The pendulum swings, again and again

(Canscene) — The Toronto Jewish Film Festival’s 2009 program contained much that was amusing, much informative and much shocking. No production was more disturbing than Being Jewish in France, a two part documentary made for French TV.

It opens with a 1906 newsreel shot of the reinstatement of Captain Alfred Dreyfus as an office in the French Army after his 1984 conviction and imprisonment on a charge of espionage and sentence to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island.

In France public protest since the time of the Bastille has played an enormous role in politics. Being Jewish in France chronicles the many pendulum swings of public opinion. Anti-semitism helped convict Dreyfus but the appeals to decency of public figures like Emil Zola played a large role in freeing him.

The documentary follows these many protests, many swings of public opinion, including the ultimate horror of Marshall Petain’s decision to ship Jews to Nazi death camps. The film shows that, far from being the patriotic saviour of French identity Petain’s supporters claimed him to be, his ardour didn’t extend to Jewish citizens. Instead of reluctantly being forced to surrender Jewish citizens in Vichy, he was fiercely proactive in rounding them up The footage of Being Jewish contains an excerpt from The Sorrow and the Pity, Ophuls’ documentary revealing the extent of French collaborationism.

Refugees from the Algerian civil war included many Jews who in spite of an original suspicion, eventually gained public sympathy in France.

Today, the pendulum swings back again as those who oppose the Israeli government’s role in the present Gaza confrontation use the Jews in France as scapegoats

But, among those caught up in the wave of prejudice are others than Jews. Let’s not forget that the current wave of xenophobia is also directed against Muslims in France whether they be citizens or immigrants.

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