“Muslims and Jews don’t know each other”

The Association Pari(s) du vivre ensemble organized a day dedicated to repairing broken connections between Jews and Muslims. The goal: to renew dialogue between the two communities, an important event during a time of little dialogue and much to discuss. A panel of experts—professors, writers, imams, sociologists, associations, none of whom represented religious institutions—tried to “root out the evil” and identify the causes of rupture between the two communities. With the goal of understanding “the true rupture” between these “communities who have a lot in common,” Sihame Assbague, who represents the collective “Stop ethnic profiling” and is a former teacher, deplores the parallel education system in France. “After primary school, Jews and Muslims don’t go to the same schools,” she says. According to Assbague, Muslims and Jewish simply don’t know one another at all, leading to continued “false perceptions of the other.”

“Throughout Islam, the Jew is a traitor figure…On the other hand, Jews have a very pejorative image of the Muslim, they see someone to hate.”

Assbague says that the young Muslims she taught are not anti-Semites. “One of them even told me: ‘Madame, we cannot hate Jews, we don’t know them!’ No one in those neighborhoods is bottle-fed anti-Semitism, as is often believed.”

During the discussion one woman declared: “I am French, I am Jewish, and I have nothing to do with Mr. Netanyahou!”

For Sihame Assbague, the tense relations between communities are the work of elites. “There are differing educations, differing access to care and differing political treatment between the two communities.” Another bitter fact: a double standard in the fight against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

“The State favors the Jewish community” says Assbague. A “guilt” that dates back to the deportation of 73,000 Jews under the Vichy regime during World War II, recalls Esther Benbassa. “The goal is not to give less to Jews, a lot is being done for them, but we cannot hurt other communities,” insists Assbague.

Faced with a Jewish community that has been in France since the Middle Ages, the Muslim community is “vulnerable and badly represented,” argues Mehdy Belabbas, deputy mayor of Ivry. “The Jewish community is doing better, defends itself better. There is a form of jealousy on the part of Muslims who would like to be able to better organize.” This “privileged treatment,” solidifies the tensions and Muslims start “competing memories,” a kind of one-upmanship of suffering, says writer March Cheb.

“The history of colonialism’s violence, for example, is not taken into consideration enough. Because, when we haven’t read a page, it’s very difficult to turn it.”