A few weeks ago a young man was kidnapped near
The victim was Jewish. While the group was still being dismantled a large part of the French Jewish community manifested its pain through spokesmen of important associations and organized a march in
This has raised a debate about what anti-Semitism is. In this affair, the criminals have explained that they chose their victim because he was Jewish, believing that a Jew would probably be rich and that even if he wasn’t, coming from a united religious community, his family would be able to collect the money. It is very clear that they acted on the belief that Jews are rich. However it hasn’t been shown that their cruel behaviour had anything with him being Jewish. In other words, according to them at least, they would have behaved the same with any man believed to be rich. Of course it should not be ruled out that for instance they didn’t feel bad being cruel because he was a Jew; it would not be surprising. But it can’t be assumed either.
The reaction of a part of the Jewish community is in my opinion easily explained by the anti-Semitic climate we have in
What I find troubling is the idea, dominating in the media, that the sole fact that the victim was chosen on account of his Jewish identity is in itself anti-Semitism. It is surely stupid to think that Jews are rich and I’m well aware that this idea traditionally played an important role in anti-Semitism. It is also still a broadly shared idea in French society as a whole, one that people assert all the time without thinking about it. In my mind it fits in the same category as saying that black people have rhythm in their blood, that somehow it is easier for them to dance. It’s the same as believing that southerners are rednecks, or (a common one in
I think that every one understands the difference between thinking with stereotypes and hating individuals that are seen through those stereotypes. It can be said that stereotypes are racist in themselves, but then we must make a distinction inside racism between the one that is stupid and the one that is stupid and hateful.
However broadly accepted this distinction seems to be forgotten in the context of the tragic death I began with. In the media the stereotype used by the criminals is associated with the worst type of racism when it may well belong to the plainly stupid one. In my mind we shouldn’t be more severe with people who say that Jews are rich than with people who say that blackmen have larger sexes. In this case what needs to be punished are the crimes not the stereotypes, the criminals should pay because they killed a man not because, just as a large part of the French population, they believe Jews to be rich. What should be punished is cruelty not stupidity.