When riots swept through France following the death of a seventeen-year-old at the hands of the police, it was hard not to see important resonances with the recent experiences of French Jewry: the rioters tended to be young Muslims of African origin from the slum-like suburbs known as banlieues—in other words, they came from the same population that has been the source of pervasive, and sometimes murderous, anti-Semitism. Many observers cited the vandalization of a World War II memorial in the city of Nanterre; one article described the outbreak of violence as an intifada. But Marc Weitzmann argues that it is wrong to see the rioters as motivated by anti-Semitism:
There is a reason why [so many writers are] using the Nanterre memorial as evidence of the riots’ anti-Semitism: there is no other even vaguely plausible example. In fact, even the case of Nanterre is deceiving. First of all, the Nanterre wall is neither “a Holocaust memorial” nor a “memorial of deportation” [of French Jews by the Nazis] but a monument dedicated to “the martyrs of deportation and of the Resistance.” . . . If the Nanterre memorial symbolizes anything, . . . it is the ambiguity of French memory regarding World War II.
Were kosher restaurants and Jewish stores ransacked during the riots? Of course they were—but no more than non-kosher restaurants and stores that happened to be within reach of the rioters and looters. In fact, from a Jewish standpoint, if anything is remarkable, it is the almost complete lack of specificity in the choice of the businesses targeted.
What this outburst of anti-French violence shares with previous instances of anti-Jewish violence, according to Weitzmann, is a common cause: France’s failure to integrate immigrants from Muslim countries and their descendants into its society—and their refusal to integrate.
Aside from racism, one of the most underestimated reasons for why the French failed to develop any active policy to integrate migrants from their former colonies was that this would have been seen as a casus belli by the new nationalist Algerian and Moroccan regimes, whose oil and gas were vital to the French economy. . . . The former colonies made a point of directly controlling their nationals on French territory, a deal to which the French state assented. As a result, the ex-colonies also controlled the mosques and migrant culture in France.
In that regard, it is therefore tempting to see the random, spontaneous, anti-Semitic attacks that plagued France between 2000 and 2014 and beyond—that is to say before and after the terror wave—as a non- or pre-verbal designation of the enemy: the energetic condition, so to speak, for the subsequent terror to fall on everyone.