Crossed perspectives on ordinary anti-Semitism in France


Since the Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians on October 7 and Israel's massive reprisals in Gaza, serious events and an increase in anti-Semitism in France have led to political or media positions, while numerous debates punctuate discussions to find out what is anti-Semitic or not. Among the artists engaged on this subject, the illustrator Joann Sfar published a series of posts Instagram in order to express his feelings. The researcher Solveig Hennebert relied on some of his drawings in order to explain a certain number of constituent elements of anti-Semitism. If certain facts have arisen in connection with the context, they must also be analyzed in the long history of anti-Semitism, without claiming to be exhaustive. Illustrations courtesy of Joann Sfar.

Recent weeks have seen an increase in anti-Semitic acts in France: 1 were identified between October 7 and November 15. Since the beginning of the 2000s, the figures have fluctuated between 400 and 1 per year usually, but it is common to observe peaks of anti-Semitic remarks or violence according to national or international news. Faced with these anti-Semitic acts, Jewish or assimilated people often expressed a feeling of abandonment. during commemorative ceremonies or in the interviews that I carried out during my thesis field investigation.

I purposely use the formulation “Jewish or assimilated people” which I coined as part of my research. This makes it possible to include people who define themselves as Jewish by religion, by culture, in relation to their family history; just as much as those who do not consider themselves Jewish, but experience anti-Semitism despite everything, due to discriminatory representations linked to family name, physical appearance, etc.

Anti-Semitism refers to hatred against Jewish people considered to belong to a “race”. This conceptualization dates back, among other things, to the XNUMXthe century with the first blood purity statutes in the Iberian Peninsula. Before (without this having completely disappeared), the persecutions were rather linked to anti-Judaism, that is to say that people were targeted as members of a religion and not of a supposed race.

Anti-Semitism figures

The census of crimes and misdemeanors is a source of numerous methodological questions, but the figures nevertheless remain indicators to take into account. The data is collected in the same way in all periods, and therefore indicates a drastic increase in any case.

National or international events are sometimes identified as the trigger for a "new" wave of anti-Semitic attacks, and often associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, scientific research has shown that anti-Semitic perceptions are also on the rise during events centered on France, as was the case in 1999, during the debates on compensation for dispossessions suffered by the Jews during World War II.

It should be kept in mind that although analytically the context may make sense, it is necessary to take into account what is structural in anti-Semitism as it is expressed in France.

The legacy of the far right

The presence of the National Rally and more broadly of the far right in rally against anti-Semitism on November 12 has caused many debates, some even going so far as to speak of "recomposition of the political field". Conversely, organizations have mobilized to recall the links of the RN with anti-Semitic ideologies.

Anti-Semitism as it has been expressed in recent weeks is part of a long history with references to Nazism, roots in the far right, and is based on age-old myths and prejudices. Indeed, many anti-Semitic prejudices are inherited from Christian anti-Judaism :

“Jews have money”

"Jews control the world"

“Jews control the media”

“Jews are child killers”…

All of these myths which are formulated in this way or re-appropriated in different ways are to be understood in a historical genealogy.

A new anti-Semitism?

In recent years we have seen speeches about what is presented as “a new anti-Semitism”. This would be the work of Muslim populations – or assimilated – and would have specificities linked to Islam.

However, scientific investigations show that it is always in part the same myths from Christian Europe which are mobilized in anti-Semitic discourse.

The main stereotypes are those which refer to money and power in particular. Furthermore, rejection of Jews often goes hand in hand with negative views of other minorities.

Thus the expression "new anti-Semitism", does not seem appropriate since it is the same prejudices that recur. Even if developments are perceptible, it is necessary once again to think about prejudices in a long story.

“Leave me out of the matter”

The question of the silence of some regarding the events did not fail to also raise that of anti-Semitism on the left. The subject has continued to be discussed since October 7, even though this debate has been present for many years. The various left-wing political figures accused defend themselves from all prejudices against the Jews. An argument often used is to refer to the anti-Semitic tradition of the extreme right. While it is true that National Rally voters have particularly high anti-Semitic prejudices, those of La France Insoumise voters are also above average, reports Nonna Mayer in Le Monde. Moreover, it is in particular the age-old myths of the Jewish relationship with money and power that persist, including on the far left.

Anti-Semitism from people on the left of the political spectrum is not recent, however, and academic work even shows that certain prejudices were present within resistance movements left (and right) during the Second World War.

Direct manifestations of violence

At the international level, numerous acts of physical violence have been perpetrated and death threats made. In France as elsewhere, there have been cries of “death to the Jews”, incitements to “gas the Jews", tags "forbidden to Jews"particularly in front of Parisian stores. Physical attacks, whether fatal or not, are also multiple, and the anti-Semitic qualification is not obvious.

Political-media discussions which question the reality of the anti-Semitic motivation of the authors of certain acts contribute to a feeling of abandonment in certain Jewish people – or assimilated people, felt already present during acts prior to the events of October 7.

Crimes are often all the more traumatic when people are attacked in their homes, as was the case with Mireille Knoll and Sarah Halimi.

The point is not to say that every Jewish person attacked is attacked in this way, however the comments made by the attackers, the tags left at the scene, the demands, etc. are elements which must contribute to questioning the motive. Furthermore, I do not question the non-prosecution of people who are not criminally responsible; However, the fact that their violence was turned against Jewish people – or assimilated people – must be questioned socially. If psychiatric disorders can explain the act, anti-Semitic prejudices are part of a social context.


Since October 7, speeches relativize the existence of anti-Semitism, or through minimization: of the figures, the forms of violence, the existence of the victims, or even the anti-Semitic nature of certain acts. If it is true that it is up to the courts to rule on the aggravating nature of "anti-Semitic", this does not prevent the motive from being considered in advance.

The media treatment of anti-Semitic acts is complex, and including after the Second World War, the specificity of racial discrimination was not necessarily said openly. Sometimes under the guise of humor, people's Jewishness is mocked or ridiculed.

Direct and paroxysmal manifestations of violence, such as murder, assault and battery, etc. must not lead to minimizing what is commonly called "microaggressions".

We can hypothesize that one of the consequences of extreme violence (whether racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.) is to contribute to trivializing other forms of aggression. Thus, compared to genocide, or murders, other acts may seem trivial, but they are nevertheless constitutive of the experience of anti-Semitism and testify to the permanence of prejudices and discrimination.

“Their fear, my rage”

Many people report microaggressions that they experience in their daily lives. For example, the fact of automatically associating Jewish people – or assimilated people – with Israel and more specifically with the government in place, or Muslim people – or assimilated people – with Hamas and terrorism.

The very use of term "anti-Semitism" is sometimes questioned based on the argument that "Arabs/Palestinians/Muslims" are also Semites.

Using this term to speak only of discrimination against Jewish people – or assimilated people – would then be, according to them, exclusionary. However, the expression "Semitic peoples" is not a social reality, but the fruit of a racist conceptualization in Europe in the XNUMXth centurye century.

At the time, it was a question of supporting ideologies stigmatizing Jewish people – or assimilated people – by presenting a pseudo-biological theory on “Semites”. This made it possible to root the racialist discourse towards individuals who can no longer leave the group through conversion (although this does not always protect). Furthermore, at that time, the discourse was centered on Europe and the Jews, and anti-Semitism in this context conveyed the meaning that we know today.

“God and I are not on speaking terms.”

Since October 7, and faced with the increase in anti-Semitic acts, many Jewish people – or assimilated people – have spoken out in the media, on social networks, with their loved ones... to talk about their experiences of anti-Semitism. Some, on the other hand, do not speak, others pray... these reactions are varied, reflecting the diversity of the Jewish population.

Some have expressed their criticism of the absence of the left in the fight against anti-Semitism, and the presence of the extreme right.

Le collective "Golem" was even created as an extension, in the image of another organization, the "peace warriors" created in 2022, which mobilizes alongside Muslim people - or assimilated people, against "racism" and for peace in Israel-Palestine.

Humor can also be a way to overcome the violence experienced on a daily basis. Joann Sfar, for example, suggests "the new Jewish joke", presented at the opening of this article, to say that "it's not okay". However, humor should not make us forget that some comments may be anti-Semitic if they stigmatize a population (through tradition, physical traits, etc.), even if they are designed to make people laugh.

Solveig Hennebert, PhD student, Lumière Lyon 2 University

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of InfoChrétienne.

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Alexandros Michailidis

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