Reasons behind American contempt for the French

By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

I am waiting any moment for my phone to ring with a call from the French embassy forbidding me from ever visiting France again. No doubt by now the French have identified me, like Ariel Sharon and anyone else who has the temerity to criticize French inaction at the anti-Semitic outrages that have become commonplace on its soil – 510 incidents since January 2004 alone – as a dangerous Francophobe whose very existence on its soil would pose an affront to French honor.

The deal the French are offering is simple. Want to saunter by the Seine, climb the Eiffel Tower, stroll under Napoleon’s Arch de Triumph? Then shut up about the stabbings of Jewish youth, torching of Synagogues and schools, and desecration of Jewish cemeteries. If you dare point out France’s lukewarm fight against anti-Semitism, you’ll be left out in the cold.

Wow, talk about arrogance. Do the French really believe that we Jews would rather vacation on the Riviera than speak out against Jew-hatred? And what’s next after Chirac’s immature little temper tantrum? A French-sponsored U.N. Security Council Resolution banning all Israelis who are critical of French favoritism toward the Arabs from drinking champagne and eating escargot?

But Sharon can take comfort in knowing he is not alone in being the object of Jacques Chirac’s ire. If the French are to deny admittance to all who have voiced strong criticism of them over the past two years, then tens of millions of Americans won’t be strolling down the Champs Elysee anytime soon either. Indeed, as a radio host, I can tell you that bashing the French has become a guaranteed rating bonanza on the airwaves. Indeed, one of the principal insults being thrown at John Kerry this election year is that he is America’s “French-looking” candidate for president.

No doubt readers will be reminded of the large number of Americans who in the run-up to the Iraq war stopped buying French goods and started publicly washing their cars with French wine. The cafeteria in the House of Representatives stopped selling “French fries” and started selling “Freedom fries.” To be sure, these gestures were snickered at by European critics of us primitive Americans as quintessential example of Yankee infantilism. But shallow as they may have been, these actions reflected an authentic disgust on the part of millions of Americans at what is increasingly seen as brash French obstructionism to America’s war on terror.

Indeed, as I write these lines, tens of millions of Americans are waiting with baited breath for Lance Armstrong to (hopefully) take his sixth yellow jersey at the Tour-de-France this coming Sunday. The colossal American interest in what is usually an ignored French bike race is only partially generated by Armstrong’s heroic story as a gallant cancer survivor who rebuilt his strength to become, arguably, the greatest cyclist in the sport’s history.

The far greater story is American pride in watching one of our own humiliate the French for the sixth straight year in their most prestigious sporting event. Seeing the stars and stripes fly proudly up the Champs Elysee when he wins on Sunday offers a special feeling of gratification for a nation which feels that the French have become an arrogant nation of America-hating bigots.

Is American antipathy for the French merely a case of responding in kind toward what is seen as an irrational anti-Americanism? Is this nothing more than sophomoric American condescension toward a nation which America liberated at a substantial cost of lives and treasure during World War II and which is seen today as being profoundly ungrateful? No doubt, reciprocal loathing, defensiveness, and contempt for ungratefulness plays a part in the preponderance of French-bashing currently in vogue in the United States.

But this cannot be the whole explanation because the Iraqis are even more ungrateful toward America, and yet Americans do not hate the Iraqis. Likewise, there are other powerful countries, like Russia, which have worked to stymie American foreign policy, but which have not incurred the wrath of average Americans.

I suggest there is something deeper at work. American contempt for the French is based around the belief that the French have become an amoral and envious people who would rather see Western Civilization decline than America emerge as its guardians and champions. Americans blame the French as the primary agents behind the growing criminal sentiment that American power is a greater threat to world peace than Islamic tyranny and terrorism.

Stated in other words, most Americans believe that French opposition to American interests is motivated by jealousy rather than principle, that the French would rather see the survival of brutal dictators if it would prevent American hegemony over world affairs.

The French are famous as lovers, and like a spiteful man fighting for a beautiful woman who would rather see her dead than given over to his rival, Americans believe that Jacques Chirac would rather see the crumbling of the Western alliance rather than America continue as the world’s sole superpower. And it is the absence of principle in France’s opposition to the United States that has elicited American contempt.

When the French chose to collaborate with the Nazis under the Vichy regime (and assist in rounding up 75,000 Jews for the gas chambers), at least the argument could be made that they had little choice, seeing as they were under German occupation. But what was their excuse when they chose to stymie every American effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power? Could it really be that the country which gave the world the tri-pronged declaration of freedom – liberty, equality, fraternity – would be reduced to aiding and abetting tyrants?

And who forced force Jacques Chirac to thwart American efforts to have NATO troops train Iraqi police in fighting terrorists? After all, even if he opposed the war in Iraq, he no doubt supports protecting the Iraqi civilian population from daily explosions? And who asked Michel Barnier, the French foreign minister, to actually stay the night in Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah compound as a sign of unconditional support when even those governments who still deal with Arafat hold their noses while doing so?

A proud and glorious civilization has been stripped of its identity, and under Jacques Chirac has been reduced to an anti-identity. France is now defined as the country that will do almost anything to contain the power of United States.

And who would want to visit a country that is so profoundly negative anyway?