France Prepares to Vote: Antisemitism on the Left Drives Jews to the Right

MARCO MICHIELI
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[PARIS]

The accusations of anti-Semitism leveled against LFI and Jean-Luc Mélenchon are not new. In 2012, several members of the UMP (now Les Républicains), including former prime minister Alain Juppé, criticized the leader of the then Front de Gauche for his alleged closeness to the Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, who was in the headlines for his anti-Semitic positions. Mélenchon then sued the accusers for slander and then won the case.

Also in 2012, Mélenchon described Mohamed Merah – the French jihadist who killed seven people, including three children, in terrorist attacks against the French army and a Jewish school in Toulouse – as a “bloody idiot” who “isn’t even a terrorist”, statements that critics said downplayed the anti-Jewish nature of the terrorist act. A year later Mélenchon accused Pierre Moscovici, the socialist Minister of the Economy, of thinking in terms of “international finance”, a statement that sparked controversy because it echoed the anti-Semitic stereotype of the Jewish banker. However, Mélenchon insisted that he was not aware of the then economy minister’s religion. In 2019, the leader of LFI then accuses the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France of having contributed to the defeat of the British Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was accused of complacency towards anti-Semitism.

As Les Souligneurs reports, the leader of La France Insoumise has always considered these accusations as an ignominy aimed at undermining the credibility of his political positions, particularly his policy towards Israel. At the beginning of June he then wrote that

[…] contrary to what official propaganda claims, anti-Semitism remains residual in France. In any case, it is totally absent from popular rallies.

However, it was the Hamas attacks against Israel that marked an increase in controversy and accusations. A press release from the party stated that “the armed offensive by the Palestinian forces led by Hamas comes in a context of intensification of the Israeli occupation policy in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem”. Jean-Luc Mélenchon says he is “horrified”, but assures that “our thoughts and our compassion go to all the devastated victims of all this” and says that “all the violence unleashed against Israel and Gaza demonstrates only one thing: violence only produces and reproduces itself.” This equation between Hamas and Israel, and the absence of any reference to Hamas’s terrorist act also pushes some members of Mélenchon’s party to distance themselves. The deputy François Ruffin, one of the possible prime ministers in the event of a victory for the left, immediately expressed his “total condemnation of the Hamas attack”. Raquel Garrido, one of the deputies not reinvested by LFI in the next legislative elections, urged her colleagues to be “more attentive to the political experiences and feelings of left-wing Jews.” Mélenchon then attacked the president of the National Assembly, Yaël Braun-Pivet, on Twitter, accusing her of being camped “in Tel Aviv to encourage the massacre”. As reported, for some, the use of the term “camp” was a thinly disguised reference to Nazi concentration camps, to the extent that the left-wing leader had to intervene to deny any hidden meanings.

Finally, on November 12, LFI decided not to participate in the march against anti-Semitism, boycotting it due to the presence of the Rassemblement National and the organizers’ refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. On the same day, LFI organized another demonstration in Place des Martyrs-Juifs-du-Vélodrome-d’Hiver in Paris, an initiative criticized by the CRIF, which considered it a way of “appropriating” memory.

The statements that were made about Hamas, however, generate far-reaching political consequences. Fabien Roussel, secretary of the PCF, states that this inability on the part of LFI “to describe a terrorist act in the right terms” has forced a debate on his party’s presence within the left-wing Nupes coalitions. In the Socialist Party, LFI’s position on Hamas’s attack on Israel is judged to be ambiguous, and the leaders decide to put the coalition on hold. Nupes, the LFI-led alliance that ran in the 2022 legislative elections, practically ceases to exist.

In the meantime, the divisions on the issue of the conflict between Israel and Hamas continue to deepen, particularly with the socialists. In April, Raphaël Glucksmann, a socialist leader in the European elections, said he regretted the fact that Jean-Luc Mélenchon had “displayed” the logo of an association “which denies the existence of the State of Israel” to announce a conference at the University of Lille, on the initiative of a pro-Palestine student association.

When you are a political party, you do not display logos that deny the existence of the State of Israel. Simple as that.

The clash with the socialists intensifies with the European elections. Mélenchon responds to socialist criticism by attacking Jérôme Guedj, a socialist deputy, accusing him of being “a weathervane” and of having renounced “the most consistent principles of the left of Judaism in France”, linking Guedj’s positions to his Jewish origins. Guedj is today a candidate for the PS, but he has refused the support of the Nouveau Front Populaire due to the attack on people by Mélenchon. Supported by socialists, greens and communists, he will have to face a dissident candidacy presented by LFI in the legislative elections.

The controversial positions of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and LFI have inevitably led to a rift with the Jewish electorate. This phenomenon is particularly evident in the context of the recent proliferation of anti-Semitic acts related to the conflict between Israel and Hamas. As IFOP has indicated, this situation has revived an old debate: “is anti-Zionism anti-Semitic?”.

France adopted a resolution in 2019 that broadened the definition of anti-Semitism to include anti-Zionism, a decision that was much criticized for the ambiguity often linked to the term. According to IFOP, anti-Zionism refers in fact to “opposition to the existence of a Jewish national state” but “the term has undergone a semantic shift and is often used to describe a discourse that is highly critical of Israel”. Furthermore, there is another area of ambiguity “between the legitimate expression of criticism of the policies of the Jewish State and the adoption of violent behavior towards Jews, under the guise of radical anti-Zionism”. This ambiguity has fueled the debate and exacerbated tensions with the Jewish electorate, who perceive a lack of clarity and condemnation from LFI regarding the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

According to IFOP research:

The refusal to explicitly condemn Hamas’ crimes sparked outrage. In this context, 92 percent of French Jews believe that France Insoumise is contributing to the rise of anti-Semitism in France, and 82 percent even answered “‘yes, absolutely’. IFOP has rarely ever seen such a high percentage of ‘yes, absolutely’ responses in a survey.”

Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Photo: Azety via Flickr

At the same time, Marine Le Pen and the Rassemblement National have adopted an unconditionally and clearly pro-Israeli position, expressing strong support for the Netanyahu government, part of a normalization process that has been underway for some time. Despite the fact that during the2022 presidential elections the CRIF defined Marine Le Pen and her party as “an existential threat” to French Jews, the French far right is managing to make people forget its roots and the anti-Semitic outbursts of its founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Last month Marine Le Pen assured the LCI that “the National Front has always been Zionist”:

Historically, the National Front has always been in favor of the creation of a Jewish state. […] Of course, relations between Jean-Marie Le Pen and the Jewish community have been extremely difficult, and [Le Pen senior] has exacerbated this difficulty by multiplying his provocations. […] The only political movement that is truly a shield to protect our compatriots of the Jewish faith […] is the Rassemblement National. I have never wavered on this point.

It is not just a question of eliminating the anti-Semitic roots of the far-right movement but of proposing itself as the only defense against Muslims (62 percent of Muslim voters who participated in the European elections voted for LFI), the real objective of the RN election campaigns.

It is not completely clear that Marine Le Pen is more successful with Jewish voters than her father. Only one survey sheds light on the topic. In 2014, an IFOP study published for The Atlantic revealed that 13.5 percent of voters who declared themselves Jewish had voted in favor of Marine Le Pen, compared to four percent for Jean-Marie Le Pen. However, these electoral choices depend on various factors and variations, primarily on Marine Le Pen’s greater success with the entire electorate in general.

But the next legislative elections have set something new in motion, as evidenced by the enormous controversy caused by the speech by Serge Klarsfeld, a well-known Nazi hunter, who declared that in the event of a choice between RN and LFI for the legislative elections:

[…] I would vote for the National Rassemblement, because […] the axis of my life is the defense of Jewish memory, the defense of persecuted Jews, the defense of Israel, and I find myself faced with an extreme left that is under the influence of La France Insoumise with anti-Semitic overtones and violent anti-Zionism.

He then added that “La France Insoumise is a decidedly anti-Jewish party” while, in his opinion, the Rassemblement National “has undergone a transformation”:

It is a party that supports Jews, that supports the State of Israel. Far-right parties in Western and Central Europe have renounced anti-Semitism and support Jews.

Marine Le Pen responded by thanking him:

The homage paid to the French people by Serge Klarsfeld, great conscience and custodian of the memory of the Shoah, reminds us that even if our electoral choices may diverge, there comes a time when we must unite to reject this terrible danger represented today by a left that, abandoning its soul and its dignity, compromises itself with extremism.

On the contrary, Manuel Bompard, coordinator of La France Insoumise, said he was “shocked” and believes that Serge Klarsfeld “is wrong:

This says a lot about the way we were vilified during the European election campaign. The fight against anti-Semitism, racism and Islamophobia is at the heart of our commitments.

The philosopher Alain Finkielkraut also told the weekly Le Point that he was considering voting for the party founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen:

This is not the case yet, but perhaps sooner or later I will be forced to do so if there are no alternatives,

Ginette Kolinka, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, instead told FranceInfo:

When you see Klarsfeld agreeing with them, you tell yourself something is wrong. If Jews also side with the far right, we will never see the end of it.

The UEJF also criticized Klarsfeld, denouncing a “moral guilt” and an “existential danger” for Jews in considering voting for the RN. Klarsfeld’s temptation is broader, at least from what Le Figaro writes, and could perhaps translate into an abstention, rather than a vote for RN in the second round. For IFOP in fact

[…] The RN is mentioned less than LFI and the Greens, but this does not give it carte blanche: one in two Jews believes that it is also contributing to the increase in anti-Semitism.

Despite these many ambiguities, this is the shortest electoral campaign in the history of France. Macron has attacked the left on anti-Semitism more, underlining its dangers, because he needs to arrive at the second round in a position of strength compared to the Nouveau Front Populaire. To do this he needs to convince part of the center-left electorate that a vote for the left is a vote for LFI. There is one objective: to be able to claim a “republican” vote in the second round as the only barrier in the face of RN’s extremism.

Cover Image: Thousands rally in Paris on October 22 to condemn the Israeli siege of Gaza. (Photo: CGT/Facebook)

Translation by Paul Rosenberg

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France Prepares to Vote: Antisemitism on the Left Drives Jews to the Right ultima modifica: 2024-06-24T16:35:32+02:00 da MARCO MICHIELI
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