Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ha'Aretz' Daniel Ben Simon gives an interesting analysis of the 'Jewish vote' in the coming presidential elections in France: To a large extent these elections reflect the face of the country, which is entangled in an idetity crisis that threatens to destroy its republican values. It is against this background that Sarkozy has proposed creating a government ministry to deal with the problems of immigration and national identity. His proposal has drawn sharp protest from the left, which says it smells of racism, and ridicule from the extreme right, which argues that the idea was stolen from the feverish mind of Le Pen. It is interesting that this proposal, which to some extent is harmful to immigrants, came from the only candidate to have come from an immigrant family. Sarkozy's Jewish grandfather, who emigrated from Hungary to France over 100 years ago, has established his image in the eyes of many French people as someone who is not completely French. Sarkozy's Jewish roots and his anti-immigration views have turned him into a favorite son of the Jews of North African origin who immigrated to France in the mid-1950s, while angering the assimilated Jews of Ashkenazic origin, who have felt completely French for over two centuries. The former saw his proposal as a plot designed to circumscribe the country's Muslims, whereas the latter viewed it as a tasteless reminder of the Nazi occupation and the Vichy regime, when Jews were singled out and persecuted as foreigners and undesirable immigrants. The Ashkenazic community in France is a minority today, only 20 percent of the country's approximately 700,000 Jews. In the not-so-distant past, before World War II, they were the majority, 75 percent of a community 300,000 strong. The Jewish immigrants from North Africa heightened the community's power and made it one of the largest in the world. They also brought with them a new style. They celebrated family events with fancy dinners and fine wine; weddings and bar mitzvahs were marked by great pomp and large numbers of guests and held in huge halls. The modesty, not to say asceticism of the Ashkenazim made way for the loud ostentation of the North Africans. The Ashkenazim wore French secularism with pride, while the North Africans maintained their religious lifestyle and continued to follow their rabbis. Theo Klein, a leader of France's Jewish community, says the arrival of the North African immigrants added joie de vivre to the community. In his 2003 book "Dieu n'etait pas au rendez-vous" ("God Didn't Make It to the Meeting"), he writes: "They brought us warmth and vitality and a more involved form of religiosity.... They, who tend more to emotion and spiritual uplifting, have breathed new life into this community..." They differ in their attitude toward Israel as well. Whereas the Ashkenazim maintained a low profile in connection to Israel for fear of the dual-loyalty label, the Sephardim demonstrated their strong love for Israel with complete disregard for the opinions of others. France demands exclusive loyalty from its citizens, but the new Jewish community is not ashamed of its loyalty to Israel. Voting in the Jewish community is likely to split along ethnic lines. Most Ashkenazim will vote for the Socialists, as they have in the past, while most North Africans will vote for Sarkozy's moderate right, because he is a little bit Jewish, a little bit of an immigrant, very tough and not suspected of excessive fondness of the Muslim immigrants.

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