The World Cup That Unmasked the French-Israeli Divide.
On warm Sunday summer evening, I was sitting in a packed outside area of a South Tel Aviv bar surrounded by large TV screens. Around me were many quiet and lively patrons eating, smoking and drinking. In one corner there was a very different from the rest, a rowdy bunch with three-color flags painted on their cheeks. They screamed and yelled and they did it in French. The entire place seemed to want nothing to do with this group and the group wanted nothing more than to show us how French they were. Every time France scored, they screamed. Every time Croatia scored, we screamed. It was quiet a show of antagonism. I’m an American, we are well known for our USA USA USA behavior, but even I was annoyed at the Francophilia emanating from the dozen people a few tables away. After all, if they are here, aren’t they here because of anti-semitism? If they are here because of anti-semitism, then why show so much love for France and rub our noses in their love for France? When the match ended, the screaming and yelling and throwing water in the air that fell on me drove me and my wife home. But the celebrations didn’t end, they spewed onto Facebook: “Next time you meet French people in Tel Aviv, remember you are meeting world Champions.” “Vive la France!” “World’s Greatest” appeared all over Israeli groups. What followed was a quick and severe response from my fellow Israelis across the political and ethnic spectrum. “Congratulations Africa” “Good Job Frogs!” “If you’re so proud to be French why don’t you live in France?” I won’t deny it, I also did my part to leave a few bad zingers. However, I’ll admit it, I felt bad afterward. After all, they are happy, they are proud! But something in them required them to go online and to boast to us, to remind us how great they are, because they are from France! I had to understand our dislike and their desire for this attention.
Immigration to any country is a non-trivial issue fraught with many obstacles for those immigrating and those who accept immigration. Israel is not unique in this regard, however, the problems it faces are in some way, very unique.
Immigration to Israel generally stems from three reasons: ideologic, economic, political. The people who come to Israel for political reasons, generally find a way to integrate, to learn the language to become Israelis. The people who come to Israel for economic reasons, often seek a better life. This doesn’t always work out. That’s because Israel is nine million people with 4 million Arabs who are doing well but not in great numbers, 3 Million Heredi which are mostly on welfare, leaving you with 3 million people who make for a very small market. This means economy here is heated and leaves little for profit. Life is good compared to many places mostly due to a plethora of holidays, good healthcare, inexpensive education and a good pension system, but getting rich is reserved for a very few.
Finally, the ideologues. The people who hope to find a Jewish Utopia here that is just like the Jews that they are used to, just as religious but just so happens to be that it is in Israel. These people, are sorely, sorely disappointed. Israel is not a utopia. Israel is a country filled with people: imperfect people. People who have come from over a hundred countries because they were not welcome there. But they came from those countries bearing the culture of those countries. They came to a heated and unstable place that is the Middle East. They had to come together and survive. To do so, they had to cast off their ties to the places of birth, they had to become Israeli. They didn’t always succeed in avoiding the culture clash, but they had to succeed in love for Israel. Those who could not do it found grave difficulties.
This is where the French come in. The French come from a country with high regard for itself. The French are proud. I’m not sure of what, perhaps their food, French language, a revolution a long time ago, art by people long dead. Whatever it is that they are proud of, it is not the accomplishments of the public at large. But the public at large carries these accomplishments as if they are the ones who are responsible for them. Coming with that kind of attitude to a place that is full of many cultures is sure to bring problems. A place where every person is a foreigner, where every person had to say no to a place of birth or of birth of their parents and grandparents and live in a place that could take their life at any moment is a kind of place that does not do well with arrogance or braggadocio. Especially about a foreign place that is far and hasn’t been the most kind to the Jewish people.
Besides the Vichy government of France which chose to surrender rather than fight the Germans, leading to the rounding up and murder of over 70,000 French Jews, France is also known for several expulsions and participation in the French inquisition. Of course, France cannot be compared to the horrors placed upon Jews by Russia or Germany. France, on the other hand, owes much to the Jewish population due to their outsized influence upon French culture. Unfortunately, the majority of France does not feel any deep sympathy or gratitude to the Jewish people. It sees Jews just as any country that gave the homeless a home: thanks for your contribution, but without me, you’d have nothing.
However, this doesn’t change the fact that most French Jews are French first and Jewish second. When they arrive in Israel, they assume that they are more civilized (they are), that they are more cultured (they are) and that Israel should treat them in a special way for the privilege that it gets for having them come and live in Israel (they won’t). So here comes the culture clash. The French expect to retain their culture and be treated well for their culture. This behavior doesn’t fly in Israel. So many French, either choosing to not let go of their French culture and identity or not grasping that Israel will not accept them unless they accept Israel, give up. They liquidate their businesses and homes and move to US or back to France. They return to Diaspora, where they can remain French. In my opinion: c’est domage. Afterall, we are all Jewish, and we have so much more in common with eachother, than with the countries where we had to live for so long.