French Jews React to the Strauss-Kahn Story

"It is very painful for us," says the leader of a Jewish community near Paris

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The first person to make an offensive Jewish joke about the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn was professional fire breather Ann Coulter in a tweet playing off the identity of the hotel maid, a devout Muslim from West Africa.


But for France, a country with the third largest Jewish population in the world, the arrest of Strauss-Kahn in connection with rape allegations was no laughing matter. “We lost a friend,” said Rabbi Michel Serfaty, president of the Jewish-Muslim Friendship of France in an interview with the JTA news service. “With DSK there was no doubt he was a member of the community, interested in Israel, that we have lost.” Making the scandal a "particularly harsh blow," the IMF chief was France's most popular politican and well on his way to becoming France's first Jewish president (excluding, of course, 1930s Prime Minister Léon Blum). A rarity for anyone in France, Strauss-Kahn wore his religious identity proudly and expressed an attachment to Israel.

Interestingly, as Jewish community leaders bemoaned the scandal, they still shared kind of creepy details about Strauss-Kahn's promiscuity. “It is very painful for us,” said Marc Djebali, vice president of the Sarcelles Jewish community in the Paris suburbs. “I know him well. I’ve even seen him seduce a woman, but it was always with gentleness. He is someone who is very warm, and we never felt any problems of violence from him.”

As for France's non-Jews, you certainly couldn't blame them for rushing to judgment. A whole cavalcade of commentators have denounced the media circus surrounding Strauss-Kahn's arrest, offering conspiracy theories and justifications for his actions. If anything, the swiftness with which the controversy was dismissed by some is what's been rather alarming.

The absence of anti-semitic remarks in the aftermath of the scandal was acknowledged by CRIF, a French Jewish umbrella group. A researcher there told JTA he hasn't seen any significant reference to Strauss-Kahn's religion in the press. The group's president told JTA "Everybody knew he was Jewish, and that didn’t prevent him from being the most popular candidate in France and that says something about France. Today we find it completely normal that a Jew can become president.”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.