There’s a scene in the new French film The Jews – a comedy about anti-Semitism – in which a fictional president describes his plan to rescue France‘s economy. “Since Jews are rich and they stick together,” he tells his cabinet, “let’s all become Jews!”
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Yvan Attal (pictured here), the French movie star who co-wrote, directed and starred in the film, said he made it “in response to a malaise I feel, as a Jew, in my country.”
This malaise is based, in part, on some terrible events: the four people murdered inside a kosher supermarket in Paris last year; the 2014 shooting by a Frenchman at a Jewish museum in Brussels; the 2012 attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse; the roughly 800 anti-Semitic incidents reported annually in France recently.
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Mr. Attal was born in Israel to Algerian-émigré parents who moved to France when he was an infant. He grew up in a housing project in Créteil, a suburb of Paris, where his Jewish education consisted mostly of eating couscous with his family on Friday nights. “My parents always repeated to me that our Judaism was a private and intimate story,” Mr. Attal said. In public, you were supposed to integrate and act “French.”
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While anti-Semitic acts have become more common, so has tolerance of Jews. (Racist acts are probably carried out by a small segment of the population, a government report says.) In a 2014 Pew poll, 89 percent of French people said they had a favorable view of Jews, more than in any other European country surveyed. When a Jewish social center in my Paris neighborhood was burned and covered in anti-Semitic graffiti, both the prime minister and the mayor came and made speeches. (It later turned out that a disgruntled Jewish man had done it.) Even the far-right National Front can’t get away with espousing anti-Semitism anymore – though its supporters are less circumspect.
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One of the few places anti-Semitism really thrives in France is among some Muslims. In one French poll, 44 percent said there was a “global Zionist conspiracy,” and 67 percent said that Jews had too much economic power. Still, 85 percent of Muslims said that when they discover that someone is Jewish, “I do not care.” Most Muslims have bigger problems: they are themselves one of France’s least accepted minority groups.
There’s a paradox here: French Jews fret that they are not considered fully French. But some French Muslims resent them for being exceptionally integrated and powerful.