chapter  13
13 Pages

A New Judeocentrism? On a Recent Trend in French Thought

WithJEFFREY MEHLMAN

Let me begin with a word on my title. One sense of Judeocentrism might be the following: given any case of a fairly universal foible or shortcoming, Judeocentrism is the attitude that consists of focusing on and being enraged above all by Jewish instances of it. In this sense, Judeocentrism might be characterized as another name for anti-Semitism. This, for instance, is the position taken by Alan Dershowitz on the double standard applied to Jews.1 On the other hand, the notion that the Jews are to be held to a higher standard points to nothing so much as the key notion of a “chosen people,” a people “unlike the others,” according to the liturgy, which would make of Judeocentrism another name for Judaism itself. There are things to be said of the contradiction between the two senses, a people longing for normalcy (one sense of the Zionist project), but imbued with a sense of its abnormal calling.2 (And indeed from, say, Freud to George Steiner, writing about the intolerable psychical pressures entailed by that higher standard, much ink has been spilled meditating an articulation between the two senses of the word-one defi ning anti-Semitism, the other defi ning Judaism itself-I have evoked.)3

My own use of the word here is more pedestrian, the comment of someone struck, during a recent trip to France, by just how much refl ection the condition of the Jews has provoked-at a time of what has been called “a new Judeophobia”—in France, and it is that phenomenon that I’d like to address in this chapter.