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Archive for July, 2017

[update below]

Emmanuel Macron gave a powerful speech last Sunday, on the 75th anniversary of the Rafle du Vél’ d’Hiv, in which—following François Hollande’s equally powerful speech of 2012—he reaffirmed the responsibility of the French state in one of the greatest crimes committed on French soil on a single day in the modern era. Macron’s words were, among other things, a pointed jab at Marine Le Pen, who, in the final phase of the presidential campaign, mouthed the now thoroughly discredited notion that the French state bore no responsibility for the roundup of Jews in France during the German occupation—and which was astonishingly repeated by Jean-Luc Mélenchon—and to his discredit—in an anti-Macron broadside after the event.

Macron’s otherwise excellent speech did, however, contain one sentence—a single word, in fact—that has caused a storm of indignation and polemics on social media—and biting critiques by gauchistes and other tiersmondistes—which was the equating of anti-Zionism with antisemitism: “Alors oui, nous ne céderons rien aux messages de haine, nous ne céderons rien à l’antisionisme car il est la forme réinventée de l’antisémitisme” [emphasis on the definite article “la”]. (N.B. The official English translation of Macron’s speech does not accurately translate the phrase in question.)

Now it is incontestable that “Zionist” has become a code word for “Jew” on the far right and the gauche rouge-brune, not to mention among Arabs, Muslims, and all sorts of other people, and that those who use it as such are indeed antisemites. Ça va de soi. À propos, the Irish Marxist writer-militant Richard Seymour had a well-informed essay in the très gauchiste Jacobin webzine, dated August 8th 2014, on “The anti-Zionism of fools,” in which he wrote that “[h]owever distorted and exaggerated, antisemitism [cloaked as anti-Zionism] is a real current in France that needs to be confronted.” But to assert—as Macron appeared to do—that everyone who calls him/herself an anti-Zionist is ipso facto a Jew-hater is not only empirically false but dangerous. It is also bullshit.

Zionism needs to be defined, of course, and what it means to be opposed to it. The fact is, many, if not most, people out there who casually say they’re anti-Zionist don’t actually know what Zionism is. If the question is put to them—and I have done so on numerous occasions over the years, particularly to Maghrebi friends—the response is usually framed as opposition to the occupation and all the bad things Israel does. The understanding of the term is, to put it mildly, not informed.

As for what Zionism means, the Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua offered, in a 2013 tribune in Haaretz, a succinct definition

A Zionist is a person who [prior to 1948] desires or supports the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, which in the future will become the state of the Jewish people. This is based on what Herzl said: “In Basel I founded the Jewish state.”

The key word in this definition is “state,” and its natural location is the Land of Israel because of the Jewish people’s historical link to it. (…)

A Zionist, therefore, is a Jew who supported the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, and not necessarily one who actually settled in the land. Herzl himself and many Zionist leaders never settled in the land, yet you wouldn’t hesitate to call them Zionists.

Yehoshua specifies

Zionism is not an ideology. If the definition of ideology, according to the Hebrew Encyclopedia, is as follows − “A cohesive, systematic combination of ideas, insights, principles and imperatives that finds expression in the particular worldview of a sect, a party or a social class” − then Zionism cannot be considered an ideology, but merely a very broad platform for various ideologies that may even contradict one another.

Ever since the State of Israel was founded in 1948, the definition of “Zionist” has been revised, since we don’t need to establish another state. Therefore, its definition is as follows: A Zionist is a person who accepts the principle that the State of Israel doesn’t belong solely to its citizens, but to the entire Jewish people. The practical expression of this commitment is the Law of Return. (…)

According to Yehoshua’s definition of what it means to be a “Zionist” today—to which I have no particular objection—a certain number of Jews themselves—American, French, etc, and on the left for the most part—would have to call themselves anti-Zionists, as they do not consider that Israel belongs to them—at least any more than to a diaspora Palestinian—that Israel should indeed belong only to its citizens, but which includes the 20% of the Israeli population that is not Jewish. The suggestion that a Jew—or, say, a Palestinian citizen of Israel—who feels strongly that Israel should be a state only for its actual citizens—with all enjoying exactly the same rights and duties, regardless of confession—is ipso facto an antisemite is not only preposterous but also libelous. This kind of demagogic accusation only discredits the person making it.

The journalist Sylvain Cypel—formerly of Le Monde and who lived in Israel for most of his formative years, including university—has a pointed response to Macron in the Orient XXI webzine, “Non, l’antisionisme n’est pas un antisémitisme réinventé.” The key passage:

Quant au fond, l’assimilation de l’antisionisme à une nouvelle mouture de l’antisémitisme est une erreur funeste. Cette assertion est l’une des clefs de voûte depuis des décennies de la hasbara, la communication israélienne. Et plus Israël s’enfonce dans la domination coloniale d’un autre peuple, les Palestiniens, plus l’assertion «antisionisme égal antisémitisme» est répétée pour stigmatiser quiconque critique cette domination.

En soi, la méthode consistant à délégitimer la critique en démonisant son auteur est vieille comme la politique. Ainsi Joseph Staline et ses émules assimilaient-ils toute critique du communisme soviétique à du «fascisme». Si les fascistes étaient viscéralement anticommunistes, cela ne faisait pas de tous les contempteurs du régime soviétique des fascistes. Mais les staliniens continuaient à vilipender leurs adversaires, sans distinction, sous ce vocable infamant. Aujourd’hui, un Robert Mugabe, au Zimbabwe, qualifie régulièrement ses adversaires de «défenseurs de l’apartheid». Que des racistes patentés figurent parmi les dénonciateurs de l’autocrate zimbabwéen est évident. Mais que tous soient des nostalgiques de la ségrégation raciale est une accusation délirante et dérisoire. On pourrait multiplier les exemples.

Il en va de même de l’idée selon laquelle l’antisionisme serait la version moderne de l’antisémitisme. D’abord parce que l’antisionisme n’est pas une idéologie très définie. Historiquement, il a consisté à récuser l’idée d’une solution nationaliste à la question juive. Aujourd’hui, il y a en Israël des gens qui se disent antisionistes par simple hostilité à une occupation des Palestiniens menée au nom même du sionisme. D’autres se disent «post-sionistes» parce qu’à leurs yeux, l’ambition du sionisme étant la constitution d’un État juif, son existence annule d’autorité la nécessité du sionisme. Je connais enfin des Israéliens tout à fait sionistes qui sont si révulsés par la politique de Nétanyahou qu’ils se disent honorés d’être traités d’«antisionistes» par un gouvernement d’extrême droite raciste et colonialiste. Ces derniers remplissent par exemple les rangs d’une ONG comme Breaking the Silence, qui regroupe des soldats dénonçant les crimes commis par leur armée contre des Palestiniens et dont plusieurs des dirigeants sont des officiers et aussi des juifs pieux. Ils ne sont pas antisémites. Ils sont même l’honneur d’Israël. Quant à moi, je considère le sionisme comme une question philosophiquement désuète. En revanche, si le sionisme, comme le prône Nétanyahou, consiste à exiger la reconnaissance d’Israël pour mieux empêcher le droit des Palestiniens à l’autodétermination, alors je suis antisioniste. Serais-je donc antisémite?

So if Netanyahu and others on the Israeli right define Zionism as giving Jews the right to settle anywhere in Eretz Israel—i.e. in Judea and Samaria—does this mean that those who oppose such settlement are antisemites?

The Israeli historian Shlomo Sand, in a “Lettre ouverte à M. le Président de la République française,” published in Mediapart, rhetorically asked if Macron, “[l]’ancien étudiant en philosophie, l’assistant de Paul Ricœur a-t-il si peu lu de livres d’histoire, au point d’ignorer que nombre de juifs, ou de descendants de filiation juive se sont toujours opposés au sionisme sans, pour autant, être antisémites?” My dear friend Adam Shatz, in a social media commentary on Sand’s letter, remarked

on the unfortunate and tendentious conflation of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in Macron’s otherwise admirable Vel d’Hiv address. Sand eviscerates Macron’s claims, but the pièce de résistance is his remark that thanks to Israel’s self-definition as the state of the Jewish people (not of the people – even the Jews! – who live in it), the state belongs far more to diaspora Jews like BHL and Alain Finkielkraut than it does to Sand’s Israeli-Palestinian students, whose Hebrew in some cases is better than his!

To oppose such ethno-racial exclusion inside Israel, as well as the apartheid in the Occupied Territories, is hardly to engage in anti-Semitic discrimination, much less call for the “destruction” of Israel or the Jews. (This is a well known Zionist canard, which curiously asks us to imagine that without such discrimination, the state itself would crumble: so much for the dream of “normalizing” the Jews in a modern nation-state.) Rather, to critique actually existing Zionism is to oppose discrimination, racism and oppression, which, outside Israel (and among a dwindling number of Israeli Jews), has been a venerable Jewish tradition. As Sand points out, some of the finest members of this dissenting tradition have been French: Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Maxime Rodinson, Esther Benbassa, Daniel Bensaïd, Rony Brauman. If the new French president, justly praised for his intellect, thinks anti-Zionism is simply the contemporary form of anti-Semitism (which is not to say it never is), and if he thinks he’s combating anti-Semitism by cozying up to the likes of Netanyahu (who is all too happy to cover for Hungarian Jew haters sympathetic to Israel), he still has a lot of learning to do.

An AWAV friend—a secular French Jew who would no doubt refer to himself as non- or anti-Zionist—pointed to one possible unintended consequence of Macron’s words, which is its implication for France’s hate speech laws, notably the 1972 Loi Pleven:

Puisque antisionisme = antisémitisme, il sera donc désormais illégal en France de critiquer publiquement le sionisme et tout particulièrement d’émettre des réserves sur les pratiques des défenseurs du sionisme tel que mis en œuvre actuellement en marge du droit international par l’état d’Israël, au hasard et par exemple le développement constant des colonies en Cisjordanie occupée. Critiquer cela équivaut peu ou prou à tenir des propos antisémites.

Then there was the very presence of Netanyahu at the Vel’ d’Hiv commemoration. I initially chalked this up to diplomacy and realpolitik, as an astute maneuver by Macron to cultivate a relationship with the Israeli PM (as he did with Putin and Trump). But the symbolism of Bibi at the ceremony was difficult to swallow for many—president Reuven Rivlin would have been more palatable—and particularly the place of honor of the Israeli flag. The Rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv is a French (and German) story, not an Israeli one. It has nothing to do with Israel (which of course did not exist at the time). There was, objectively speaking, no good reason to invite any high Israeli dignitary to the event. Now Macron could have perhaps justified the Netanyahu invitation if this would eventually yield diplomatic dividends. But as we were reminded during his visit to Hungary last week, Netanyahu couldn’t care less about France or the European Union, both of which he disdains. The notion that France can exercise any influence over Israel when it comes to the “peace process” is the height of naïveté. So rolling out the red carpet for Bibi last Sunday was ill-advised on Macron’s part.

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire, pour le moment au moins.

UPDATE: Emmanuel Macron, prior to the anti-Zionist/antisemitism brouhaha, got into hot water on social media for his words at the G20 press conference in Hamburg, on July 8th, in which he made a remark on the fertility rate in Africa that rubbed people the wrong way, including well-known specialists of the continent. Some on social media even went so far as call Macron a “racist”—which I saw myself—and with others comparing what he said in Hamburg with Nicolas Sarkozy’s notorious 2007 Dakar speech. As for the latter, it was precisely that: a text written by Sarkozy’s top political adviser and that Sarkozy presumably read over before delivering. What Macron said at the G20 was extemporaneous. He was responding to a question at a press conference from an Ivorian journalist about development aid to Africa and who mentioned the Marshall Plan, and with Macron responding as to why the Marshall Plan parallel is not an appropriate one for Africa today (watch it here, from 25:26). He would have no doubt rephrased what he said about African demography if he had had advance knowledge of the question—and perhaps not pronounced the word “civilisationnel“—but the fact of the matter is, nothing Macron said, substantively-speaking, was ill-considered or wrong. To call him “racist” is so ridiculous as to not merit a response.  And what he said cannot be compared to Sarkozy’s Dakar speech. Case closed.

Watching Macron at the press conference, one is struck by how smart, knowledgeable, and well-spoken he is. The total, 180° opposite of his counterpart outre-Atlantique, ça va de soi.

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[update below]

The greatest parade in the world, as I say on every Bastille Day. Today’s was somewhat particular in view of the guest of honor, whom Emmanuel Macron invited to commemorate the centenary of America’s entry into World War I and the arrival of US troops in France. I was initially appalled by the specter of le gros con at the Place de la Concorde on France’s fête nationale but, after a few seconds of reflection, figured that it was totally normal that the president of the French Republic would invite the POTUS to Paris to mark the occasion, and all the more so as the parade was to be led by 190 American soldiers and with a flyover by US Air Force Thunderbirds and an F-22 Raptor.

As for the politics of the invitation, I think it was a shrewd move on Macron’s part. And Trump—who tweeted that the parade was “magnificent”—was clearly impressed and enjoyed himself. He looked like a boy seeing a military parade for the very first time (“Wow! Awesome! Why can’t we have parades like that?”). If that gets him gushing about France and enables Macron to roll him in the process, tant mieux.

The army marching band’s playing Daft Punk at the end: that was pretty cool IMO. I doubt anyone was expecting that one.

For pundit commentary, if one is interested, France 24 had a round-table last night on “Trump in Paris: America’s new place in the world.” The representative of Republicans in France: I had the dubious pleasure of debating him some seven years back. I told the debate host afterward never again to pair us in a contradictory exchange. As for the rep of La France Insoumise, he’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s spokesman for defense and foreign policy. No comment.

France 5’s ‘C dans l’air’ yesterday on Trump in Paris is also worth the watch.

UPDATE: The New Yorker’s very smart Francophile Adam Gopnik, in a comment otherwise riddled with small errors on French political parties and recent French political history, asks “Why is Emmanuel Macron being so nice to Donald Trump?”

See also the FT’s Gideon Rachman column, “Emmanuel Macron demonstrates fine art of handling Donald Trump.”

Writer and broadcaster Mary Dejevsky, writing in The Guardian, says that “Even in the face of Trump’s sexism, Macron is a genius in diplomacy.” The lede: “The French president showed elegance and discretion with Trump, as he has with Putin. His diplomatic skill shows up Theresa May’s ineptitude.”

And The Washington Post’s sharp Paris correspondent, James McAuley, says “‘Thank you, dear Donald’: Why Macron invited Trump to France.”

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Liu Xiaobo, R.I.P.

My friend Xiaorong Li has a remembrance in The New York Times, “Liu Xiaobo’s Unflappable Optimism.”

Also see the well-known Sinologist Perry Link on “the passion of Liu Xiaobo,” in the NYR Daily.

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Simone Veil, R.I.P.

The homages and outpouring of emotion over the past two days have been exceptional, not to mention the media coverage. Not since François Mitterrand in 1996 has a political personality in France been so celebrated on his/her death. France is at one on this (a few pauvres cons apart). Simone Veil was, as they say here, un personnage hors norme. She was an exceptional individual and who led an exceptional life—though experienced tragedy in her adolescence that no one reading this can possibly imagine: a Holocaust survivor (Auschwitz-Birkenau, the death march, Bergen-Belsen), but losing her parents and brother; an accomplished magistrate and who rose to the top of the profession, which was not common for a woman of the era (1950s-60s) and while raising three children to boot; appointed Minister of Health in 1974, only the second woman in French history to attain such a governmental post, and at a time when women made up less than 2% of the deputies in the National Assembly; author of the law legalizing abortion (and which carries her name); the first president of the directly elected European Parliament and first female president of any EU institution; Minister of Health (and Social Affairs) again in the 1990s; appointed to the Constitutional Council (1998-2007)—France’s supreme court—and then to the Académie Française (2008)… It is hardly surprising that, from the 1980s onward, her name figured in all the rankings of the most admired persons in France—reaching nº 3 in 2015—and that her 2007 memoir, Une vie, was a best-seller.

Politically speaking, Simone Veil was a centrist: liberal and pro-Europe, who allied with the right throughout her political career—she was a direct adherent of the UDF from the 1980s to the mid ’90s—though flirted with the center-left at times. Le Monde’s Anne Chemin thus informs us in her lengthy obituary

Simone Veil évolue dans les milieux du Mouvement républicain populaire (MRP) dont son mari est proche, mais son cœur penche parfois à gauche: elle est européenne, libérale et ouverte sur les questions de société.

Elle s’enthousiasme pour Pierre Mendès France, glisse à plusieurs reprises un bulletin de vote socialiste dans l’urne et s’inscrit brièvement au Syndicat de la magistrature. En mai 1968, elle observe avec bienveillance la rébellion des étudiants du Quartier latin. «Contrairement à d’autres, je n’estimais pas que les jeunes se trompaient: nous vivions bel et bien dans une société figée», écrit-elle.

And this tidbit

Lors de la présidentielle de 1969, elle vote pour Georges Pompidou… sans se douter qu’elle intégrera bientôt le cabinet du garde des sceaux, René Pleven. Elle enchaîne ensuite les premières en devenant, en 1970, la première femme secrétaire générale du Conseil supérieur de la magistrature, puis, l’année suivante, la première femme à siéger au conseil d’administration de l’ORTF. Ce parcours suscite un certain étonnement dans les milieux bourgeois qu’elle fréquente. «Nos parents étaient assez atypiques, note son fils Jean Veil. Ma mère travaillait alors que celles de mes copains jouaient au bridge ou restaient à la maison.»

I’ve told my American students over the years of the verbal violence, some of which bordered on the anti-Semitic, that Simone Veil sustained during the parliamentary debate over legalizing abortion, and entirely from her own camp—she being a member of PM Jacques Chirac’s government and piloting a bill mandated by newly elected president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (the law passed thanks to votes from deputies of the left). But Mme Veil, a political novice at the time, was strong, had thick skin, and was not intimidated. No one ever intimidated her. It’s not for nothing that she has long been an icon among women in France, for the law that bears her name and her general persona.

Despite the nightmarish year she spent in the Nazi death camps and the murder of family members, she was a strong supporter of the Franco-German partnership. That’s admirable. And malgré the collaboration of the French state with the German occupation during the war, she never wavered in her patriotism. This was, however, not preordained, as Le Monde’s Anne Chemin, quoting Serge Klarsfeld, specifies

Parmi les rescapés de la Shoah, elle est la seule à s’engager dans une carrière politique de cette ampleur, servant un pays qui a pourtant œuvré à la déportation de sa famille. «Simone Veil n’a pas eu de “blessures à la France”, car sa famille, comme mon père, a été arrêtée par des Allemands, pas par la police française, analyse Serge Klarsfeld. Pour elle comme pour moi, c’est très important. Si ces arrestations avaient été le fait de la police française, j’aurais sans doute quitté ce pays et Simone Veil n’aurait sans doute pas eu la carrière politique qu’elle a eue.»

Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika sent a letter of condolence to Simone Veil’s family, writing that “the Algerian people count Simone Veil among the friends of just causes” for her successful effort as a magistrate during the Algerian war to save 110 FLN prisoners from the guillotine.

Nicolas Sarkozy—not someone I would normally reference favorably—has a particularly moving tribute to Mme Veil, that may be read on the blog of an AWAV friend.

Political scientist and France specialist George Ross, who is presently ad personam Chaire Jean Monnet at the University of Montreal-McGill Center for Excellence on the European Union, offered this memory on Facebook on Friday

We gave [Simone Veil] an honorary doctorate at Brandeis in the 1980s and I was nominated to be her host. This meant making sure that she was comfortable, protected from the boors, spoken to in her language by someone who knew a bit, or perhaps more than a bit, about her life and achievements, etc. I must say that she was among the very first centre-right political figures whose work and motives I could fully understand. She was a true liberal, deeply European, and a feminist, of course, highly cultivated, charming, and discreet. We drove her around Boston a bit and the most touching, and perhaps revealing, moment in this was taking her to Bloomingdale’s (I think it was B’s) to buy bed sheets as a present for a younger member of her family – at that point the USA still was known for such things. I had already known several important French politicians by this point, none of which could I imagine actually rummaging around a department store in search of bed sheets. She did it with diligence and tenderness for the person for whom the gift was destined. A memory of a true grande dame! Would there be many more of them!

The state funeral for Simone Veil will be held on Wednesday, July 5th, at the Invalides.

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