In France Now, Anti-Semitism Is Both Ubiquitous and Invisible—Just as It Was a Century Ago

In February, the prominent French intellectual Alain Finkielkraut, an outspoken defender of the Jews and persistent critic of radical Islam, found himself recognized and then attacked by a small mob of Yellow Vest protestors, who shouted anti-Semitic epithets at him along with generic insults. Considering this incident as well as Finkielkraut’s work and thought, Paul Berman compares him with the turn-of-the-20th-century poet and essayist Charles Péguy, another man of the moderate left who stood up for the Jews. Péguy was simultaneously a devout Catholic, a defender of Alfred Dreyfus’s innocence, and a nationalist:

In Péguy’s view, the spiritual qualities of France—its mystique—arose from the entire history of the country, beginning with the kings and reaching a grand culmination in the French Revolution, with its principle of human rights and its aspiration for universal justice, which are the spiritual glories of the French republic. The glories in question, as applied to Captain Dreyfus, left no doubt as to his innocence. And the glories left no doubt that every good republican in France needed to defend the wronged and martyred victim; in sum, a patriotic love of France made Péguy a Dreyfusard.

He also sympathized with the Jews as a whole, and this was unusual. He knew that, during the dozen years of the Affair, the wave of hatred for the Jews in France was intense, and Jews of all economic classes, and especially the lower class, went through terrible experiences—lives and fortunes destroyed, careers ruined. . . .

He wrote: “I know this people well. There is not a spot on their skin that is not painful, where there is not an old bruise, an old contusion, a deaf pain, the memory of a deaf pain, a scar, a wound, a bruise from the East or the West.” He also noted that, in the eyes of the anti-Semites, Jews were powerful people who controlled the destiny of the world; and this belief made it impossible for a great many people to see the scars and the wounds. The Jewish suffering was wide and ancient and deep; and it was invisible. . . .

Péguy’s observation about the invisibility of Jewish suffering circa 1900 turned out to be applicable, as well, to Jewish experiences circa 2000. The persecutions expanded, and, for a good many years, they remained invisible to the national journalists in France, the government, the intellectuals, and even to the august notables in the Jewish elite, who, exactly as in the Dreyfus Affair, ought to have known better. The persecutions were visible to Finkielkraut, though, . . . and a few others.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Alain Finkielkraut, Alfred Dreyfus, Anti-Semitism, France, French Jewry


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus