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Archive for the ‘France: politics 2016-18’ Category

This post began as a Facebook exchange between me and my friend Claire Berlinski over Emmanuel Macron’s 2 hour 38 minute BFM-Mediapart-RMC interview Sunday night—excellently analyzed by Arthur Goldhammer here—that I’m shifting to AWAV. Claire, who caught snippets of the interview on RMC—I watched pretty much the whole thing on BFM—heard from her father—who lives in Paris, as does she—that the interviewers, Jean-Jacques Bourdin and Edwy Plenel, had behaved rudely toward President Macron. After an exchange on this, she wrote

I didn’t watch, but my guess would be that they felt comfortable being mouthy with him *not* because all decency and respect for the office of the presidency has broken down and we’re turning and turning in the widening gyre, but simply because Macron is so young. True, “They wouldn’t have dared to speak like that to CDG or VGE or my God even Hollande,” as my appalled father said, but one look at photos of all France’s postwar presidents, side-by-side, suggests why. It just isn’t instinctive to look at someone young enough to be your kid (as opposed to old enough to be your father) and think, “That’s an authority figure, you must show him deference.”

That Macron’s managed to become president of a country like France — where so much unconscious association is made between the presidency and the monarchy; where so much respect is naturally afforded to a certain kind of formal, older man of culture and good breeding—shows that even though Macron’s a centrist politically, and obviously an intelligent and cultured kid, the French were in a truly revolutionary mood when they put him in office. As indeed they were, given that they pretty much destroyed the ancien régime at the same time.

In some ways, if American voters said, en masse, “We’re going to show the establishment that we have so little respect for them that we’d literally rather give Bozo the Clown the suitcase than reward one of them,” the French did something psychologically very similar — although it seems much less radical to *our* minds, first because we’re Americans, so we’re more used to having younger presidents in office, and now, even religious and racial minorities; second, because Macron is so much more respectable, politically, and stable, emotionally, that we don’t see him as in any way a Trump analogue.

But I suspect, for France, putting what looks to them like a *child* in that office was a similar act of contempt and rebellion. (Although it’s a rebellion much more likely, in the end, to get them what they want: a better country to live in, with more opportunity, a higher standard of living, and more global power. Our rebellion is obviously going to achieve none of those things; quite to the contrary.)

The other thing that would have usually made him totally unelectable, but this time made him electable *precisely* because voters wanted to say, “And screw you all” to the establishment, was Brigitte. “So, these assholes all think they’re entitled to screw beautiful young mistresses while they screw the country, too? To hell with them all. Let’s replace them with a guy who barely looks old enough to shave — and who sure won’t be using our votes — or our taxpayer money — to bang Carla Bruni or Julie Gayet in the Elysée Palace, because that woman would kill him, literally.” I think that was a much bigger act of defiance, of “épater le bourgeois,” than generally appreciated.

My response to Claire:

I think you’re over-analyzing here. First, on the interviewers Bourdin and Plenel being “mouthy” with Macron and behaving rudely, I don’t think his relative youth was a factor. That’s simply the interviewing style of the two journalists in question, which is precisely why Macron specifically selected them for the event. He knew what he was getting into. He was eager to joust. If he had wanted to be treated with kid gloves and lobbed softball questions, he could have chosen any number of high profile TV news personalities known for their deference to the powerful, e.g. David Pujadas or Anne-Sophie Lapix (who interviewed François Hollande last Tuesday on France 2). And if you caught Macron’s TF1 interview last Thursday with Jean-Pierre Pernaut, you won’t have noted any mouthiness.

N.B. On the president of the republic deciding who is going to interview him on national television, in no other advanced democracy would such a thing happen. In the Western world, only in France does the president/prime minister select the journalists for such an interview. In this respect—as in almost all others—Macron has not broken with the practice of his predecessors.

On Macron’s youth—having turned 40 last December—everyone knows it, of course, but it actually hasn’t been an issue or subject of public or media discussion. And it’s not as if France hasn’t had relatively youthful presidents and PMs in recent times (e.g. Giscard d’Estaing, Laurent Fabius). Moreover, while Macron may be youthful in both age and looks, he has impeccably, almost effortlessly, slid into the role as president of France’s monarchical republic. Not even his fiercest critics would deny that he has taken on the stature, that it fits him like a glove—and far more so than his two predecessors, Sarkozy and Hollande, whose personal behavior and style (for different reasons) debased the presidency in the eyes of so many. Macron acts like a president of the republic. And, importantly, he is exceptionally bright, well-spoken, and cultivated, and with an intellectual culture—taken very seriously here, by elites and masses alike—that is head and shoulders above that of his two predecessors. As an énarque—and inspecteur de finance to boot—one would hardly expect less. He moved into the Élysée palace last May knowing exactly what to do and with a intimate knowledge of how the French state works and who is who. So on the level of form, he cuts the figure. And, to repeat, everyone knows it. So his age is simply not an issue.

As for the French people having been in a “truly revolutionary mood” in electing Macron, well, I would put it differently. The French electorate was indeed in an ornery state last year, but which was expressed not by supporting Macron’s unlikely candidacy but in giving 21.3% of the 1st round vote to Marine Le Pen and—of equal importance—an amazing 19.6% to Jean-Luc Mélenchon. If one adds the lesser candidates on the extremes, the total vote garnered by populist/extremist/anti-system candidates in the presidential 1st round was 49.6%. That is to say, fully half of the French electorate—and the turnout, at 78%, was high—cast a “fuck you” vote last April. And none of that went to Emmanuel Macron, who so utterly epitomized the “establishment,” even though he was indeed an insurgent candidate. The state of mind of the French electorate was, ergo, not so different from that of other European polities witnessing a populist surge. What was different in France was the configuration of the party and, above all, electoral systems, the latter of which could have yielded a catastrophic result but thankfully did not.

In point of fact, Macron’s victory—and I’ve written this before—was the product of a perfect storm, or of the stars perfectly aligning (choose your metaphor). It took a crazy series of serendipitous happenings over a three month period—from late November 2016 to February 2017—for Macron to be transformed from a candidate no one took seriously into a veritable homme providentiel. To recap: 1. There was the primary of the right and center in late November ’16, that Alain Juppé—the incarnation of moderate conservatism—was supposed to win handily, thus rendering him the prohibitive favorite to win the presidency the following May. But in a coup de théâtre—that no one saw coming until the very closing stretch—he was eliminated by the more right-wing François Fillon, who then became the favorite, though whose victory left a gaping hole on the center-right of the political spectrum. 2. On December 1st, François Hollande announced that he would not seek reelection. Had he done so, he and Macron would have battled for the same voters. Whatever the outcome of their mano a mano, it is unlikely that either would have made it to the 2nd round. 3. Le Canard Enchaîné, in its January 25th issue, broke the “Penelope Gate” story, which mired Fillon in inextricable scandal, all but wrecked his candidacy, and with center-right voters looking for an alternative. 4. The Socialist Party, largely discredited after five years of failure in power and bitterly divided, held its primary in late January, with the leftist Benoît Hamon pummeling the centrist (and much loathed on the left) Manuel Valls. Valls’s elimination opened more space in the center and center-left, with his voters—who either despised Hamon or deemed that he had no chance of making it to the 2nd round—largely defecting to Macron. 5. On February 22nd, the centrist, perennial presidential candidate François Bayrou announced that he wouldn’t be running a fourth time and proposed an alliance with Macron.

The upshot: A wide space on the political spectrum, from center-left to center-right, was freed up by the five above-mentioned serendipitous happenings, to be  occupied by Macron alone. And with the collapse of Hamon’s base—with leftist PS voters defecting to Mélenchon and more centrist ones to Macron—this made it so that Macron was the only acceptable 2nd round candidate to voters not on the hard left or hard/extreme right. His brand of social liberalism was a breath of fresh air to many of his voters but it is clear that a sizable portion of them supported him mainly to prevent a Le Pen-Fillon 2nd round. And his 2nd round vote was, of course, largely anti-Le Pen. As for Macron’s bilan after a year in office, I’ll address that in due course.

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It was a ‘marche blanche’: a silent march—with no chanting or shouting of slogans—yesterday evening, in homage of Mireille Knoll, who, as one knows by now, was the 85-year-old Jewish woman who was atrociously murdered in her Paris apartment—an HLM in the 11th arrondissement—last Friday, by two men who have been arrested for the act. While their identities or motives have not yet been revealed, the police are treating it as an antisemitic hate crime. Everyone with half a conscience has been profoundly shocked: by the particulars of the crime, Mme Knoll’s age—both recalling the equally horrific murder of Sarah Halimi a year ago, and in the same part of the city—and her having narrowly escaped the Rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv as a child (and whose husband was a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau).

Some twenty to thirty thousand showed up for the march—a good turnout for a weekday—which went in a loop from Place de la Nation up Boulevard Voltaire, right on Rue de Charonne, down Avenue Philippe Auguste past Mme Knoll’s building and back to Nation. I took some photos, which one may see in the album here (and with commentary; click on the first photo and advance with the arrow). The majority of the marchers were Jews, though one sensed that there were proportionally more non-Jews present than at the big march for Ilan Halimi on February 26, 2006 (which I participated in). The relative absence of non-Jews at the latter was disappointing—French Jews felt let down by the seeming lack of solidarity from the larger society, particularly in view of the horrific nature of the Ilan Halimi assassination (I discuss it here and here)—so it was symbolically important that it be different this time. And it was.

The march was initiated by the CRIF, in a tweet on Monday, in memory and support of Mme Knoll’s family, and to “express the compassion of all Frenchmen and women.” Politicians from across the spectrum were present (I didn’t see them myself), including a slew of government ministers—Gérard Collomb, Jean-Michel Blanquer, Marlène Schiappa, Nicolas Hulot, and Françoise Nyssen—and representatives of parties, e.g. Christophe Castaner (REM), Laurent Wauquiez (LR), Gérard Larcher (LR), Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo (PS), and Pierre Laurent (PCF). CRIF president Francis Kalifat provoked a pointless, unfortunate polemic, however, in declaring beforehand that Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon were not welcome at the march, nor any representatives of their respective parties. Requesting that Marine Le Pen not come could be comprehended—in view of her father’s and party’s history in regard to antisemitism, and which MLP has not disavowed or apologized for—but it was unacceptable in the case of Mélenchon and others in his party, La France Insoumise. The ostensible reason was the support for BDS by Mélenchon’s Parti de Gauche—the principal constituent of La France Insoumise—except that this issue has nothing whatever to do with an antisemitic crime committed in France. Kalifat was injecting politics into what was supposed to be a non-political march that united Frenchmen and women across the board. Moreover, no one has ever suggested that Mélenchon or anyone in the leadership of FI is antisemitic or has a problem with Jews. If anyone were to publicly make such an accusation, s/he could be sued for libel—and be deservedly convicted. Whatever one thinks of Mélenchon—and as AWAV readers know, I am not a fan of his—his words on Mireille Knoll have been unimpeachable, as was his powerful homage to Arnaud Beltrame in the National Assembly on Tuesday, which was roundly applauded from left to right. Kalifat’s dissing of JLM was a political error.

Libération’s invariably excellent Laurent Joffrin nailed it in a commentary yesterday, entitled La boulette du CRIF:

Pas très malin, le CRIF… Au moment où l’opinion s’émeut, tous partis confondus, du meurtre de Mireille Knoll, sans doute crapuleux mais dont la justice estime à ce stade qu’il est aussi marqué du sceau de l’antisémitisme, voilà que le Conseil déclenche une polémique subalterne et malvenue. Le cas du Front national est certes épineux quand on connaît son passé en la matière, même si Marine Le Pen se garde de toute allusion antisémite. Mais celui de Jean-Luc Mélenchon touche au grotesque. Quand le leader de La France insoumise aurait-il cédé à une mauvaise pente ? Jamais, que l’on sache. A moins d’amalgamer toute critique du gouvernement israélien à de l’antisémitisme, vieille ficelle propagandiste. Diviser quand il faut réunir : on ne saurait être plus maladroit. L’organisation communautaire a d’ailleurs été désavouée aussitôt par le fils de Mireille Knoll, plus avisé et plus généreux que ses défenseurs institutionnels. Cet homme meurtri fait plus contre le communautarisme que bien d’autres.

L’incident ne saurait détourner de l’essentiel. Les agressions contre les Français juifs sont une injure intolérable contre la République et contre l’humanité. Ce qui est intolérable doit être combattu avec la dernière énergie. Les participants à la marche blanche de mercredi le comprennent ainsi. Sursaut salutaire, alors que les Français juifs avaient jusque-là le sentiment que souvent ces agressions se déroulaient dans une relative indifférence. A l’antisémitisme de l’extrême droite, qu’on avait fait reculer, s’ajoute maintenant, comme le souligne Michel Wieviorka, un antisémitisme issu de milieux musulmans, qui tient pour beaucoup à l’obsession antijuive des courants islamistes, mais aussi à la résurgence de préjugés ancestraux, même si la grande majorité des Français musulmans s’en tiennent à l’écart. Dans ces circonstances, les Français juifs doivent savoir qu’ils peuvent compter sur la solidarité indéfectible de tous les républicains.

Watch here the declaration of Mireille Knoll’s son, Daniel, rejecting the position of the CRIF on Mélenchon et al, saying that everyone was welcome at the march.

As it happens, both MLP and JLM did show up at the march, the latter accompanied by several top FI personalities (Éric Coquerel, Clémentine Autain, Adrien Quatennens, Alexis Corbière, Raquel Garrido). JLM and his entourage had to be quickly exfiltrated by the police after being showered with insults and threats from a gang of bully boys from the LDJ (French JDL). But MLP and her contingent—which included Gilbert Collard, Louis Aliot, Bruno Bilde, and Wallerand de Saint Just—were protected by the very same LDJ militants, who want to make common cause with the FN over their mutual Muslimophobia. Incredible but true. The frontistes got booed—by marchers—were escorted onto a side street by police, to reappear in front of Mme Knoll’s building before making their getaway.

Not too many Muslims were in evidence at the march—not that one can easily tell who is who—which is hardly surprising given that it was sponsored by the CRIF. Muslims in France, be they religious or not, have a bee in their collective bonnet about the CRIF, which gets under their collective skin (I know this from extensive observations on social media over the past decade, so please don’t tell me I’m wrong, because I’m not). The explanation offered for the hang-up about the CRIF is its support of Israel—as if the peak association of a Jewish community anywhere would not identify with the Jewish state—but does not convince. It goes well beyond that. Un autre sujet.

One Muslim who was at the march—whom I saw at the end—was Imam Hassen Chalghoumi, of the mosque in Drancy. He’s controversial among French Muslims and sectors of the left—for, entre autres, his close identification with the laïcard camp (Caroline Fourest, Alain Finkielkraut et al)—but is greatly appreciated by Jews, to whom he has reached out over the past dozen years. He was applauded yesterday, with people coming up to talk with him and take selfies. C’est bien.

UPDATE: The Atlantic’s Paris-based writer, Rachel Donadio, has a piece up (March 29th) on “The meaning of France’s march against anti-Semitism.” The lede: “The murder of a Holocaust survivor is forcing the country to embrace a new, unfamiliar kind of religious and ethnic solidarity.”

2nd UPDATE: Le Monde dated March 30th, the headline of which is “Antisémitisme: la prise de conscience, et après?,” has two tribunes well worth reading. One is by Pierre Birnbaum, “Antisémitisme: il est grand temps de que l’Etat protège tous ses citoyens,” in which he says, entre autres, that antisemitism is, in fact, declining in French public opinion, while acts of violence against Jews increase. The other tribune, by Pierre-André Taguieff, carries the provocative title “Il faut penser et combattre la ‘judéophobie islamisée’.” Lots of people—including some I know—will reject Taguieff’s arguments and assertions. I will be interested to hear their refutations (though will not hold my breath waiting for them).

3rd UPDATE: Laurent Joffrin has another excellent ‘lettre politique’ (March 29th), “Pour les juifs”:

Il faut revenir sur la manifestation de mercredi qui a témoigné d’un sursaut de solidarité envers les Français juifs victimes d’agressions ou de crimes. Les incidents qui l’ont troublée ne doivent pas masquer le véritable enjeu, qui va au-delà du cas dramatique de Mireille Knoll. C’est un fait établi que les juifs français sont l’objet d’une résurgence de racisme et d’intolérance très particulière, qui pose de redoutables questions, non seulement à eux mais à tout républicain.

Onze d’entre eux en dix ans ont été tués pour la simple raison qu’ils étaient juifs. Quel groupe, quelle communauté, même si on n’aime pas le mot, a subi un sort comparable ? A notre connaissance, aucune. A cela s’ajoute le harcèlement quotidien dont sont souvent victimes ces familles, à l’école, dans la rue, dans les transports. Beaucoup d’entre elles retirent leurs enfants de l’école publique par crainte de les voir agressés ; depuis les crimes sanglants de Mohammed Merah, les écoles confessionnelles ont perdu leur statut de sanctuaire.

Marc Knobel, directeur des études du Conseil représentatif des institutions juives de France (Crif), évalue à 60 000 le nombre de juifs qui ont quitté la France en dix ans. C’est-à-dire environ 10 % des Français juifs, proportion considérable. On peut chipoter sur les chiffres ou remarquer qu’une partie d’entre eux ne s’exilent pas pour des raisons de sécurité mais pour effectuer leur alya, le retour vers la Terre promise. Cela ne change rien au fait qu’il est humiliant, angoissant, pour la République, de constater qu’une partie de ses enfants, qui en sont une composante depuis tant de générations, n’ont plus confiance en elle. On dresse parfois un parallèle entre les agressions dont sont victimes les juifs et celles qui visent les musulmans, tout aussi condamnables évidemment, et dont le nombre est comparable. Mais c’est un effet d’optique. Les Français juifs sont environ dix fois moins nombreux que les Français musulmans. Les premiers sont donc dix fois plus exposés que les seconds. A cela s’ajoute le fait qu’une grande partie des meurtres sont le fait de terroristes islamistes et qu’un antisémitisme nouveau, alimenté par les obsessions des intégristes musulmans et les réactions liées au conflit israélo-palestinien, se développe depuis de longues années. Il existe toujours un antisémitisme venu de l’extrême droite comme en témoigne le succès des vidéos postées régulièrement par Alain Soral, ou l’affluence qu’on observe aux spectacles de Dieudonné ou encore les dérapages de certains membres du Front national. Mais de toute évidence, nous sommes désormais sur deux fronts et non plus un seul.

Jusqu’à mercredi, les Français juifs avaient le sentiment de tout cela se déroulait dans une relative indifférence. Les choses commencent à changer. Il faudra aller nettement plus loin. Le 5 janvier 1895, assistant à la dégradation du capitaine Dreyfus – dans cette cour des Invalides où l’on rendait, mercredi, un hommage émouvant au colonel Beltrame – Theodor Herzl se dit que si, même en France, on pouvait assister à une telle iniquité, il ne pouvait y avoir de refuge nulle part pour les juifs, sinon dans un foyer national qui leur serait propre. Cette réflexion fut à l’origine du mouvement sioniste. Pourtant, dans les années 20 et 30, beaucoup de juifs d’Europe de l’est s’installèrent en France en se disant qu’un pays capable de se déchirer dix ans autour du sort d’un seul juif, Dreyfus, pour l’innocenter in fine et le réhabiliter solennellement, serait malgré tout une terre d’accueil. Il faut se souvenir de cette histoire. Il y a dans ce double rappel un motif de crainte mais aussi des raisons d’espérer.

4th UPDATE: Mediapart has an important two-part enquête (February 9th), by Joseph Confavreux, “Gauches et antisémitisme: la genèse d’une gêne.” The lede: “Certaines gauches en France sont régulièrement accusées de complaisance envers l’antisémitisme. Insulte infamante venant d’adversaires politiques et d’institutions juives droitisées, ou constat que ces gauches sont parfois mal équipées, voire peu motivées pour prendre en charge l’hostilité contemporaine envers les juifs?” The link to the second part, “Les gauches sont-elles aveugles à un ‘antisémitisme musulman’?,” is at the end. Definitely worth reading.

5th UPDATE: Lassana Bathily, the brave young Malian hero of the Hyper Cacher terrorist attack, attended the vigil for Mireille Knoll at the Tournelles synagogue on Wednesday. Heartwarming.

6th UPDATE: Time magazine’s Vivienne Walt has a good report (March 29th) on how “The brutal murder of a Holocaust survivor is raising anti-Semitism fears in France.”

Also see the report (March 29th) by Paris-based writer Vladislav Davidzon in Tablet, “In Paris, tens of thousands march to honor slain Holocaust survivor: Including, sadly, Marine Le Pen, who was heckled by protestors and quit the rally shortly after her arrival.”

7th UPDATE: France Inter’s Thomas Legrand had an excellent editorial on March 29th (which I missed that day), “La faute du président du CRIF,” that expresses precisely my position.

8th UPDATE: French journalist Sylvain Cypel—who was, entre autres, formerly Le Monde’s correspondent in New York—has an article in The Nation (April 6th), translated by me, “The murder of Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll has exposed 2 toxic racisms in France.” The lede: “Along with the rise of anti-Semitism in Muslim and Arab communities, there’s growing hostility to France’s Muslims within the Jewish community, which draws its source in the defense of Israel.” Cypel, pour l’info, lived in Israel for a dozen years of his youth, attended the Hebrew University, and was a militant in the leftist Matzpen organization.

9th UPDATE: Le Monde’s Elise Vincent and Raphaëlle Bacqué have a lengthy report in the April 6th issue, “Dans l’immeuble de Mireille Knoll, les fantômes de la tranquillité perdue.” The lede: “Le 23 mars, le meurtre de la vieille dame juive a saisi d’effroi les habitants de cet ensemble paisible de 102 appartements du 11e arrondissement de Paris.”

10th UPDATE: Le Canard Enchaîné reports, on page 2 of the April 4th issue, that CRIF president Francis Kalifat had initially intended to ask only Marine Le Pen not to participate in the Marche Blanche, but then, on March 27th, two of Kalifat’s advisers, National Assembly deputy Meyer Habib and Knoll family lawyer Gilles-William Goldnadel—both French-Israeli dual nationals—successfully lobbied him to also refuse Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s presence. Pour l’info, Habib—who represents the 8th constituency of French citizens abroad (which includes Israel)—is a well-known supporter of the Israeli right-wing. Goldnadel is equally right-wing, having argued, along with Habib, for a rapprochement between the French Jewish community and the Front National.

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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 does in fact mean, 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, who are, for the most part, on the left—would have to call themselves anti-Zionists, as they do not consider that Israel belongs to them—at least any more than it should 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” 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.

2nd UPDATE: Jacobin magazine has published (August 2nd) an English translation of Shlomo Sand’s “open letter to Emmanuel Macron.”

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Libération

It’s over. Finally. Sunday’s election was the eighth round of voting over the past seven months (LR primary, PS primary, presidential election, legislative—all in two ballots, of course, and with me naturally voting in every one). No more elections until the European in May 2019. As Arthur Goldhammer has an instant analysis up on the Foreign Affairs website—incisive comme d’hab’, that I could have signed myself—I will make just a few comments on Sunday’s vote.

First, the size of La République en Marche’s victory was smaller than expected, surprisingly so in fact. Projections after the 1st round had REM/MoDem winning as many as 470 seats (over 80% of the total), with 400 on the low end. For a party of neophytes that won all of 32% of the 1st round vote—and with over half the electorate abstaining—even the low end would have been excessive. A newly elected president of the republic should be able to govern, but a super majority and with a marginalized opposition is not a good thing for a democracy: it bears out the perverse effects of the two-round, single-member constituency system and undermines the legitimacy of the action of the government if the latter’s poll numbers go negative.

With 350 seats, REM/MoDem has a comfortable, though not crushing, majority—and one sizable enough so that it—and Emmanuel Macron—will have no excuses for failure. And as all the other parties overperformed expectations (even the PS), everyone is reasonably content for the moment. Moreover, the fact that the combined left took some 70 seats—objectively speaking, a calamitous result—means that it will have the minimum number of deputies (60) required to refer a projet de loi to the Constitutional Council—so as to rule on its constitutionality—one possible example being the integration of key measures of the état d’urgence into ordinary legislation, which PM Édouard Philippe’s government—and with the Élysée remote-controlling—has intimated that it may propose. It was uncertain that there would even be 60 deputies of the left to do this, an eventuality that would have reduced it to total impotence. Fortunately that won’t be the case.

Second comment, on the record abstention rate (57%). This does not undermine the legitimacy of REM’s majority but does signify that President Macron does not have a mandate—a term thankfully not used here—to enact any piece of legislation he may fancy and with minimal debate or concertation with social actors, notably on reforming the Code du Travail. As this is a centerpiece of Macron’s program, reform will indeed happen and via ordonnance, as promised, but it will, politically speaking, necessitate the acquiescence of at least part of the trade union movement (the CFDT, CFTC, maybe FO; the CGT and SUD will surely oppose it no matter what). Not that the unions are more representative of the masses than is the National Assembly—they’re not—but when it comes to defending laws that offer employees some protection against being fired from their jobs for no good reason, they will have the support of public opinion (and including voters on the right). So if labor law reform happens in a context of conflict, the inevitable strikes and demonstrations will ensue and the government will descend into unpopularity, which will not be good for Macron or for France. So he will hopefully take the high abstention rate as a signal to proceed prudently and modestly on issues which are sure to generate intense opposition.

The fact is, a sizable number of the 8.9 million voters who cast ballots for REM/MoDem candidates Sunday—and which included me—did so as a pragmatic choice, though not with excessive enthusiasm. Among voters on the center-left to the center-right of the political spectrum, there is satisfaction and a general optimism—as reflected in public opinion polls but that I also hear from everyone with whom I talk who’s not on the radical left—but also some caution—as one may see in Macron’s own approval rating, which is positive though not hugely so.

Third comment, on the REM deputies, who will constitute the largest parliamentary group and with a majority in the National Assembly on their own: Going down the list of the 308, I recognized almost none of the names. In point of fact, not a single REM deputy has a national reputation. Not one is a household name. Three REM deputies who defected from EELV—François de Rugy, Barbara Pompili, Laurence Vichnievsky—are known by those who closely follow politics (Vichnievsky more as a magistrate who’s taken on high-profile cases) but have not figured in the top-tier of the political class. Richard Ferrand (who will probably head the parliamentary group) and Christophe Castaner were third-tier personalities in the PS—not known outside their constituencies—before they joined Macron. Few of the deputies know the National Assembly or have any experience crafting legislation. And they don’t know one another. It will be interesting to see how the REM parliamentary group is held together and discipline is imposed.

As for the 42 MoDem deputies, one in particular stands out: the énarque Jean-Louis Bourlanges, who is well-known in politics and in the intelligentsia, as he’s been a regular over the decades on highbrow talk-shows and the op-ed pages of the elite press. He won’t be a godillot, that’s for certain.

And who will be president of the National Assembly? This is the fourth-ranking position in the French state and that, in the Fifth Republic at least, has always been held by a senior politician. No one in REM fits the bill, nor, for that matter, in LR/UDI or the PS. Most LR heavyweights didn’t run for reelection—on account of the law on the non-cumul des mandats—or were defeated. Top LR/UDI deputies: Éric Woerth, Éric Ciotti, Christian Jacob, Thierry Solère (Macron-compatible, who may form an independent parliamentary group), Jean-Christophe Lagarde. Bof. As for the PS, it was a wipe-out. The best-known PS deputies still standing are Olivier Faure, Delphine Batho, and the Macron-compatible Stéphane Le Foll (as for Manuel Valls, he’s out of the party and has the distinction of being, in one poll at least, the most disliked politician in France, even more so than Marine Le Pen). Ça ne pisse pas loin. And how many EELV deputies are there? Not one. All gone.

The most outspoken opposition group will surely be Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise, which, as one is likely aware, did well on Sunday, sending not only JLM to the Palais Bourbon (for the first time) but also other leading FI personalities (Alexis Corbière, Éric Coquerel, Clémentine Autain, François Ruffin…). If JLM deigns to admit the ten PCF deputies, this will make his parliamentary group, at 27, the radical left’s largest since the Georges Marchais era. I am no fan of JLM, as is well-known, but think it good that he and his associates will have a tribune in the National Assembly. And likewise for Marine Le Pen and the seven other frontiste deputies, though who are not sufficiently numerous to form a parliamentary group.

It’s too bad Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet lost. One is, however, gratified by the defeat of three of LR’s most pro-Putin, pro-Syrian Baathist deputies: Nicolas Dhuicq—who, if one remembers, was a conduit for anti-Macron Russian propaganda—Thierry Mariani, and Jacques Myard.

À suivre.

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Le Monde

Three percentages to note in regard to Sunday’s vote: 51, 32, 79. The first (51%) was the abstention rate. This is a record for a French legislative election: in the Fifth Republic and probably all of French history. The previous abstention record was in 2012—43 and 44% in the 1st and 2nd rounds, respectively—and the one prior to that was in the 2007 2nd round (40%). French voters used to take their parliamentary elections seriously, though now less and less. As for why, this is the perverse consequence of the quinquennat and electoral calendar. More on that in a minute.

The second number (32) is the percentage of the vote obtained by candidates of Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche (REM) and its MoDem ally. REM, as one may be aware, was created ex nihilo in the spring of 2016 and with its founder, Macron, unknown to the public three years ago today; and in Sunday’s vote, the great majority of REM’s candidates were likewise unknown to most of those casting ballots for them. As for MoDem—which would cease to exist in the absence of its founder-president, François Bayrou—it received precisely 1.77% of the national vote in the 2012 legislatives and sent all of two deputies (of 577) to the Palais Bourbon, one of whom later quit the party. In terms of vote power, MoDem has not been a heavyweight in the ten years of its existence. So REM/MoDem’s first place, 32% finish is impressive indeed—and unprecedented for formations that, in the previous election, did not exist or represented next to nothing.

The third number (79) is the percentage of seats in the National Assembly that REM/MoDem may end up with after next Sunday’s 2nd round run-offs. This is the high-end prediction, of REM/MoDem taking 455 seats of the 577, with the lower prediction 400 seats (a mere 69%). A blowout in either case.

Sunday’s result had been expected—the polls, as usual in France, got it right—but it’s stunning nonetheless, above all for the complete collapse of the Socialist Party (more on which below) and the outright replacement of the political class. Voters have been telling pollsters for years that they want a renouvellement of the political class; well, they’re now going to get it big time. The reason for the outsized majority REM is certain to obtain next Sunday is due to France’s two-round, single-member constituency system, which considerably—sometimes hugely—inflates the majority of the winning party or coalition—and correspondingly penalizes the losers. It’s a terrible mode de scrutin for this reason alone. E.g. in the 1993 legislative election the conservative RPR-UDF coalition took 43% of the 1st round vote and ended up with 83% of the seats after the 2nd. In no first-past-the-post system (e.g. UK, USA, Canada) would the result be so distorted. This perverse effect could be at least partially rectified by introducing a dose of proportionality into the system, which Macron pledged to do during the presidential campaign. On verra bien. If this does happen, it will probably be on the order of 20 or 25% of the seats, though 50% would be ideal.

On the high abstention rate, along with the near inevitability of Sunday’s result, this is, as mentioned above, a consequence of the quinquennat—introduced by constitutional amendment in 2000—and electoral calendar. Since 2002, when the presidential and legislative elections coincidentally happened in quick succession—on account of President Chirac’s dissolution of the National Assembly in 1997—this has become the new norm in French politics. Presidential elections happen every five years and with the legislative elections that ensue five weeks later being a mere formality, with the electorate reflexively giving the newly (re)elected president’s party an outright or working majority. This is in the logic of the Fifth Republic in any case, and is what has happened in the five previous occasions when there were back-to-back presidential and legislative elections. So the legislatives are now an afterthought. After the climax of the 2nd round of the presidential election—the preeminent contest in the French political system—politicians are figuratively out of gas and voters’ interest in electoral politics plummets, and despite the importance of the National Assembly. And the victor is all but known in advance.

This legislative campaign was particularly listless. There were few debates, either nationally or locally, not in my constituency at least. In the latter, the incumbent LR deputy, who is also the mayor of my banlieue, could not run for reelection—thanks to François Hollande’s law on the non cumul des mandats—so he installed a retired 79-year-old university professor and local pol as his anointed successor. Not exactly le renouvellement. The PS candidate—who finished in sixth place on Sunday—is a municipal councilor in a neighboring banlieue and distinctly lacks notoriety. And the REM candidate—who will almost certainly win next Sunday—is utterly unknown in the constituency (I can never remember his name myself). And there were relatively few REM militants (“fans,” or marcheurs, they’re called) in evidence in the markets and at the RER stations, where most leafleting and general contact with voters happens. There was also a dearth of assesseurs at the bureaux de vote, on Sunday as well as in the two rounds of the presidential, indicating a demobilization of the legacy parties and a relatively low level of organization of REM locally.

The collapse of the Socialists: It was expected but still. For the PS and its allies to receive 9.5% of the vote—and finish behind La France Insoumise and the Front National—is probably the final nail in the coffin. One does not shed tears for the PS as a party—or for the electoral repudiation of hacks like Jean-Christophe Cambadélis—but seeing Benoît Hamon and other worthy personalities humiliated in the 1st round was tough. And it is particularly so for the younger generation of future leaders, e.g. Matthias Fekl, who was eliminated, and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who will most certainly be next Sunday. It’s not fair mais c’est comme ça. The PS has been decapitated. It will henceforth not have a single deputy from the Nord, Pas-de-Calais, or Haute-Garonne—which would be akin to, e.g., the Democratic Party losing its entire congressional delegation in Massachusetts and New York state—and has lost decades-long bastions across the country (in the Seine-Maritime, Landes, across the southwest; and it risks losing all but one or two of its constituencies in the Île-de-France). The PS now has no leaders—present or potential—and, with its public money (linked to the number of elected officials) about to dry up, will soon be bereft of financial resources. The PS will likely have to sell or move out of its historic HQ on the Rue de Solférino, which will mark the symbolic, if not actual, death of the party. More importantly, the PS has no coherent message or anything to say to the electorate. Intellectually and programmatically, the Socialists are brain-dead. Merci, François Hollande. And most importantly of all, the party has lost its voters, most of them for good. A sizable portion have moved to REM and won’t be going back to any party that carries the PS label; and a smaller, though not insignificant, number has defected to Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s FI. And they won’t be returning either. Parties do die, or, failing that, are reduced to rump factions in the low single digits that ally with larger parties but cannot wage elections on their own. This is no doubt what awaits the PS after next Sunday’s 2nd round.

It has been clear for a while now—and particularly since the primary of the “Belle Alliance Populaire”—that the PS’s two major factions—the social liberals (Hollande, Manuel Valls) and leftists (Hamon, Arnaud Montebourg etc)—can no longer coexist in the same party. This is likewise with the Republican party, which suffered a severe setback on Sunday—notably in its bastions in the Île-de-France and parts of the east—and is now divided more than ever between the hard-rightists (Laurent Wauquiez, sarkozyistes) and Macron-compatible moderate conservatives (juppéistes et al). I’ve been hearing off and on over the past five years from UMP/LR activist students and friends—particularly during the Fillon vs. Copé and Sarkozy vs. Juppé battles—that they could not stand the other faction—for political and programmatic reasons, not just personality—and doubted they could remain in the same party with it. With Macron’s REM set to dominate politics for the next five years, the formal split of LR will likely happen sooner rather than later.

And the Front National: There were visions less than two months ago—by frontistes and others—of the FN sending up to 100 deputies to the Palais Bourbon after June 18th. LOL. Marine Le Pen looks sure to be elected in Hénin-Beaumont but may well be the FN’s sole deputy. The FN will be lucky if four of its candidates win on Sunday. That will, of course, not prevent people from continuing to brandish the FN épouvantail and issue dark warnings of how Marine Le Pen will win the next presidential election if Macron does or does not do this or that. Ouf. Épargne moi. C’est fini, le Front National.

France Inter’s Thomas Legrand, in the conclusion to his political editorial yesterday, summed up well a principal lesson of the 1st round

S’il est important de s’intéresser à la mécanique démocratique qu’un tel résultat implique, il ne faut quand même pas oublier de lire le message des urnes. Il ne s’agit pas seulement de renouvellement désidéologisé mais bien d’une confiance accordée à un homme qui s’est dit pro-européen, social-libéral en économie, progressiste, prônant une société dite bienveillante et d’optimiste. Ces mots peuvent paraître creux, mais toujours est-il que celui qui les a prononcés a largement gagné hier soir. Il n’y a pas d’enthousiasme (le taux de participation en atteste) mais les déclinistes, les souverainistes, les nostalgiques de la France sépia dont on disait qu’ils avaient gagné la guerre culturelle, ne sont pas au rendez-vous. La vraie majorité silencieuse en France qui, finalement s’est exprimée hier (ou s’est abstenue et a donc laissé faire) n’est pas pour le repli et le conservatisme que l’on croyait ambiants… et ce n’est pas le moindre des enseignements d’hier soir.

When the Macron/REM tsunami was announced on Sunday night, I was unsettled by the specter of a National Assembly so dominated by political novices. Over half of the REM candidates have never held elective office and with most of these having never even run for office. We’re dealing here with a party heavily comprised of people who have no experience whatever in politics, at either the retail level or in crafting legislation. And then there have been stories of REM’s rank amateurishness—of both its candidates and marcheurs—that I had been reading and hearing. For the anecdote, a couple of weeks ago I was with friends who live in a tony town in an upscale constituency in Paris’s western banlieue—which contains one downscale municipality—and have been active marcheurs for Macron. As they told me, a well-known community activist and Macron supporter from the downscale part of the constituency proposed her candidacy to REM. She would have been great, so my friends said, in view of her dynamism and diversity profile: the ideal candidate to run against the eternal LR incumbent, who, in addition to being an outspoken member of an LR hard right caucus, is a Bashar al-Assad apologist and male chauvinist pig to boot. But the community activist was rejected by the REM national candidacy commission, in favor of a lawyer from the constituency’s toniest town, who enjoyed no local notoriety and had zero political skills. Her incompetence as a campaigner was such that my macroniste friends said that they could not support her. So why was she chosen? No doubt because she could more easily finance her campaign (all REM candidates having to commit a minimum of €30,000 of their own money up front, to be reimbursed with public funds after the election if they receive over 5% of the vote—which every last one has). As it happens, the lawyer-candidate is, despite her zero political skills, sure to win next Sunday.

Contributing to my initial qualms over the REM tsunami was the specter of a National Assembly comprised of godillots (foot soldiers), of political ingénus approving as one every bill sent down by the Élysée and without debate. And the qualms were multiplied in view of Macron’s monarchical style and post-election rightward tilt on key issues (notably the Code du Travail and state of emergency; more on this later). But I’m a little less concerned now. REM deputies who will be elected next Sunday may be political novices—many though not all—but they are highly educated, professionally accomplished outside the world of politics, and with no a priori reason to act as godillots and approve without substantive debate or critical spirit whatever bill Macron or PM Édouard Philippe submits to them. It’s hard to imagine an assembly comprised of legislators who are, in effect, free agents and with professional options outside politics behaving as a chambre d’enregistrement.

Another thing: the REM candidates come from the center-left, center, and center-right, with the first one in greater number. The majority of candidates with a prior partisan engagement—mainly on the local level, in municipal councils—were in the PS. The members of the REM parliamentary group will probably agree on most issues but there will inevitably be cleavages. The prospect of frondeurs in the REM group is not to be excluded.

On the profile of the REM deputies-to-be, an American friend in Paris posted this on Facebook on Sunday night

Our new legislative representative [will likely be] Alexandre Aïdara. Where I live, in the 6th district of Seine Saint-Denis, abstention was 55 %. If a candidate wins less than 12.5% of votes by registered voters, they fail to qualify. So, former Socialist Justice Minister and longtime Socialist heavy here, Elisabeth Guigou, as she placed third, cannot run next Sunday. Result: Alexandre Aïdara, a brilliant Senegalese man who came to France on a mathematics scholarship, then was motivated to get into politics to fight racial discrimination he experienced here, got into the prestigious ENA (École Nationale d’Administration) and then worked with Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, switched to Macron’s party and ran to represent this district, [finished in first place with] 27 % of the vote. We met him at the farmers’ market a week ago. Affable man… [Not being a citizen] I couldn’t [vote for him] but am very pleased [that he is poised to win next Sunday].

The ethnic diversity of the new National Assembly is likely to be historic. French politics is going to be interesting over the next five years.

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In lieu of my own thoughts on the eve of the election—and I have a few—I am linking to two good articles on the general subject. One is Arthur Goldhammer’s pre-election analysis in The Atlantic, just up today, “Macron’s divide and conquer strategy: Can he pull off another election victory?” As usual, I agree with 98.5% of what Art has to say.

The other is a smart enquête in the latest NYT Magazine by freelance journalist Elisabeth Zerofsky, “Can a new generation in the banlieues change French politics?

I’ll have more on the election tomorrow and in the following days.

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Gérard Collomb, Jean-Yves Le Drian, François Bayrou,
Bruno Le Maire, Laura Flessel, Nicolas Hulot (credit: Forbes)

[update below]

Voilà my à chaud reaction to PM Édouard Philippe’s first government (there will presumably be a second, after the June legislative elections, and assuming Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche wins a majority or substantial plurality, i.e. is not forced into a cohabitation with LR). First, there are a handful of political heavyweights—several well past the legal retirement age—but eleven of the twenty-two ministers and secretaries of state issue from civil society or the fonction publique and have never run for elective office. Which is to say, they are unknown to the public, as well as to me. But then, Macron made it clear through the campaign that this would be the case. Le renouvellement. Second, the economic side of the government tilts markedly to the neoliberal right, which, though probably not a surprise, is too bad. In point of fact, it’s not good at all. Third, the turmoil in LR will no doubt deepen on account of the government’s libéral tilt and Macron’s prises de guerre (see below). If LR does not formally split after the June election there will possibly be two LR-UDI parliamentary groups, with one supporting the government, which will insure an overall majority for PM Philippe even if La République en Marche falls short of this.

The members of the government, in order of protocol:

Gérard Collomb – Ministre d’État, Ministre de l’Intérieur: After forty years in politics, Monsieur Collomb finally lands a ministerial post—and in a ministère régalien, which is both normal given his stature and inevitable in view of his early support of Macron’s candidacy. He’s been a national figure in the PS—on its right flank—since 2001, when he was first elected as (the first-ever Socialist) mayor of Lyon. He’s clearly appreciated there but has been no one’s idea of a possible prime minister. Personally I find him dull. Boring. And I know I’m not alone in my sentiment. It may be the quality of his voice. But he’s solid and certainly has what it takes for this post.

Nicolas Hulot – Ministre d’État, Ministre de la Transition Écologique et Solidaire: He no doubt has the highest name recognition of any member of the government, and has long been one of France’s more popular personalities in the various palmarès. I am certainly among the tiny minority in France who never once watched his television show. He’ll certainly be outspoken on the good environmental cause and push the government in an ecology-friendly (and anti-nuclear) direction. The interesting question will be how long he lasts in the post.

François Bayrou – Ministre d’État, Garde des Sceaux: I wasn’t expecting him to be in the government at all, let alone at the Place Vendôme. He likely insisted on this, so as to personally write the law on the moralization of public life and that will carry his name.

Sylvie Goulard – Ministre des Armées: She was certain to figure in the government but at the Quai d’Orsay or as minister of European affairs, not defense. Curious. I saw her up close for the first time in 2004, at a small round-table discussion around her then new book that argued against admitting Turkey to the European Union. No one in France these days believes such a thing should happen—not for the foreseeable future, at least—but back then there was a vigorous debate on the question, with many—mainly on the left, but also the Chiraquien right—advocating eventual Turkish entry. Goulard’s argument was by far the most thoughtful and compelling of those opposed to Turkey in the EU. She smart and 100% pro-Europe. Her political roots are in MoDem.

Jean-Yves Le Drian – Ministre de l’Europe et des Affaires Étrangères: PS heavyweight, évidemment. I have yet to read the explanations as to why he left defense—his domain—for the Quai d’Orsay. Probably wanted a change of pace (though it will involve even more travel for him).

Richard Ferrand – Ministre de la Cohésion des Territoires: From the PS (second tier, not known outside Brittany until this campaign). He’s been one of Macron’s highest profile spokespersons of late and was obviously going to be in the government. Is well-spoken.

Agnès Buzyn – Ministre des Solidarités et de la Santé: Don’t know her. She’s a prominent personality in the medical profession (as a practitioner and professor).

Françoise Nyssen – Ministre de la Culture: She’s the director of Actes Sud, a high-quality, cutting-edge publishing house based in Arles, which publishes, entre autres, a lot of non-French literature (and is the Algerian novelist Kamel Daoud’s French publisher). Libération has a profile of her here. An interesting choice.

Bruno Le Maire – Ministre de l’Économie: Macron’s big prise de guerre from LR. If Le Maire was going to enter the government, it would have been vastly preferable to give him defense or the Quai d’Orsay. On economics, he is decidedly libéral (in the French sense, not American). Dismaying that he gets Bercy. It looks like Macron really is determined to push through his reform of the Code du Travail 😦 Whatever happened to Anne-Marie Idrac?

Muriel Penicaud – Ministre du Travail: Don’t know her. She comes out of the private sector but also the public, and with experience in ministerial cabinets, including in this domain. She knows the dossier but will she have the political weight to go head-to-head with the syndicats?

Jean-Michel Blanquer – Ministre de l’Education Nationale: Don’t know him. He’s a jurist and with high-level administrative experience in higher education. This is a big ministry and with powerful syndicats. Fera-t-il le poids?

Jacques Mézard – Ministre de l’Agriculture: From the PRG. Is a leading figure in the Senate, but as hardly anyone in France knows what happens in that body, hardly anyone knows about him. As he’s from the Cantal, he is certainly acquainted with the dossier.

Gérald Darmanin – Ministre de l’Action et des Comptes Publics: Another prise de guerre from LR. Rightist, is/was close to (gulp) Sarkozy. Not good.

Frédérique Vidal – Ministre de l’Enseignement Supérieur, de la Recherche et de l’Innovation: A biochemist, has been president of the university of Nice for the past five years. Can’t say much more about her than that.

Annick Girardin – Ministre des Outre-mer: From the PRG. She’s an élu from Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon (population 6,000), probably the first ever from there to accede to a ministerial post.

Laura Flessel – Ministre des Sports: Everyone remembers her gold medals (fencing) at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. A moment of national pride. She hails from Guadeloupe.

Élisabeth Borne – Ministre Déléguée de la Transition Écologique chargée des Transports: A polytechnicienne, was head of the RATP (Paris metro) until today.

Marielle de Sarnez – Ministre Déléguée chargée des Questions Européennes: François Bayrou’s right-hand woman and MoDem nº 2 for the past decade. Logical that she’s in the government.

Christophe Castaner – Porte parole du gouvernement, Secrétaire d’État en charge des Relations avec le Parlement: PS deputy from the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Macron campaign spokesman. This is an important post, so he is clearly both well-spoken and is considered to have good political and people skills.

Marlène Schiappa – Secrétaire d’État chargée de l’Égalité des Femmes et des Hommes: A local PS politico in Le Mans and author of numerous books on questions related to gender, parenting, and children. Seems like a natural for this post.

Sophie Cluzel – Secrétaire d’État chargée des Personnes Handicapées: Founder of several NGOs on handicapped persons, and particularly children.

Mounir Mahjoubi – Secrétaire d’État chargé du Numérique: That’s digital technology. He was the Macron campaign’s whiz-kid IT geek. Is brilliant, so they say. Hails from a working-class family of Moroccan immigrants. Will be running against Jean-Christophe Cambadélis in Paris’s 19th arrondissement next month. One wishes him well.

UPDATE: With the exception of the Bercy appointments (Le Maire, Darmanin), there is little to object to in the composition of the government for anyone who is not a supporter of La France Insoumise (or on the right, of course; though on AWAV we don’t care what they think). Ideologically speaking, the government is 100% Blairist-Clintonian (which may or not be a positive or negative thing, but is what it is). By my count, the partisan breakdown is 5 PS, 3 MoDem, 3 PRG, 2 LR, 9 civil society or fonction publique (and 2 énarques—Le Maire and Goulard—plus PM Philippe and president Macron, of course). The latter 9 are exceptionally qualified for their posts: top specialists in their fields and with high-level administrative experience. The contrast with the current US regime could not be greater. Some tidbits on few of these ministers:

Muriel Penicaud: Martine Aubry—whose ministerial cabinet she was in back in the early ’90s—has had positive things to say about her, as have most of the major unions (including CFDT and FO). That augurs well for the concertation between the government and syndicats over the reform of the Code du Travail.

Marlène Schiappa: She’s been the subject of a mini polemic—initiated by the petit connard Malik Boutih—over her apparent lack of commitment to laïcité, and on account of a tribune—thoughtful, IMO—she authored in Huffpost in July 2014, “Non, cher Manuel Valls, les quartiers populaires ne sont pas antisémites.” Insofar as she needed to clarify her thoughts on the matter—which I don’t think she needed to do—she did so in Elle. Case closed.

Françoise Nyssen: Jean-Luc Mélenchon accused her of being “more or less linked to cults (sectes),” on account of an alternative school she launched in Arles and with an unorthodox pedagogical approach. The refutations of JLM were swift, by, entre autres, blogger Romain Blachier and Juliette Gramaglia of Arrêt sur Image.

Laura Flessel: Arthur Asseraf of All Souls College, Oxford, felt her nomination smacked on tokenism, writing on Facebook:

Laura Flessel, embauchée dans un ministère potiche pour être le visage de la ‘diversité’ dans un gouvernement blanc = très progressiste, vraiment on chamboule les vieilles habitudes.

Ouch!

Plantu_Le Monde_18 mai 2017

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