In 2004, Philippe Karsenty, a French Jew of Moroccan descent, took a break from his work as a stockbroker to self-fund a 10-year venture challenging France 2 Television for what he believed was one of the worse blood libels in modern history. Proponents regarded him as a David fighting Goliath, while his detractors viewed him as a conspiracy theorist.
The case in question is that of Muhammed al-Dura, a major flashpoint at the start of the Second Intifada, which saw an estimated 1,000 Israeli and 3,000 Palestinian lives lost. In 2000, France 2 aired footage that showed 12-year-old al-Dura dying in the arms of his father, allegedly the victim of Israel Defense Forces bullets. At various judicial levels, Karsenty sought to prove, based on an original German investigation, that the act was staged. Karsenty won in France’s appellate court, then a higher court overturned the verdict. He was fined 11,000 Euros for defamation.
While Karsenty made a splash in the media and Israel-advocacy worlds, this small victory, (despite the ultimate trial loss), of raising awareness about alleged French media bias has not fundamentally transformed French media culture toward more balance when reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Karsenty believes this serves as incitement against Israel and, by extension, Jews.
“If there is no political counterweight and willingness to tell the truth about Israel in the media, it’s a declining community,” Karsenty said at a Parisian café near the Arc de Triomphe.
“We’re a community that suffers every time something comes to Israel because the media defames Israel and sides with the Arabs, and that’s terrible. We’re losing Jews here. Some are going to Israel. Some are going anywhere else, and some are getting completely lost. They’re assimilating and don’t want to be associated with the ‘criminal state.’ ”
Karsenty continues to advocate for Israel as a private citizen and, to an extent, as the former deputy mayor and a current councilmember of Neuilly-sur-Seine, a well-to-do suburb outside Paris. These days, he directs his anger less at the French media and more at what he considers an impotent Jewish-French and American leadership. He believes Jewish advocacy groups put parochial interests above actual community concerns.
“They need to keep access, and in order to keep access, they forget their mission statement,” he said, reserving his harshest criticism for the American Jewish Committee and its leader, David Harris, who not only shunned Karsenty’s al-Dura efforts but branded Karsenty an “extremist.”
For Karsenty, the real Jewish threat comes from a media hostile to Israel and a political brass that speaks correctly when discussing the need to combat anti-Semitism but doesn’t take enough action to stop it.
More recently, Karsenty served as a media commentator on the destructive fire of the Notre Dame cathedral. Fox News cut him off about an hour into the fire when he questioned the unanimity of the French media outlets that quickly concluded the fire was accidental.
Several incidents in recent years have triggered that perception. France is no longer a safe place for Jews: The 2015 Hyper Cacher supermarket attack that occurred in conjunction with the massacre of staff at the Charlie Hebdo publication; the 2006 murder and kidnapping of Ilan Halimi by African Muslims; the 2017 murder of Sarah Halimi in her home; and the allegedly anti-Semitic burning of an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, Mireille Knoll, in 2018. More recently, anti-Semites affiliated with the “Yellow Vests” movement verbally attacked French Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut.
After coffee, Karsenty and I walked down the Champs-Elysees, where two weeks earlier, Yellow Vest vandals trashed and looted luxury retail shops. Hugo Boss and Bulgari had to close temporarily. Louis Vuitton was boarded up as a precaution. ATM machines were tampered with and burned. Since November 2018, the Yellow Vest movement has staged protests every Saturday in various locations in Paris.
“Most of the Yellow Vest protesters are French Christian people and see all these high taxes for decades while public services decline. They’re upset,” Karsenty said. He thinks the movement draws as many anti-Semites as are proportionate to France’s population, including those trafficking in old stereotypes about Jews controlling banks and the media. Some have legitimate concerns about economic justice, but anarchists, vandals and opportunists have infiltrated the movement.
As for the rising right-wing National Rally party under Marine Le Pen, Karsenty is cautious. “Even though I disagree with her on many issues, she hasn’t been caught on anything on Israel or the Jews. Of course, in her party, you have many who are anti-Jewish, but they are the same in other parties,” he said. While Le Pen has not publicly denigrated Israel, she has not come out in support of the Jewish state.
For Karsenty, the real Jewish threat comes from a media hostile to Israel and a political brass that speaks correctly when discussing the need to combat anti-Semitism but doesn’t take enough action to stop it. For example, on the list for elections to the European Union parliament this month is Pascal Durand, a supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, who sought to visit convicted Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti, in an Israeli prison. “Even the Israeli ambassador in Paris tweeted and said he was surprised and worried to see him as a candidate on [French President Emmanuel] Macron’s list.”
As for physical safety, it all depends on where Jews live and travel. In metropolitan Paris, Jews should anticipate no trouble when wearing kippahs and religious symbols, although some take precautions. In areas known as the “banlieues,” or suburbs, a growing, low-income Arab and North African Muslim migrant population have spurred a Jewish exodus because of anti-Semitic attitudes and general disregard of Western values.
I joined Karsenty for Friday night services in his neighborhood. No heavily armed guards were visible, and men put on kippahs right before entering the multistoried shul.
Signs inside the synagogue hardly hinted at a community in decline, with advertisements for Hebrew lessons, Jewish educational programs and the self-defense and fighting discipline Krav Maga. Pews were filled with young and old alike. Young, stylish women sang hymns from the balcony. Most of the congregants were of Sephardic (Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian) descent, as they make up the majority of France’s estimated 500,000 Jews.
Karsenty said looks can be deceiving. Even this community is on edge.
But there’s an unexpected ray of light. French leaders traditionally have forged strong ties with Arab countries at the expense of Israel, in part due to economic reasons tied to oil. With demand for Arab oil lessening and the energy market diversifying, the time may be ripe for effective pro-Israel lobbying in France.
“Even Saudi Arabia and other countries are now getting closer and closer to Israel because technologies are moving away from oil,” Karsenty said. “It can be a game changer.”
Corrections: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Ilan Halimi was abducted in 2016 by North African Muslims and that Marwan Barghouti was the founder of the BDS movement. Omar Barghouti founded the BDS movement. Palestinian 2nd Intifada Leader Marwan Barghouti has been in an Israeli prison since 2002, serving five lifetime sentences for murder.
Orit Arfa is an American-Israeli journalist and author based in Berlin.
A 2008 protest by ver.di Jugend in Karlsruhe, Germany. Photo: Wikipedia commons.
A German youth organization affiliated with the country’s second largest trade union has disavowed the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, as well as an anti-Zionist group that endorses a “one state” solution.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, ver.di Jugend announced that it passed a motion at its annual conference to reject BDS and FOR-Palestine, a group that advocates for a Palestinian-majority state in lieu of Israel and strongly opposes Zionism — the movement that supports the Jewish people’s right to national self-determination.
And the many peoples shall go and say: “Come, Let us go up to the Mount of Hashem, To the House of the God of Yaakov; That He may instruct us in His ways, And that we may walk in His paths.” For instruction shall come forth from Tzion, The word of Hashem from Yerushalayim. Isaiah 2:3 (The Israel Bible™)
One year following the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, leaders from the White House Faith Initiative, along with Evangelical and Latin American leaders, gathered in Israel’s Knesset to promote dialogue and foster relations between Christians and Jews, as well as the United States, Latin America and Israel.
“I will bless those who bless you And curse him that curses you; And all the families of the earth Shall bless themselves by you.” Genesis 12:3 (The Israel Bible™)
An ICEJ delegation visited Israeli communities along the Gaza border and viewed a new specially designed ATV security vehicle donated through the ICEJ to a local moshav. Credit: ICEJ.
After Israel absorbed as many as 700 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip over the weekend, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) sent a delegation to the western Negev region on Monday to assess the updated security needs of local Israeli communities and how best to help them prepare for any future escalations.
A replica of the golden menorah in front of Titus’ Arch in Rome. (Courtesy)
“He said to me, “What do you see?” And I answered, “I see a menorah all of gold, with a bowl above it. The lamps on it are seven in number, and the lamps above it have seven pipes;” Zechariah 4:2 (The Israel Bible™)
A small group of Christians’ remarkable act of faith has ambitious aspirations: to fix the theft of the golden menorah from the Temple by Titus in 70 CE. In addition, they are seeking to return some of the Divine love that has sustained Germany despite the horrific crimes perpetrated on the Jews in the Holocaust.
U.S. Jews are more likely than Christians to say that U.S. President Donald Trump favors Israelis more than the Palestinians, according to a Pew Research poll released on Monday.
Some 42 percent of American Jews say Trump is favoring Israelis more than the Palestinians, while 47 percent of them say he has been striking the right balance between the two.
Apr 30, 2019 0Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) was accused of launching a long-range rocket from northern Gaza at Israel on Monday evening, in an attempt at provoking a heavy response from the Israel Defense...
Only three-quarters of a century after Der Stürmer incentivized the mass murder of Jews by dehumanizing them, we see a revival of such bigoted caricatures.
I do not believe in free speech for me, but not for thee. But I do believe in condemning those who hide behind the First Amendment to express anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, homophobic, sexist or racist views.
One of the most influential newspapers in the world, the Jewish-owned New York Times decided to present the Jews with a gift in honor of the last day of Passover – a major Jewish holiday – an antisemitic caricature. The controversial cartoon shows US President Donald Trump as a blind man with a skullcap on his head, being led by a dog that looks like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And to make sure the reader knows it is indeed the Israeli premier, the dog has a Star of David dangling from its collar.
Last week, Jared Kushner, one of the administration’s point men on the Middle East, dispensed with the term “two-state solution” in its impending peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians. “The two-state solution has failed,” he said.
The “two-state solution” does not appear in the 1993 Oslo Accords, which called only for “interim self-government” for the Palestinians. The goal was a negotiated final status agreement, in which independence was not specified.
Religious fervor always picks up before the Jewish holidays. Not surprisingly, Israeli undercover police arrested Jewish activists from the Hozrim L’Har (Returning to the Mount) organization early Friday afternoon, just before the onset of the Passover holiday, after an apparent attempt to bring a young goat on to the Temple Mount for a self-proclaimed sacrificial rite. Indeed, this drama plays itself out every year, but according to Jerusalem police, this year a record of at least twelve members of the organization were arrested throughout the course of the day on counts of disturbing the peace.
Every year when Passover eve arrives, I do my best not to think about that night; to allow the joy of cherished rituals meant to renew our family’s tribal history and faith envelop us in its warm glow as whoever among the kids and grandkids it’s our turn to host partake of the matzoh, bitter herbs, and wine. Often – actually most often – I succeed.