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Tuesday, May 24 2016
France, Antisemitism and the Prognosis for European Jewry
We are now witnessing, notably in France, the emergence of a “fusion antisemitism” drawing both from right-wing and left-wing fantasies.
NB. THIS ARTICLE, JUST PUBLISHED IN A COLLECTIVE ACADEMIC BOOK, WAS WRITTEN BY MID-2015, AFTER THE CHARLIE HEBDO AND HYPERCASHER MASSACRES BUT BEFORE THE NOVEMBER 13 MASSACRES.
The prognosis for European Jewry is bleak. In 2013, in my essay, “You Only Live Twice,” which appeared in the American online journal Mosaic, I contended that European Jews both underwent a remarkable rebirth and revival in the post-Holocaust era, and are currently facing renewed existential threats that may force many of them to emigrate to Israel or other places.(1) I was not off the mark. Antisemitism is indeed increasing, either in terms of actual violence against Jews—think of the massacres in Brussels, in May 2014, and in Paris in January 2015—or in the level of anti-Jewish or anti-Israel discourse.
How is it that the fortunes of European Jews has changed so dramatically and so quickly for the worse? Much can be learned from two events that took place in France, where about one-half of European Jewry is concentrated, in January 2014. First, the DieudonneÌ-Valls confrontation, and how French public opinion reacted to it. DieudonneÌ M’bala M’bala is an African-French former commedian who has turned his shows over the years into rabid anti- Zionist and anti-Jewish gatherings. More recently, he created and launched the “quenelle,” an inverted Hitlerian salute (one arm down, the other one touching the shoulder) as an expression of contempt for Jews and everything related to the Holocaust. The gesture is enjoying growing popularity in France and other countries. Among some sectors of the youth, it is seen as the cool thing to do in front of Jewish buildings or Holocaust memorials like the one for Drancy in the suburbs of Paris or the Mahnmal in Berlin. A dozen young, anonymous, European-looking passers-by were photographed performing the quenelle under the Rue des Juifs street sign in Strasbourg. In England, Nicolas Anelka, a French football star of African descent playing for the West Bromwich Albion Fooball Club, indulged in the quenelle salute
on December 28, 2013, after scoring against West Ham, and declined to apologize. Immigrant players from Manchester City’s and Liverpool Football Clubs were also reported to have performed the gesture.
At the beginning of January 2014, DieudonneÌ was to begin a grand tour of France to disseminate his hate propaganda from town to town. Manuel Valls, then the interior minister (he would become prime minister in April that year) issued orders and guidelines to mayors and preÌfets (local govern- ment commissioners) to ban his shows as public safety risks. Moreover, the police raided the agitator’s home outside Paris and found potential evidence of tax evasion or money laundering. What happened next? While many citizens congratulated the minister for acting decisively against a dangerous agitator, many others criticized him for “curbing free speech and expression” in line with his own “politically correct” agenga. In fact, Valls, who was then the most popular politician in the country and most popular minister in FrancÌ§ois Hollande’s socialist administration, dropped by ten points in the polls, from an average 60% of positive opinion to an average 50%. Even more revealing and disturbing: only 38% of the French approved of the ban, while 32% opposed it, and 64% said that DieudonneÌ and Valls were in fact “comforting each other.” (2)
The second ominous event took place on January 26, 2014, amidst a rightwing or populist rally against the FrancÌ§ois Hollande administration, dubbed “Jour de ColeÌre” (Day of anger), that attracted at least 20,000 people and possibly twice as many. Some of the demonstrators—obvious supporters of DieudonneÌ—repeatedly shouted antisemitic slogans: “Jew, France does not belong to you” and “The Holocaust is just a hoax.” Other demonstrators did not seem disturbed by the chanting, nor did the rally’s organizers bother to call the rogues to order, as Ivan Rioufol, a conservative commentator, observed the next day in the newspaper Le Figaro (3). True enough, Islamic militant groups in France have repeatedly voiced similar and even worse slogans for years during street demonstrations. How- ever, since they were doing it in Arabic rather than French, they were largely unnoticed by the media, if not the police. And people debating the issue of resurgent antisemitism could resort in good faith to the reassuring remark that “after all, Nazis were not marching in Paris.” Faced with the Jour de ColeÌre rally, even die-hard optimists had to recognize that this is no longer true. Nazis were marching in Paris, unchecked—postmodern Nazis, to be sure: no brown shirts. But Nazis nevertheless—people steeped in anti-Jewish paranoia
and eager to spread it everywhere. And they seemed to be drawn from every corner of contemporary French society, Left and the Right alike, from the native, Christian European majority as well as the non-European and largely non-Christian immigrant minorities.
Antisemitism is often connected to radical politics, and France, a country in crisis, is ripe for change because classic politics seem to have failed. According to an Ipsos/Steria poll published on January 21, 2014 by Le Monde, 8% of the French—only 8%!—trusted the political parties. Only 23% trusted their National Assembly representatives. Trade unions, at just 31%, fared little better; nor did the judiciary, at 46%. Real confidence was shown only with local government: 63% of the French trusted their mayors. Most trusted were the police and the army, with respectively a 73% and a 79% confidence rate (a recipe for a coup d’eÌtat, one might say.) (4)
Defiance against traditional politics translate into electoral returns. The abstention rate was 40% at the French local elections in March 2014, and almost 60% at the Euro-Parliament elections in May 2014. In both cases, it boosted Marine Le Pen’s National Front, originally a far right party, but now a more global protest party with both rightwing and leftwing characters.
France’s current government, the Fifth Republic established by Charles de Gaulle in 1958, was long perceived as a stable and efficient democracy, although that was largely a fallacy. From the very onset, the Fifth Republic was subverted by the “Noblesse d’EÌtat (State nobility) to use a term coined by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu: the senior civil service, which supplanted the political class and merged with the economic elite. About 70% of all members of government and parliament are civil servants. A further blow came from the European Union Commission in Brussels, a non-elected multi- national super-government that gradually superseded the elected national government of France on many issues, including money supply and day to day legislation. Finally, there was the immigration factor: the ever-growing non-Western immigrant communities who more often than not tended to ignore French traditional culture and values—including in political matters— and to enforce their own.
As long as the economy was booming, welfare benefits increasing, and the legal working hours shrinking (it went down to 35 hours per week with five weeks’ vacation, plus eight legal holidays easily turned into extended weekends), most citizens did not pay attention. Things changed when the French economy was no longer able to deliver. In 2005, an angry France derailed the so-called European constitutional treaty in a referendum. In 2007, it elected the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy on the assumption that he would curb the state nobility, tame immigration, lower taxes, and revive the domestic economy. Sarkozy took some steps, but at the end of the day disap- pointed his constituency on almost all counts. In 2012, the pendulum swung to the socialist FrancÌ§ois Hollande, who promised lots of things to his own supporters but eventually had to admit that he could not deliver, and is currently seen as a pathetic figure. No wonder that radical parties (from the National Front to the Greens and the neocommunist Left Front) are attempting to supplant the mainstream parties (the conservative UMP, the socialist PS, and the centrist UDI). Even they have been accompanied and outdone by grassroots movements of all sorts, from La Manif pour Tous—a family values-oriented movement, to Bonnets Rouges (Red bonnets)—a large-scale civil rebellion in Britanny, to the aforementioned Jour de ColeÌre.
But again, why the Jews? Why should the Jews, of all people, be turned again into scapegoats by such diverse constituencies, when things deteriorate? Why should antisemitism work so well now in France and in many other European countries, in spite of so many educational programs about the Holocaust and as society is turning increasingly multiracial, multicultural, and multireligious?
A second, deeper, answer is thus needed. My personal assessment is that antisemitism endures, and explodes when suitable circumstances are present, because it is embedded in world culture, human fantasies, and universal nighmares. The real problem with Jews is that they produced the Bible, the all-time bestseller; and, that the Bible deals chiefly with the Jews. Something that non-Jews, overwhelmingly the largest group of Bible readers in the world, tend to resent.
In Western countries, including France, antisemitism ultimately can be boiled down to the Marcionite tradition. Marcion, a 2nd-century bishop in Sinope (in present-day Turkey), attempted to resolve a basic Christian dilemma: if Jesus was the culmination of the Jewish faith, why did Jews reject him; or, alternatively, why did Christians not become Jews? Marcion took a dualistic approach. The Gospel, he contended, was not the culmination of the Hebrew Bible but rather its antidote. God of the Old Testament he perceived as the Demiurge who created the material world—who was, in fact, the Devil. Jesus, then, was the spiritual God of the Gospel, whose task was to rescue humanity from this Old Testament God. Jews, accordingly, were the Devil’s people, an intrinsically perverse and evil nation, whose purpose was to kill Jesus again and again, in order to delay, obfuscate, or actually prevent salvation. (5)
All the major churches—Orthodox, Catholic, and later on, Protestant as well—forcefully rejected Marcionism as a heresy. Their theologians resolved the Jewish-Christian dilemma by looking to St. Paul’s paradox in the Epistle to the Romans: Jews were not rejected by God, even if they failed to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah (Rom. 11:1); their effacement was only temporary, as a ploy to help “jealous” Gentiles to take part in the grand work of faith and salvation (Rom. 11 :11); at the end of time, when Jews would “return to God,” they would recover their supremely exalted position (Rom 11:12). In the meantime, Christians were to understand that Jews were in fact “supporting” them, just as “roots are supporting a tree” (Rom. 11:18).
However, when it came to practical matters, when they had to deal with the populace, the Churches usually found it more expedient to resort to binary oppositions: Christianity was therefore always pure, holy, and beautiful; Judaism was perverted, sinful, and ugly. It was so much easier for the churches to cast Jews as enemies or pariahs than to grant them anything like an “elder brother” status. A crypto-Marcionism, as we would prefer to call it, thus crept into Christian culture ever since the Middle Ages, and spread eventually to post-Christian Western culture as well, as secular socio- political antisemitismemerged, according to which Jews were the main obstacle to the Good Society and had either to be removed or annihilated.
The success of Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie, The Passion of the Christ, has testified to the residual strength of Marcionism among Christian believers even today. This is so despite major efforts of the churches, especially since the Holocaust, to go back to the Pauline model. Regarding political Marcionism, an earlier example comes to mind—that of Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French during World War Two, an enemy of Nazi Germany and resolute opponent of Marshal PeÌtain’s Vichy regime (including its antisemitic legislation). Indeed, the first thing he did when the Free French took over a Vichy-ruled territory was to abrogate Vichy’s infamous Jew’s Statute, restoring full rights to Jews as French citizens and human beings. Yet the same de Gaulle, as founder and first president of the Fifth Republic, delivered an utterly antisemitic diatribe in a press conference on November 27, 1967. He not only defamed the State of Israel as an aggressor in the Six- Day War, but also as an illegitimate entity created in “dubious circumstances.” He went so far as to describe the Jewish people at large as an “elite, self-confident and domineering people” with large resources in “money, influence and propaganda” in “many countries,” especially “America.” The former leader of the anti-Nazi Resistance now sounded as if he were echoing the Protocols of Elders of Zion or worse, the paramount 19th-century French antisemite, Edouard Drumont. I remember how I felt as a young French Jew when I heard de Gaulle on the radio: it was as if the blood in my veins ran cold. (6)
In retrospect, what happened to de Gaulle looks rather obvious. We know that he was raised in a Catholic-social milieu, where both left- and right-wing antisemitism was rampant—even if his father is said to have sided with Captain Dreyfus. We know that in the 1930s he rebelled against the French military and political Establishment, well before his opposition to Marshal PeÌtain in 1940. In those years, the only military expert who took him seriously was a maverick Jewish officier, Colonel Emile Mayer. We may thus surmise that he overcame any native antisemitism during the most momentous period of his life, only to relapse into it when he grew older, with a special twist: as the champion of French national independance, he was becoming increasingly anti-American, and he tended to confuse Jews, or Israel for that matter, with “Anglo-Saxon imperialism’’.
For all that, the current revival of antisemitism in France and Europe is not simply a resurgence of the enduring Christian heresy of Marcionism. What makes it particularly virulent is that it has fused with what one could call “Islamic Marcionism.” Admittedly, Marcion as such never exerted any direct influence on Islamic doctrine or culture. But quasi-Marcionite views developed at a very early stage in the Islamic world, whether in the Hadith (the Prophet’s reported deeds and sayings) or the Sira and Maghazi literature (the systematic relation of the prophet’s life and of Islam’s early victories). According to these sources, the Jews were utterly perverse enemies of Allah, Muhammad, and the Islamic Umma—in fact, devilish creatures that had to be destroyed. There is much evidence that just as Christian Marcionism was an attempt to sever Christianity from its Jewish roots, Islamic quasi-Marcionism was originally an attempt to erase from Islam its own Jewish roots, so apparent in the Quran, in many Judaizing Hadith (the Israiliyat), and in Islamic ritual, law, or terminology. (7)
Christian and Islamic antisemitism have met and interbred since the 19th century: it is apparently more rewarding for the two communities to hate the Jewish Devil together than to dwell on irreconciliable differences between Cross and Crescent, West and East, Europe and Asia, colonial expansion and Jihad. Antisemitism was an important factor in the global alliance between fascist powers and Islam before and during World War Two, whether in the Arab world (with figures like Haj Amin al-Husseini in Palestine or Rashid Ali in Iraq) or in the Balkans and in the German-occupied USSR—where Muslim Waffen-SS units were easily set up. Nazi and fascist antisemitic agitation and legislation was an inspiration for Muslim antisemitic pogroms in Algeria, Turkey, Iraq, Morocco, Libya, Egypt; and Muslim antisemitic legislation in Egypt and Turkey. Muslim antisemitism was even used by Vichy France from 1940 to 1944, either in colonial North Africa before the American landings in 1942, or in France proper. Jacques Doriot’s French People’s Party and Marcel DeÌat’s National People’s Rally, the two major pro-Nazi parties in occupied France, had large chapters drawn from the North African Muslim immigrant community; the infamous “French Gestapo” operating from Rue Lauriston in Paris had so many Muslim recruits as to be known as an Arab Gestapo.” (8)
After World War Two, the impact of Western antisemitism did not abate in the Muslim world. Nazi and fascist criminals escaped to Muslim countries where they often served as political, military or even scientific advisors. Neo- fascist Arab nationalism—Nasserism, Algerian nationalism, Baathism, Kadhafism—was largely modeled on that Hitler and Mussolini, with some borrowings from Stalin or Maoist communism as well. Radical Islam, either Sunni or Shia, reinvigorated its own antisemitism with a Western pseudo- scientific antisemitic doxa ranging from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to Mein Kampf. New pogroms took place, new antisemitic legislation was enacted, and finally the entire Muslim world engaged in a mass expulsion of its age-old Jewish communities. Moreover, the Muslim world’s cultural life, highbrow or popular, from the universities and the print media to radio, cinema, madrassa teaching, mosque preaching, and eventually the internet, has been permeated to an unprecedented level by Western-style antisemitism.
Today, the mass migration of Muslims from Arab countries, sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and other Islamic countries, allows an unreconstructed antisemitism to spread once more in Western countries and to coalesce with the local dormant or not-too-dormant post-Holocaust antisemitism. In France, the UK, the Scandinavian countries, Belgium, and the Netherlands, the main pool for antisemitism is to be found among Muslim immigrants or children of immigrants, who now account for 10% of the global population and 20–25% of the youth.
Hence the great symbolic importance of DieudonneÌ who, as a French- African, can be seen as “one of us” both by the white European French and by the non-white, non-European neo-French. But if DieudonneÌ is the prophet of this “new” antisemitism, its caliph is Alain Bonnet, a.k.a. Alain Bonnet de Soral or just Alain Soral, a 55-year-old French-Swiss actor and lumpen- intellectual who started as a communist and switched to the Far Right some ten years ago while still claiming to be a Marxist. An erstwhile critic of DieudonneÌ, Soral eventually befriended him, and was probably the first one to fully grasp his political potential. In 2007, he launched a political club promoting an alliance between French and neo-French anti-Zionists: EgaliteÌ- ReÌconciliation (Equality and reconciliation). (9)
Some suspect DieudonneÌ and Soral to be merely canvassing support for France’s main far right political party, the National Front. Indeed, DieudonneÌ and Soral were very close to National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen for a while, his anti-immigration posture notwithstanding. In 2007, Le Pen wel- comed Soral to the party’s Central Committee, and in 2008, he agreed to be the godfather of DieudonneÌ’s third child. However, Jean-Marie’s daughter and political heir, Marine, very quickly distanced herself from both men, either out of principle or strategy or for more personal reasons: a charismatic Soral could easily become a rival.
In 2009, Soral left the National Front, which according to him had been “taken over” by “Atlanto-Zionists (supporters of the United States and Israel). Marine Le Pen, who succeded her father in 2011, has been eager to recast the party as patriotic and democratic in the Gaullist tradition, and does not countenance explicit expressions of racism or antisemitism among her supporters. Soral now claims to be a “French-style national-socialist.” In Comprendre l’Empire (Understanding the Empire, 2011), under a title bor- rowed from Italian radical philosopher Toni Negri, he claims that banks, Wall Street, the upper classes, the Protestant churches, the United States, and Israel are all leagued together to destroy sovereign nations and to consolidate their power through a “world government.” Alfred Rosenberg’s book, The Myth of the Twentieth Century, dubbed as the Third Reich’s “second most unread bestseller after Hitler’s Mein Kampf,” nevertheless offered a logically articulated rationale for the Nazi war on the Jews. Soral’s book could thus be be seen, and feared, as a would-be French Myth of the Twenty-First Century.
For many decades, conventional wisdom was that antisemitism was essentially a right-wing phenomenon, a mere offshoot of Christian bigotry, racism, or xenophobia. Then, it was realized, at least among some observers, that there was a left-wing antisemitism as well, masquerading as anti- Zionism and a perverse reading of human rights. We are now witnessing, notably in France, the emergence of a “fusion antisemitism” drawing both from right-wing and left-wing fantasies. It is not unconceivable that this new incarnation will play an ever larger role in the 21st-century pop culture and political culture and that, ironically, it will enable native Westerners and im- migrants from non-Western countries—now a sizable element in Western societies—to bridge their differences. Whether we are adequately equipped to investigate, monitor, and fight this new antisemitism remains to be seen.
It is not unconceivable either that the fusion will be averted, especially if radical Muslim militancy goes so far as to threaten not just those Westerners who actively resist its expansion but even those who, while submissive or appeasing, are not ready to convert. In this respect, the brutal murder of jour- nalists and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo magazine on January 9, 2015—just two days before the Hypercasher supermaket massacre—was not just a crime, but a blunder as well, since Charlie Hebdo had been iconic among the left-wing French since the 1968 student revolt. Many supporters of the left and the far left, hitherto complacent towards Islamism and anti-Zionism, participated in the national unity marches in Paris and other cities and chanted the Marseillaise (a call to resist Barbarians) alongside their more conservative fellow citizens.
(1) You Only Live Twice, by Michel Gurfinkiel ; Mosaic Magazine, August 2013 : http://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2013/08/you-only-live-twice/
(2) YouGov poll for The Huffington Post/France and i>TV, 10-13 January 2014 : http://cdn.yougov.com/cumulus_uploads/document/l4f8yq7rsc/Results_BPHP14_January14_Final_personnalit%C3%A9s.pdf . Ipsos poll for Le Point, 10-11 January 2014 : http://www.lepoint.fr/html/media/pdf/Barometre-ipsos-13janvier-2014.pdf
(3) Jour de Colère, l’exemple à ne pas suivre, by Ivan Rioufol ; Le Figaro/Blog, 27 January 2014 : http://blog.lefigaro.fr/rioufol/2014/01/jour-de-colere-lexemple-a-ne-p.html
(4) Nouvelles fractures françaises, an Ipsos-Steria poll for Le Monde : http://www.ipsos.fr/decrypter-societe/2014-01-21-nouvelles-fractures-francaises-resultats-et-analyse-l-enquete-ipsos-steria
(5) Marcion : The Gospel of the Alien God, by Adolf Harnarck ; Baker Books, 1990 : http://www.amazon.com/Marcion-Gospel-Alien-Adolf-Harnack/dp/1556357036/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1450290051&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=harnarck+marcion#reader_1556357036 . La Gnose, by H. Leisegang ; Editions Payot, 1951, pages 191-197. Marcion of Sinope, Wikipedia : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcion_of_Sinope . Marcionites, in Catholic Encyclopedia : http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09645c.htm . Marcion, Portrait of a Heretic, by Robert Bradshaw ; EarlyChurch.org.uk : http://www.earlychurch.org.uk/article_marcion.html
(6) The full transcript of the press conference held by President Charles de Gaulle on 27 November 1967 is available at Ina.fr : http://fresques.ina.fr/de-gaulle/fiche-media/Gaulle00139/conference-de-presse-du-27-novembre-1967.html
(7) Under Crescent & Cross, by Mark R. Cohen, Princeton University Press, 1994 : http://www.amazon.com/Under-Crescent-Cross-Jews-Middle/dp/0691139318/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1450336630&sr=1-4&keywords=mark+r.cohen . Israiliyat, by G. Vagda, in Encyclopedia of Islam, Brill Academic Publishers, 2004 : http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopaedia-Of-Islam-CD-ROM-Edition/dp/9004141146/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1450298697&sr=8-1&keywords=encyclopedia+of+islam+brill. The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, by Andrew G. Bostom ; Prometheus Books, 2008 : http://www.amazon.com/Legacy-Islamic-Antisemitism-Sacred-History/dp/1591025540/ref=sr_1_3/102-8993833-1476108?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1179229261&sr=1-3#reader_1591025540. Muslims Fears of the Year 2000, by David Cook ; Middle East Quarterly, June 1988 : http://www.meforum.org/397/muslim-fears-of-the-year-20002 .
(8) Légion nord-africaine, Wikipedia : https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%A9gion_nord-africaine ; Mohamed el-Maadi, Wikipedia : https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohamed_el-Maadi ; Rassemblement national populaire, Wikipedia : https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rassemblement_national_populaire .
(9) Is France goint National-Socialist ?, by Michel Gurfinkiel ; PJMedia, 17 February 2014 : https://pjmedia.com/blog/is-france-going-national-socialist/?singlepage=true ; Newsletter du Crif, 21 February 2014 : http://www.crif.org/fr/tribune/france-going-national-socialist-sinister-trend-breaks-limelight/49389
This paper was first published as Chapter XVI of Anti-Judaism, Antisemitism and Deligitimizing Israel, a collective book edited by Robert S. Wistrich (University of Nebraska Press, 2016).
© Michel Gurfinkiel & The Vidal Sassoon Center for the Study of Antisemitism, 2016.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michel Gurfinkiel, a French journalist and public intellectual, is the Founder and President of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a political think-thank, and a Shillman/Ginsburg Fellow at Middle East Forum. He served as editor-in-chief of Valeurs Actuelles from 1985 to 2006, and authored several books on geopolitics, international relations and antisemitism. He sits on the Political Committee of the Representative Council of the French Jewish Organizations (Crif), and on the Board of Consistoire, the French National Union of Synagogues.
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