The Moroccan-born Israeli historian Michel Abitbol is a possibly surprising source for savvy perspectives on the strained relations between Jews and France. Up until now he has produced cogent, concise works about North Africa such as “The Jews of North Africa during the Second World War” from Wayne State University Press as well as others so far untranslated into English. Now an emeritus Humanities professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, Abitbol has just produced a revised edition of his 1989 study, “Two Promised Lands: France’s Jews and Zionism,” from Les éditions Perrin.
Before the Dreyfus Affair, most French Jews took little or no interest in moving to the Holy Land, and the only Frenchmen who actively argued for it were anti-Semites like the 19th century author Édouard Drumont. Even the Dreyfus Case did not change the minds of many Gallic observers. In 1909, one French journalist, sent to cover the Ninth Zionist Congress in Hamburg, reported back that the whole notion of Zionism seemed a Germanic thing, born in Germany and Austria, inherently “contrary to French thinking.”