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Jews, Arabs, and French Diplomacy: A Special Report

- Abstract

The resounding slogan of “liberty, equality, fraternity,” leaves no room for racism in the French state, in theory. In practice, over the two centuries since that slogan was coined, rulers of France have tried with varying success to fit two peoples—Arabs and Jews—into their grand design for the French nation and for its standing in the world. Today, as long-held but misconceived ambitions collide, racism with its hates and fears increasingly plagues France, calling into question the relationship that the country’s Arab and Jewish minorities have with each other, that each has with the state, and that the state has with Arab nations on the one hand and with Israel on the other.

The official position taken toward French Jews goes back to the revolution of 1789. In December of that year, during a debate over granting citizenship to the country’s Jewish minority, Comte de Clermont-Tonnerre, a liberal aristocrat, declared in the Constituent Assembly: “Everything must be refused to the Jews as a nation, and everything granted to the Jews as individuals.” This idea was soon enshrined in law. Behind it lay the suspicion that Jews had their own brand of nationalism, one that cut across the French nationalism emerging from the revolution. To the French elite, moreover, Jews have consistently seemed to be the conspiratorial tools of others, first of Germany and Russia, then of Britain, and finally, in the 20th century, of Zionists.

About the Author

David Pryce-Jones, the British novelist and political analyst, is the author of, among other books, Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews (Encounter).