French Culture & the Jews
The waters look unruffled, the current appears to be following its customary course, the bystander is lulled by a deceptive calm; then, suddenly and dramatically, someone stirs the murky depths, bringing to the surface a host of slimy creatures, and all those things people have forgotten and do not want to remember. Such was the effect in France of General de Gaulle’s breathtaking assertion at a news conference this past November that the Jews are an “elite people” that is always “sure of itself and domineering.” The fact that these remarks by the General elicited strong protest from many French newspapers, as well as a charge of latent anti-Semitism from Chief Rabbi Jacob Kaplan, serves to highlight the continuing seriousness of the “Jewish question” in France. Indeed, that question has come increasingly to occupy a fairly vocal segment of the French literary community in recent years, and a glance at some of the literature it has provoked demonstrates readily that the General is not alone in the tendency to voice ill-informed or incendiary pronouncements on this vexed topic. A relevant predecessor, for example, is Roger Peyrefitte who, in his book, Les Juifs, written ostensibly in the name of truth but privately, one suspects, to satisfy an insatiable craving to shock and to make trouble, sets out to tear the bandage from every half-healed wound. This is a book which, however reluctant we may be to take it seriously, cannot but lead us to reflect upon the kind of soil and climate that have nurtured it, and upon the mentality which it both derives from and serves to perpetuate.
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