Jews in the Mind of France
IN FRANCE, where nearly all the scenes of the modern Jewish dilemma have been dramatically enacted since the end of the 18th century, the curtain has again risen on a weird performance. The subject of the play, dual loyalty or the Jewish plot, is an old one, and as the actors take up their ritual positions and wield their traditional weapons against mythical targets, the audience can savor the pleasures of recognition, greater by far than those of novelty for the experienced playgoer. For him, indeed, the principal originality lies in the fact that this old ritual drama is being revived at all in the present day. For the first time, perhaps, the performance may appear less pathetic than grotesque, one of those instances where what was once tragedy recurs not quite as farce, but rather as black comedy with its union of the nasty and the bizarre.
When Gilbert Cesbron, the playwright and novelist, cheerfully announced in June 1968, “Napoleon is at last dead, and the longest reign in French history is over,” his satisfaction was premature. True, in many fields, time and the reformers have been steadily chipping away at the monument of Napoleonic centralization-or, as some would have it, centralization inherited from the Jacobins as well as the old regime. Where the destiny of French Jews is concerned, however, Napoleon must be held principally responsible, for it was he who contrived to dilute the equality granted them during the Revolution, by fostering various distinctions between them and other Frenchmen. Nowhere, perhaps, is the centralizing spirit and the heritage of Napoleon so evident today as in the impassioned controversy over the conduct of French Jews, their role, their proper duties, that has been raging intermittently in France since the Israeli-Arab War of June 1967. In this controversy, it is often assumed that their reactions and behavior are somehow subtly if not dangerously different from those of their compatriots.
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