Israeli Ambassador on French-Israeli Relations, Jews and Muslims in France

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A TWO-DAY conference on March 17 and 18 at Georgetown University in Washington, DC examined "Jews and Muslims in France: The Challenge of Multiculturalism in Contemporary Europe." Scholars compared Jewish and Muslim integration from the French Revolution to the present. Jews, once considered aliens in France, have assimilated, and it's now the turn of newer North-African Muslim immigrants to be the "others" in France, as the recent controversy over banning headscarves in schools demonstrates.

One panel, moderated by Georgetown's Robert Lieber, looked at "The Arab-Israeli Conflict in France: the Second Intifada, the Gaza War and Iran." Maud Mandel of Brown University presented her paper, "Is Fraternité Possible? Muslims, Jews, and the Palestinian Question in France." She traced the effects of each confrontation between Israel and its neighbors and the resulting problems created in France for Jews and Muslims alike.

During the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Mandel said, Islamophobia replaced anti-Semitism in Europe. Later, during the first Gulf war crisis in 1990, when Saddam Hussain launched Scud missiles into Israel, tensions between French Jews and Muslims "reached a fever pitch." Despite highly charged rhetoric, and demonization of the other, that time the conflict didn't explode. Polarization is increasing, however, she warned, and it's difficult to keep the wars in the Middle East from spreading to France. French Jews are nervous and are buying property, or "bolt holes," in Israel.

Frédéric Encel of Sciences Po, a social sciences university in Paris, discussed French President Nicolas Sarkozy and an apparent "new strategic orientation in the Middle East" since his election in 2007. France is increasing intelligence cooperation and trade, including arms deals, with Israel.

Encel claimed that French Muslims have "zero political clout" and close to zero integration into the French system. The majority of French don't care about the Arab/Israeli conflict, he opined. They want jobs, education and social welfare. When asked where Palestine is on a map, they can't find it. When asked how many Jews there are in the world, the French think there are 400 million instead of only 10 to 13 million, and they don't realize France has the third largest population of Jews, behind the United States and Israel.

Israeli Ambassador to France Daniel Shek described Franco-Israeli relations as enjoying a renaissance. Over the years their "emotionally strong relationship" has been like that of many couples, he said: there is drama, love, bitterness, moments of elation and anger-everything. …