two hundred years ago as a conqueror. Francois Hollande visits us as our guest proclaiming admiration and support.
The Jewish people and the State of Israel itself have a checkered past, at best, with France. In medieval times the Jews were expelled from France and the Talmud was burned in the main square of Paris. Yet Rashi, a century earlier than when these sad occasions took place was part of French society and much of Old French is preserved in his writings.
The school of the Tosafists and their rigorous Talmudic scholarship is basically a French product. When the Bourbon monarchy was overthrown and the French Revolution took place at the end of the eighteenth century “liberty, fraternity and equality” was promised to all. A decade later, and by a very narrow margin of legislative victory, it was extended to Jews as well.
But France was wracked by anti-Semitism throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Dreyfus Trial of the 1890’s only revealed the true ugly face of French anti-Jewishness. In the 1930’s a Jew, Leon Blum, was prime minister of France for a period of years. His political opponents jeered “better Hitler than Blum.” During World War II the Vichy government of France willingly cooperated with their German conquerors in destroying tens of thousands of French Jews and looting their property.
In a fit of remorsefulness postwar France helped the Zionist cause of smuggling Jewish refugee survivors out of Europe and into the Land of Israel. In the 1950’s and 1960’s France was the main arms provider to Israel, especially of aircraft and helped Israel build a nuclear reactor at Dimona. Yet De Gaulle when he came to power turned very anti-Israel and had nasty things to say about the Jewish people as a whole. Life is always a mixed bag.
There have been many anti-Jewish attacks in France over the past decade. The massacre at a Toulouse Jewish school a few years ago was just the most horrific of these regular acts of violence and vandalism against Jews and Jewish institutions. Hollande justifiably condemns such atrocities but the Jews in France are, to put it mildly, slightly uneasy.
A great deal of French is heard spoken on the streets of Jerusalem currently as more and more younger French Jews no longer see their future as being in France. The very large and growing Moslem population in France, as in the rest of Europe as well, does not augur well for Jewish serenity in that country or continent.
The anti-Semitism in France comes from many different sources – the Moslems, the right-wing religious Catholic prelates, the left-wing academics and intellectuals, and the generally deep-seeded view of Jews and Judaism as being outside the pale of French culture and national life. What Hollande can do about any of this is a matter of conjecture.
At the moment we are satisfied that he is at least greatly cautious about Iran’s benevolence and good intentions. So we welcome him, sort of, but with a necessary measure of reserve and caution. There are no friends among sovereign nations, only national interests.