The French have given the world many amazing things – existentialisme, brie, Burgundy.
Me, I’m a longtime Francophile. I studied the language and traveled there as a wide-eyed teenager. I will never forget the baguettes in their designated basket and their daily stuffing with Roquefort. I love Eric Rohmer movies, at least some of them, and when I don’t understand them I blame only myself, and my typically American lack of sophistication. I guess I embrace the myth of French superiority as much as any of them do. More, my bemused French friend Claire has often intimated.
But I can also resent this country I so admire, when I’m reminded that French intellectuals often criticize Israel without acknowledging their own country's complicity in the crimes that led directly to the state's creation.
Then today I read this in the New York Times, the newbie blogger’s BFF: “From the days of the Jacobins to today’s Fifth Republic, lawmakers have differed strenuously as to whether nationality should be determined by birth, parentage, length of residency or assimilation.”
Sound like anyone you know?
So we Jews, with our incessant wrangling over who we are, and our longing for a country, have something in common with the French. According to the Times’ article, “Who Gets to Be French?” les Français have revised their nationality laws “more often and more significantly than any other democratic nation.”
Ironic, n'est ce pas? Such anxieties don’t square with the image France would prefer to project to the world.
The Times piece took up the question of whether Mohammed Merah, who in March murdered three French soldiers and four Jews in Toulouse, is French. He was born there, but is of Algerian descent, and is therefore one of the 6.5 million French Muslims who according to a 2011 report by the Open Society Institute constitute an excluded and scorned minority.
Those elements of the French intelligentsia preoccupied with Israel would do well to consider their own complicated identities, and their country’s own victims, both Jewish and Muslim.
A little humility would be helpful, if not very French.