Inside a packed U.C. Berkeley lecture hall, Rabbi Daniel Dahan rattled off every obscene anti-Semitic act committed on French soil, from the famed Dreyfus affair in the 19th century to the massacre at a kosher supermarket in Paris three months ago.
Then he stated the obvious.
“[French] Jews are afraid,” said the chief rabbi of the Aix-en-Provence region of France. “Seven thousand Jews made aliyah from France in the last year. But if you make aliyah because you’re afraid, that’s very bad.”
Dahan spoke April 12 in Boalt Hall in a lecture series presented by the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies. More than 100 people attended his talk, titled “Jews and Judaism in France Today.”
He began by posing the question: Is this the end of French Jewry? And then he made an awfully good case that, indeed, the end may be near.
He presented a slideshow detailing numerous anti-Semitic acts over the years, from snide anti-Jewish public comments made by President Charles de Gaulle in 1967 to a string of relatively recent killings, including the 2006 torture death of French Jew Ilan Halimi at the hands of Muslim gangsters and the 2012 murder of a teacher and four children at a Jewish school in Toulouse.
Dahan said French Jews have the support of the French government but do not have the backing of the French people.
However, what’s most worrisome to Dahan is that a fear of an ascendant and increasingly hostile French Muslim community is driving Jews toward the neo-fascist National Front party — a far-right party with a long history of anti-Semitism.
“It means they are not as afraid of the extreme right as they are of the Muslim community,” he said. “This is not good.”
So with radical Muslim and far-right forces both against them, and with continued physical threats against French Jewry virtually a certainty, why does Dahan remain in France?
“We face two possibilities,” he said. “One, it’s finished and we have to leave. Two, it’s not finished and we have to stay and fight. We have big problems with anti-Semitism, and we need the support of Jewish populations around the world, especially the United States. But I’m not afraid.”