France Prepares to Vote, With Anti-Semitism at the Center

MARCO MICHIELI
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[PARIS]

On Tuesday, three teenagers aged twelve and thirteen were brought to trial as part of an investigation for an incident of “aggravated rape, aggravated sexual violence, attempted extortion, invasion of privacy, death threats, violence and insults”, which occurred in Courbevoie, a municipality of the Parisian “petite couronne”. The last two crimes are aggravated by the fact that they were committed “due to the victim’s belonging to a religion”. The twelve-year-old girl attacked is in fact Jewish.

This tragic event fits into a broader context in France, where the topic of anti-Semitism is dominating the political debate. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced Wednesday his intention to disband the GUD, a far-right group, for its “very serious anti-Semitic remarks.” A few days earlier that same group had been responsible for a homophobic attack in Paris while they were “celebrating” the victory of the Rassemblement Nationale in the European elections. One of those arrested reportedly declared that he couldn’t wait for three weeks to pass, “when we’ll be able to beat up faggots at will”. A former RN municipal councilor was also among those arrested. Darmanin then attacked the RN for its ties to the GUD. Jordan Bardella, the RN’s candidate for prime minister, later declared that:

If I lead the country tomorrow, I will not have any form of tolerance towards those who practice violence in our country. So, the ultra-left and ultra-right organizations will be dissolved.

Concerns about the increase in anti-Semitic acts are not new. In fact, concern has been growing for months. The investigation “Radiographie de l’antisémitisme 2024” carried out by IFOP, the Fondation pour l’Innovation Politique and the American Jewish Committee underlined that hatred of Israel is the main cause. The document indicates that 1,676 anti-Semitic acts were recorded in 2023; almost 60 percent of these acts were directed against individuals and most often took the form of threatening gestures and words. The attacks have increased dramatically since October 7, the day of the Hamas attack against Israeli civilians, because, say the authors of the report,

media coverage of an extremely serious anti-Semitic event acts as a catalyst and almost systematically leads to a surge in expressions of anti-Jewish hatred.

According to the report, 44 percent of French people show no signs of anti-Semitism, 22 percent of individuals appear to be generally free of anti-Semitism, although some of their attitudes may occasionally show a certain degree of ambivalence. Finally, 34 percent of French people show anti-Semitic tendencies, including a subgroup of ten percent who show both a strong attachment to prejudice against Jews and tolerance of anti-Semitic violence. The report also underlines that young people, in a context of generational change in their relationship with Israel, are a little more open to the legitimization of anti-Semitic acts, and there is evidence of an increase in anti-Semitic prejudices among the Muslim population.

Although the IFOP report highlights that both the RN and LFI show sensitivity to antisemitism, it is the latter that finds itself more at the center of political and electoral debate. The issue, raised because a far-right party is about to get closer to power, seems to create more problems for the left, for La France Insoumise (LFI) but also for its allies, socialists in particular.

There are numerous examples of political tensions linked to anti-Semitism. For example, immediately after the news of the rape of the twelve-year-old girl, the collective against anti-Semitism, Nous Vivrons, born in reaction to the positions of La France Insoumise (LFI) regarding the Hamas terrorist attack against Israel on 7 October, organized a demonstration in front of the Hotel de Ville in which politicians of various political backgrounds also participated. When Ariel Weil, a socialist and the Franco-Israeli mayor of Central Paris (the area made up of the 1, 2, 3 and 4 arrondissements), began to speak he was heckled with whistles, insults and accusations of complicity with the positions of LFI, which the association considers anti-Semitic. Weil, who is married to a female rabbi, nearly came to blows with a protester.

A similar situation occurred in Bastille the following day, during a demonstration organized by several anti-racist, feminist and associations that work against anti-Semitism, including SOS Racisme, the Fondation des Femmes, Les Guerrières de la Paix, the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, the MRAP, Osez le Féminisme and the Union des étudiants Juifs de France. As reported by Le Figaro, in the various speeches that followed one another, the differences that exist within the left appeared regarding whether the spread of anti-Semitism is limited to the far right or whether it also affects the left, and in particular LFI. In his speech, Dominique Sopo, president of SOS Racisme, referred to hatreds that “are never residual”, a reference to Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who on his blog on June 2 had stated that “anti-Semitism remains residual in France”, although various research, data and surveys indicate an increase. Other associations, however, talked above all about the Rassemblement National.

Tensions further increased when Samuel Lejoyeux, president of the Union des étudiants Juifs de France (UEJF), harshly criticized the presence of LFI within the Nouveau Front Populaire. His words were greeted, again reported by Le Figaro, with “indignation and some jokes”:

It must also be said that this anti-Semitism has very often been justified, and sometimes even propagandized, by politicians who come from the left, politicians of La France Insoumise! Saying that anti-Semitism is residual cannot be a political disagreement!

Headline and photo from The New York Times

The controversies have reached a new level of intensity since the left signed an electoral agreement. In particular, the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF) has strongly condemned the alliance between ecologists, socialists and communists with La France Insoumise (LFI), which according to CRIF holds anti-Semitic positions.

This has been followed by appeals, counter-appeals and letters either to support the reasons for the accusations of anti-Semitism or to criticize them.

A first significant appeal was the one published by Mediapart and signed by around thirty personalities from the world of culture and research; the signature of Annie Ernaux, the Nobel Prize winner for literature in 2022, stands out among them. The signatories maintain that the accusations of anti-Semitism towards LFI are politically motivated and propagated “by some media and political figures who have made it their only argument in a hateful battle against an entire part of the left”.

The signatories go on to say that

There are also sincere people who imagine the links of LFI with anti-Semitism, by dint of hearing this accusation broadcast by so many media, to the point that the monstrous equivalence LFI = anti-Semitic has become a sort of platitude, perfectly natural.

They describe “this offensive” as the reaction to the possibility “of the left coming to power”, a situation which “terrorizes the representatives of a social, economic and ideological order”:

They absolutely must break the left alliance, disqualifying one of its most important and most militant forces with a kind of political assassination. The New Popular Front caused deep panic among supporters of the existing order. Abjection is reaching new heights.

This situation is accompanied, they say, by the “banalization of the RN” which receives disproportionate “political and media treatment” compared to LFI, whose “program is the fight against discrimination, for social justice and emancipation”.

A few days later Le Point published a counter-appeal. On the initiative of the philosopher Daniel Salvatore Schiffer, thirty writers and intellectuals, including Michel Onfray, Luc Ferry, Bernard Kouchner, Antoine Gallimard, Pierre-André Taguieff and Pascal Bruckner, invited citizens “not to vote for this false, deceptive and pseudo ‘New Popular Front’”, accusing it of anti-Semitism:

This characteristic anti-Semitism manifested itself, sometimes virulently, in parties on the far left of the political-ideological spectrum, such as La France Insoumise (LFI) and the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), which, during the appalling genocidal pogrom perpetrated by Hamas terrorists against Israeli Jews on October 7, have never openly condemned this bloody massacre, even claiming that it was the expression of a “Palestinian resistance movement against the Israeli occupation” to justify it.

Worse still, some of these irresponsible leaders publicly rejoiced, on the very evening of this ignoble crime on a scale not seen since the Holocaust.”

The signatories accuse LFI and NPA of being “declared enemies of Israel, proponents of an anti-Zionism that does nothing but mask their underlying anti-Semitism”:

They are no strangers to contradiction or, above all, ignorance, given that the illustrious founder of the historic Popular Front between the two wars, Léon Blum, was also one of the great Jewish leaders of his time. He was deported by the Nazis to the Buchenwald concentration camp and […] was a fervent supporter of the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

An article then appeared in Le Monde written by Arié Alimi, lawyer and vice-president of the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, and by Vincent Lemire, professor of history at the Gustave-Eiffel University and former director of the Center de Recherche Rrançais in Jerusalem, which fueled the discussion. The two authors point out that the resurgence of anti-Semitism on the left is undeniable, but that it is being used to undermine the credibility of the New Popular Front:

The left, now united to counter the xenophobic threat of the Rassemblement National, must not shy away from this priority battle, because the coherence of the New Popular Front and its very justification depend on it.

But they also add an idea that creates a lot of controversy:

No, there is no equivalence between the contextual, populist and electoral anti-Semitism of some members of La France Insoumise and the foundational, historical and ontological anti-Semitism of the Rassemblement National, which has always and consistently defended national preference and denounced dual citizens and attacked the “anti-France”.

Gérard Biard, journalist of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, responded with an article with the ironic title “For an anti-Semitism inclusive of hope and progress”, replying that Alimi and Lemire’s idea is “absurd” and “squalid”:

In the name of “urgency” and the need to erect a barrier against the far right – whose vital necessity no one on the left disputes – we must settle for a certain form of anti-Semitism, which is just an unfortunate succession of “wrong deeds”. A lesser evil for the good cause, so to speak.

And he goes on:

Agreed. We accept the dubious premise that the anti-Semitism masquerading as “anti-Zionism” that prevails in LFI is simply a matter of electoral opportunism. So? Does this make it less harmful, less dangerous for Jews in France? Should we forget what happened after October 7th? Should we write off the explosion of anti-Semitic acts which, as the authors of the article point out, have reached an average of five hundred per month by the end of 2023? Sing along with Mélenchon, saying that anti-Semitism is “residual”? Is it a simple detail in the history of feminism that, for the first time, militant associations, and not the least important ones, have relativized rapes and acts of barbarism committed against women?

Translation by Paul Rosenberg

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France Prepares to Vote, With Anti-Semitism at the Center ultima modifica: 2024-06-21T21:12:20+02:00 da MARCO MICHIELI
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