Attacks against Jews in France have doubled this year. Anti-Semitism is no longer a fringe problem and the French can only eliminate it if they confront it together, writes DW's Max Hofmann.
The frail 80-year-old man asked me not to use his real name in my story. So we agreed on an alias: Sigismund Silberstein. He was still afraid that someone from Germany would find him and attack him because of his Jewish heritage. Silberstein fled the Nazis in Germany to France in the 1930s. He found safety in his small apartment in a Paris suburb.
My encounters with Silberstein took place in 1994 and 1995; he is no longer alive today. But one thing is certain: France now, 20 years later, would no longer be able to offer him the sense of security he felt back then. Anti-Semitism is growing in France like a cancer and society is so divided that there is no simple solution for it.
Getting economic problems under control
Many politicians now admit that anti-Semitism in France is not an isolated phenomenon among a few crazy people, and have started to address the truth. A recent study by French polling institute IFOP has shown that a staggering 25 percent of the population thinks Jews "have too much power in the areas of the economy and finance." This opinion is especially widespread among Muslims, along with followers of far-right parties, especially the Front National.
If such a cancerous sentiment is growing in society, the government must do everything in its power to stop it - for example by using schools and colleges, and the media, and spending money on projects to promote tolerance. But the most important thing is for France to finally get its economic problems under control. Because there is only room for anti-Semitism to grow the way it has because large parts of the population have no economic prospects.
A struggling economy also creates perfect conditions for other grotesque ideologies to grow. It is no accident that most European jihadis fighting in Iraq and Syria are from France. The source of all these societal problems is an explosive mix of a number of different factors, and it has been brewing for decades. Bad city planning, which has led to the development of ghettos full of immigrants from Muslim North Africa, failed social policies, which have left the poor without opportunities, and misguided economic policies, which have led the French economy to slide into insignificance.
But even if a good dose of painful self-reflection is surely advisable for the French, they must now look ahead. All of France must embrace its national motto of "Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité" (freedom, equality, brotherhood) and give it new meaning. All of the country's moderate parties, unions, the huge network of charitable associations, celebrities, representatives from various religions, including Muslims, must all pull together. Otherwise, the cancer that is anti-Semitism will continue to eat away at society.