Archive for the ‘France: politics 2016-19’ Category

[update below] [2nd update below]

In 2014 it was a disaster, as I wrote back then. This time it wasn’t. Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National may have finished in first place but this was pretty much expected. And there were some bright spots—from my standpoint at least—in the scores for all the principal lists. I’m not going to give a full-blown analysis here, just flesh out some instant thoughts I posted on social media on Sunday night.

  • First, the marked increase in the participation rate, which broke 50%, the highest for a European election since 1994. Late polling indicated that turnout would be up compared to last time, but it wasn’t expected to this extent. I was an assesseur titulaire in my bureau de vote on Sunday, so could observe this throughout the day. Salutary this sursaut citoyen, even if the veritable impetus had less to do with Europe than national considerations (to sanction Emmanuel Macron or deny first place to Marine Le Pen). That said, the increased turnout—and in other EU states as well—signals in increasing interest in the European  Union—and for many, a support for the European project.
  • The RN may have come in first place but, at 23.3%, its score was lower than in 2014 (24.9%). And as it will have two fewer seats (22) in the European Parliament, this cannot be seen as a hands-down victory for Le Pen. The RN drew votes from Gilets Jaunes—up to 44% of GJs voted RN, according to one poll—but they were likely RN/FN voters anyway. The RN has consecrated its status as one of the major poles in French politics but this result does not, in itself, point to RN gains in next year’s municipal elections (as for 2022, that’s a ways away). So long as the RN remains in its ghetto, with no major party willing to ally with it, it will not be able win a national election. And in the European Parliament, one may be sure that it won’t do a thing—i.e. its MEPs won’t participate in the work of the parliamentary committees (where they’re congenital no shows)—and will only undermine the influence of France in EU institutions.
  • I wrote on Sunday night that Macron took a hit (and a well-deserved one) with the République en Marche-MoDem list finishing in second place, though think I need to attenuate that. It would have obviously been preferable from Macron’s standpoint to finish first, but the close second—and with 22.4%—should not be viewed as a setback, all things considered. E.g. with Macron’s unpopularity—he’s at 27% approval/68% disapproval in the latest IPSOS baromètre—and the endless weekend GJ manifs, it could have been worse for him, cf. the more marked votes de sanction against the party in the Élysée in almost all past European elections (2009 a notable recent exception). Exit polling has shown that the REM benefited yesterday from the defection of moderate right LR voters in its direction, confirming that Macron will most surely govern from the center-right for the rest of his term. This will be majorly consequential for the ongoing recomposition of the French political spectrum heading toward 2022.
  • Europe Écologie-Les Verts’ 13.5% is quite simply stunning, as no one expected it, Yannick Jadot’s list polling at 9% tops. Given the momentum of Green parties in Germany and elsewhere, and the increasing importance attached by voters to climate change and other environmental issues, such electoral progress can only warm the heart. And the increased size of the European Greens political group in the European Parliament can only be welcomed. This said, EELV’s excellent score does not augur anything for the future, as we’ve seen this before. E.g. in the 1999 European elections, Les Verts, led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, reached almost 10%, but which did not send the écolos into orbit nationally, nor did its amazing 16.4% in the 2009 Euro elections (close on the heels of the PS, led by Martine Aubry at the time). The écolo spikes in past elections have been sans lendemain, with European election Verts voters returning to other left or centrist parties/candidates in national elections. And this will likely remain the case, with almost all parties outside the hard right having integrated environmental themes into their programs, The fact is, EELV remains a small formation, permanently rent by factional infighting, and with, at present, almost no high-profile elected representatives. And if it tries to go it alone electorally—presenting candidates on its own, outside of any alliance or pact with the PS or anyone else—which has been its reflex in recent years, it will bite the dust, as it always has in two-round elections when it does its cavalier seul act. So despite EELV’s brilliant score yesterday, don’t hold your breath waiting for it to become the leading force on the French left.
  • The catastrophic 8.5% of Les Républicains, which not a single poll came anywhere close to predicting—LR was seen going as high as 15%, if not more—is the big story of this election. No one could have ever foreseen the longtime standard-bearer of neo-Gaullism and la droite parlementaire sinking into the single digits, and despite the party’s increasingly hard right turn over the past decade (recalling the rightward progression of a certain conservative party outre-Atlantique). The cerebral tête de liste François-Xavier Bellamy seemed to be catching on with the LR base, and despite—or perhaps because of—his very conservative, Catholic views on questions de société, and came across as friendly and open-minded to boot (quite unlike the cynical, insufferably arrogant LR secy-gen Laurent Wauquiez). E.g. even Benoît Hamon, among other lefties, enjoys conversations with Bellamy, so one reads. But this finally didn’t matter to LR voters, particularly the more moderate among them, who found Bellamy too conservative—and Wauquiez’s identitarian rhetoric too extreme—so defected to the REM and Macron. And on LR’s right flank, réac voters decided to go for the real thing—Marine LP and the RN—rather than the wannabe. As for where LR goes from here, it would be nice if this calamitous result brings moderate rightists like Valérie Pécresse or Xavier Bertrand back to the fore, but I’m not optimistic. The core of the LR base remains the “Trocadéro right,” and despite the REM having realized some its best scores in Paris’s most upscale arrondissements (6th, 7th, 8th, 16th), plus wealthy western banlieues (Neuilly-sur-Seine et al)—which have been fiefs of the right since the dawn of time—finishing way ahead in first place and with 45-48% of the vote. With the REM now occupying the center-right and the RN formally abandoning its pledge to quit the EU, the space for a significant conservative party between these two is narrow indeed.
  • The paltry 6.3% of La France Insoumise list was the most gratifying surprise of the election. This catastrophic, utterly unforeseen result for LFI was not a failure of tête de liste Manon Aubry, who is sympathique and acquitted herself well in the campaign, so I thought, but of LFI caudillo Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who was aiming for the double-digits and to consecrate LFI as the uncontested nº 1 force on the left, but instead barely avoided being overtaken by the convalescing PS, which would have been the supreme humiliation for him. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. With this score, JLM is K.O., both politically and personally, the latter because his trash-talking, scowling personality is not wearing well, including among his voters. I personally know people who are otherwise supportive of LFI’s line but simply cannot stand JLM (the televised spectacle of him blowing his fuses with the judicial police last October turned off more than a few). And within LFI, there is increasing exasperation at JLM’s authoritarian style and of his solo leadership—in informal tandem with his significant other—of the party. On the political level, LFI’s counter-performance signifies the limits of JLM’s populist discourse, of trying to appeal to categories of the electorate who don’t necessarily have the same world-view, e.g. the couches populaires—of the Gilets Jaunes variety—and urban, educated left-wing millennials. Both may share an allergy to neoliberalism but they sharply differ on other matters (e.g. immigration, identity). The couches populaires are attached to the nation and are reflexively suspicious of the European Union; with educated millennials, it’s the reverse. With the latter, JLM’s nationalism and Euroscepticism—when it comes to the EU, he is fundamentally not so different from Marine Le Pen—will not fly. There is a bitter truth that a lot of lefties over a certain age have a hard time accepting, which is that the working class unmoored from trade unions leans much more to the right than the left. JLM knows this—I’ve heard him say it up close, that it’s a myth that the WC has always monolithically voted for the left—but he underestimates the numbers. Left-wing parties can craft an appropriate economic message—that’s what makes them left-wing—but insofar as identity and nationalism trump economics for atomized WC voters, the latter are out of reach for the left. And a party of the left that tries to address the cultural anxieties of WC voters will not only fail in the effort but lose sizable numbers of its educated supporters. There is a space on the political spectrum for an LFI-type party but in the single digits. If LFI were to become the leading party of the left—which is now not too likely—it would consign the French left to permanent opposition in the same way the PCF’s domination did in the three decades following the end of WWII. Hopefully JLM will wake up, smell the coffee, and abandon his ambitions for 2022. As for who could take his place as the porte-drapeau of the radical left, I have my ideas.
  • The Parti Socialiste-Place Publique’s 6.2% was cause for satisfaction, as, according to the final polls, the list was in danger of falling under 5%, and thus sending no deputies to the European Parliament. As I wrote in the previous post, such a result would have likely meant the end of the PS. That the PS came close to matching its calamitous score in the 2017 presidential election is hardly a cause for rejoicing—which Raphaël Glucksmann made clear on Sunday night—but at least we know that the Socialists have touched bottom and can only go up, particularly in view of LFI’s failure. If Benoît Hamon had responded favorably to Glucksmann’s unity initiative and not run a list of his irrelevant micro-party, Génération.s—which received a predictable 3.3%—the “Envie d’Europe” list could have gone as high as 9%. So now that the PS has sauvé les meubles, it can now look to rebuild, as the positioning of Macron and the REM on the center-right has created a wide open space on the center-left that cannot and will not be filled by EELV alone. Or even primarily. The PS still has an infrastructure of militants and élus—which is rather larger than EELV’s—and, with the next elections being the municipals in March 2020, can realistically aim to recover some of the ground it lost in the 2014 debacle, particularly if it can forge single slates with EELV. Also, the REM controls not a single mairie—the party not existing in the last municipal elections—and most of its eager beaver marcheurs of the 2017 campaign have fallen by the wayside. If Macron remains unpopular into next year—which is likely—the REM will not be entering the municipal election campaign with a head of steam. Likewise with LR, in view of its current state. So things may indeed be looking up for a rejuvenated PS after next March. In this respect, some history: (a) In the 1969 presidential election, as everyone remembers, the Socialists hit rock bottom with Gaston Deferre’s 5%. Two years later was the Epinay congress and François Mitterrand, followed by the Union de la Gauche and the cliffhanger 49.2% loss in 1974; and then there was 1981… (b) After the victories of 1981 the PS suffered one major electoral setback after another and by 1986 the right looked to be in the drivers seat; but Mitterrand recovered and was easily reelected in 1988;  (c) The catastrophic 1993 legislative elections saw the PS lose 218 of its 275 incumbent deputies, followed by the rout of Michel Rocard’s list in the 1994 European elections; the PS looked to be out of it for the foreseeable future; four months before the 1st round of the 1995 presidential election, the party didn’t even have a candidate, but then Lionel Jospin rose from the ashes, losing to Jacques Chirac with a respectable 47.4% in the 2nd round; and then there was the 1997 early legislatives and the brilliant victory of the PS-led Gauche Plurielle; and if it hadn’t been for the accident of the 21 avril, Jospin would have likely defeated Chirac in the 2002 presidential election. (d) After its miserable result in the 2009 European elections, the future of the PS looked somber, and with the high-profile pundit BHL proclaiming in a banner headline in a Sunday newspaper that the party would soon be “dead.” But it came back in the 2010 regionals and, by mid 2012, was the dominant party in France (okay, that didn’t last long but still). The lesson: when it comes to the French Socialist Party, it ain’t over till it’s over…

There’s a lot more to say but that’s it for now.

UPDATE: The image below illustrates the point made above about the REM doing particularly well in Paris’s beaux quartiers on Sunday (h/t Angelo Pardi via Guillaume Duval).

2nd UPDATE: Libération editor-in-chief Laurent Joffrin’s “lettre politique” of May 28th, on LFI and JLM, is absolutely worth reading. He totally nails it.

28 mai 2019
La lettre politique de Laurent Joffrin

La France insoumise a «un problème»

Clémentine Autain est sortie du bois la première. Il y a, dit-elle, «un problème de ligne et de profil politique» à La France insoumise, qui a trop misé sur «le ressentiment, la haine, ou le clash permanent». Nostra culpa : «Sans doute avons-nous pris trop de distance avec un discours de gauche.»

«Problème» il y a, de toute évidence. Sur une ligne dégagiste, LFI a divisé par trois en deux ans le score de Jean-Luc Mélenchon à la présidentielle (de 18% à 6%). C’est l’effet des innombrables sorties de route volontaires des insoumis, toutes justifiées par la culture de l’anathème : agressivité permanente, dénigrement constant du reste de la gauche, procès en sorcellerie contre Jadot, «haine» assumée contre les journalistes de tous bords, vociférations grand-guignolesques contre une perquisition judiciaire, invocation rituelle d’un «raz-de-marée» populaire qui n’a jamais eu lieu, sauf avec le mouvement des gilets jaunes, parti tout seul, quand LFI n’appelait à rien ; déification compensatoire de certains leaders gilets jaunes aux options pour le moins ambiguës, discours européen incompréhensible consistant à prévoir une «sortie des traités» qui ne serait pas une sortie de l’Union, alors que l’Union est justement bâtie sur un traité, etc. A force de considérer que l’enfer, c’est les autres, tous traîtres, soumis ou vendus, on reste seul avec ses certitudes.

Problème plus large, d’ailleurs : le recul de la gauche radicale est général en Europe. La débâcle la plus spectaculaire a frappé le parti dégagiste Podemos, miné par les divisions, tombé à 10% en Espagne, après avoir perdu la plupart des villes conquises dans la foulée du mouvement des «indignés», dont Madrid et Barcelone, excusez du peu. Il n’est pas le seul. Au total, le groupe d’extrême gauche au Parlement européen est passé de plus de 50 sièges à moins de 40, représentant tout au plus 5% de l’électorat. Gauche radicale, gauche marginale. A force de dire non à tout, les énergies militantes se lassent et passent chez ceux qui disent oui à quelque chose. Elles ont gonflé le mouvement écologiste, qui se bat sur un programme positif de réformes immédiates et, au lieu de dénoncer mécaniquement tous les compromis, cherche des alliances européennes pour y parvenir.

C’est l’essence même du dégagisme qui est en cause. Le peuple d’un côté, les élites de l’autre : sommaire et faux. Les élites ne sont pas toujours réactionnaires ni le peuple progressiste. C’est en bâtissant une coalition «interclasses» qu’on réunit une majorité ou, à tout le moins, qu’on impose des réformes de progrès. C’est avec des civils qu’on fait des militaires, et donc avec des gens qui ne pensent pas comme soi qu’on élargit son influence. Sans quoi on reste au balcon à distribuer les excommunications. Le dégagisme a marché un temps. Il est usé, ou alors il profite aux nationalistes. LFI en avait fait un dogme, un leitmotiv, un ADN. Effectivement, il y a «un problème».

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Photo credit: Guy Bop/Sud Ouest

[update below]

Today is Act XIII—designated in Roman numerals—of the Gilets Jaunes, a,k.a. Yellow Jackets (or Vests), which is to say, this is the 13th Saturday in a row that the movement has held demos in Paris and around France. It’s become routine (with the weekly numbers albeit steadily dropping). The GJ movement is fairly well understood outside France by now, in terms of who they are—lower middle class small town/non-farming rural folk—and what issues initially drove the protests (gasoline taxes, a new speed limit law, cost of living; which have since been superseded by others). The English-language reporting has been quite good on the whole, not to mention analyses from France specialists, a few of which I linked to in December. One of the best Anglophone journalists on the GJ beat, whose reports have been first-rate, is John Lichfield, formerly Paris correspondent of The Independent, now of The Local. Lichfield knows France comme sa poche and his analyses are invariably spot-on. One of his latest on the GJs is a talk he gave in Brussels on January 31st, sponsored by a group called BEERG and which published a transcript on its BEERG Brexit Blog dated February 2nd, which I have copied-and-pasted below (and taken the liberty of correcting a few spelling errors). As I almost entirely subscribe to Lichfield’s analysis, this has spared me from having to elaborate my own. The transcript is lengthy (some 4,400 words) but well worth the read.

I’m sort of glad I didn’t offer my views on AWAV last month, as I posted more than one comment on Facebook expressing my exasperation, indeed fed-upness, with the GJs (here, here, and here), which I pronounced to be—or to have objectively become—a movement of the extreme right, on account of the violence of a significant number of GJs—the Saturday casseurs were not only neofascists, black blocs, and loubards from the banlieues—the proliferation of conspiracy theories among the GJs and which have been rife on their Facebook pages—N.B. without Facebook, the GJ movement would not exist—overt expressions of antisemitism at GJ-occupied ronds-points and gatherings (e.g. here, here, and here), and their hatred of the media, and particularly the all-news TV stations, with only the Russian RT France meeting with approval (this has been widely reported)—though without the saturation coverage of BFM, CNews, and LCI, the GJ movement would have never attained the proportions it has. And to this GJ hatred may be added that of politicians, indeed of the institutions of representative democracy, a.k.a. the Republic. A case in point: the incessant, insistant demand that Emmanuel Macron resign. However one feels about Macron—I am personally not a fan—he was legitimately elected president of the republic for a five-year term. Who do these people think they are to imperiously demand that he pack his bags and quit the Elysée, tail between his legs? To throw the institutions of French democracy into grave crisis and with no clue as to what would come out of it? The verbal violence against Macron was indeed attaining a virulence never witnessed against a major political figure, let alone a president of the republic, since the Second World War. Macron has a number of issues, as it were, and bears some responsibility for the emergence of the GJs—more on this another time—but a lynch mob atmosphere around his person by GJs quickly developed. If Macron had tried to dialogue with a critical mass of GJs on a Saturday in December—of working men and women in their 30s and 40s, indeed older—he would have likely not made it out alive. His physical integrity was indeed in danger.

But it hasn’t only been Macron. GJs who accepted the invitation to meet with PM Édouard Philippe at the Matignon on December 4th renounced after receiving death threats. One of the more moderate public faces of the GJs, the 51-year-old Bretonne hypnotherapist Jacline Mouraud, told Le Figaro (December 7th) that she and her family had received death threats on account of her televised appearances as an informal GJ spokesperson. The climate of intimidation in the movement was palpable.

None of this is acceptable, regardless of the difficult economic situation individual GJs find themselves in. Barely being able to make ends meet—which is the case for the majority of GJs—does not give one the right to smash stuff and threaten people with violence. The abject political inculture of the GJs is breathtaking. A number of intellectuals and high-profile journalists, e.g. Libération’s Jean Quatremer, have been denouncing the GJs for all this since November, drawing historical parallels with the fascist factieux of February 1934 or the Poujadist movement of the mid 1950s, which started out as a non-political anti-tax reaction of shopkeepers and artisans but veered to the extreme right. I didn’t accept the views of the said intellos and journalists at first but then started to get on board. And then my friend Claire Berlinski published a lengthy (6,700 words), somewhat incendiary piece on the GJs in The American Interest on January 21st, expressing her dim view, to put it mildly, of the movement and how it was playing out, and with which I agreed.

But now I have to pull back. J’allais un peu vite en besogne, i.e. I was getting ahead of myself. It was not right to pigeonhole the GJ movement as extreme right tout court. Some of it clearly is but a lot of it is not. The operative word is hétéroclite: politically-speaking, the GJs are made up of men and women who vote for the left and right, or don’t vote at all, in more or less equal proportions. The grab bag of GJ revindications include as many that may be seen as left-wing—particularly the denunciations of the filthy rich and demands for greater redistribution—as right-wing. What is noteworthy, though—and why the GJs cannot be classified as extreme-right—is the absence of immigration and identity in GJ rhetoric. Individual GJs interviewed in the media will say that immigration is a problem—as do the majority of Frenchmen and women—when the question is posed to them—the classes populaires tend not to be cosmopolitan, après tout—but it simply has not been an issue for the movement. Moreover, the quiet, under-the-radar effort by Marine Le Pen and her renamed Rassemblement National to co-opt the GJ movement at the ronds-points appears not to be bearing fruit (and with some RN strongholds, such as the Hauts-de-France region, not having witnessed significant GJ activity). The GJs are allergic to the established political parties, including the RN. If the GJs manage to structure themselves into a lasting movement that contests elections—which is doubtful—it will surely resemble the Italian M5S, i.e. politically unclassifiable.

It is commonplace to refer to the GJ movement as inédit, i.e. unprecedented. There’s never been anything like it in France: a mass social movement in which the urban population is all but absent. There have been plenty of rural movements and protests in the course of history but of farmers and who are concerned solely with farmer-related issues (and who care about nothing else). The GJs are not peasants, as we know. They are the union of non-urban “petits-moyens,” in the words of sociologist Isabelle Coutant, or the “société des petits,” dixit Pierre Rosanvallon, and with a large participation of women (a few of whom have taken part in the violence). The inter-generational character of the GJs is equally noteworthy, forged in the fraternization on the ronds-points (the latter was the subject of a remarkable reportage by Florence Aubenas in Le Monde dated December 16th-17th). The movement has also evolved since November. The GJs were initially over-represented in the “diagonale du vide“—the swath of central France that has suffered population decline and economic stagnation—but the locus has shifted to the southwest and Mediterranean rim. The central role played by local leaders has also been observed, with GJ activity in a given locality dropping significantly with the arrest or departure of the charismatic personality.

I’ll no doubt come back to all this, particularly as teams of social scientists are studying the GJs—whose early findings have been extensively reported in Le Monde—and with edited collections of essays by academics and intellectuals already hitting the bookstores. And then there’s the Emmanuel Macron part of the equation, which I’ll take up soon, as well as some of the institutional revindications of the GJs, such as the citizens’ initiative referendum (to which I am hostile). In the meantime, here’s John Lichfield’s January 31st Brussels talk:

I’m here to explain the Gilets Jaunes. It might be easier to explain black holes. I’ll do my best. But there is no simple explanation of the Gilets Jaunes, no monolithic, single-minded movement, no leadership structure, no single, accepted programme of demands. That’s what makes them fascinating. And baffling. And worrying. I will give you a brief narrative of the story so far. Then I will offer some clues on how to understand the movement. And what may happen next.

Are the Gilets Jaunes just another example of the French being French? Is it all Macron’s fault? Or Putin’s fault? Or is it an internet phenomenon – Facebook populism – which could have happened anywhere? What are the similarities with other populist movements (more…)

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Credit: Sipa

And Emmanuel Macron. Everyone who’s anyone who habitually writes about France in English is publishing analyses and/or reportages on the Gilets Jaunes, and with friends and AWAV fans asking me when I’m going to offer my own brilliant thoughts. As a lifelong procrastinator I’m taking my time, but will soon. Promis juré. And hopefully before the GJ movement has fizzled out—which it will—and we’ve moved on to other things. In the meantime, I have to post three terrific articles that have gone up in the past twenty-four hours by A-list Anglophone France observers.

The first is Arthur Goldhammer in Foreign Affairs, “The Yellow Vest protests and the tragedy of Emmanuel Macron: How the Gilets Jaunes brought the French president low.” After reading Art’s piece I thought, ‘Zut, now that he’s said 85% of what I have to say—reading my mind, as is often the case—what’s left for me?’.

Then there’s David A. Bell in The Nation, whose knowledge of French history is deeper than mine will ever be—and who totally nails it on Emmanuel Macron: “For Emmanuel Macron, how did things get so bad, so fast? The fault lies with both the French president himself and the political and cultural elite that formed him.”

And finally there’s Paris-based freelance journalist Elisabeth Zerofsky in The New Yorker, who was on the ground in the quartiers chauds last Saturday: “The complicated politics of the Gilets Jaunes movement.”

À bientôt.


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Mantes-la-Jolie, 6 December 2018

It’s complicated. There is mass indignation over the images and video of the manner in which the police detained demonstrating high school (lycée) students yesterday in Mantes-la-Jolie, a city some 50 km west of Paris. Lycée students have joined the social movement launched by the Gilets Jaunes last month, protesting reforms in secondary education, notably regarding the baccalaureate. It happens often in France: one category of the work force or general population will launch a social movement over an issue or issues, and other, entirely different categories will then enter the fray and with their own revindications. What the police did with the students in Mantes-la-Jolie was inexcusable, though they (the police) have their own explanation of what happened, of students—or youths who were not students—torching cars, smashing, and seeking confrontation with them. And it does indeed seem that up to 150 casseurs infiltrated the student demos—which can hardly be a surprise, as half of Mantes-la-Jolie’s 42K inhabitants live in the one of the largest public housing complexes (cités) in France.

As it happens, I witnessed a confrontation between police and faux students this morning devant chez moi: in front of my apartment building in my otherwise peaceful banlieue, where nothing newsworthy ever happens. Not that the incident today made the news: it was no big deal, though could have been. At around 8:30 AM we heard lots of chanting, shouting, and general noise from the street. Looking out the window, it was immediately clear that students at the high school down the block had congregated, as part of the national protest movement. At the intersection up the street were eight or so cops with riot equipment, who had blocked traffic—it’s a through street—going toward the lycée.

As for the lycée, I know it well, as not only can we see it from our balcony but our daughter went there (graduating six years ago). And during her years at the lycée, there was a student mobilization, in 2010, during the national trade union-led movement against the Sarkozy-Fillon government’s pension reforms. Not that the reform had a thing to do with high school students but, this being France, they got involved anyway, blocking the entrance to schools, striking (i.e. forcing the cancellation of classes), and demonstrating.

It was frankly preposterous. The movement at the lycée was led by a tiny handful students with advanced political consciousness—one being a girl in my daughter’s class, who got straight As and was aiming to go to Sciences Po, so I learned—who manned the barricade, so no one could enter the school, and chanted slogans with bullhorns. As my daughter said at the time, the near totality of the students (herself included) had no opinion whatever on the pension reforms, let alone knowledge (“hey, we’re 16-years-old, what do we know about politics, or anything?”). But within two weeks, lots of kids were supporting the strike and expressing resolute opposition to Sarkozy’s policies (my daughter included, though she said later that they were all just happy not to have to go to class).

So this morning, seeing the gathering of students at the lycée gate, I figured it was the same thing as in 2010, except I have no memory of a significant police presence then. The presence of the police out in force does change the dynamic. And so a pack of some thirty kids this morning started to march past our building toward the police barricade, yelling and chanting slogans, e.g. ‘Macron démission!’.

And the police responded by firing smoke grenades.

The police then suddenly got in their cars and left, so the youths, exuberant and chanting, headed back to the intersection and, seeing a flat-bed truck—that just happened to be there, waiting to turn left—piled in the back. I noted from the bedroom window that while there were a few girls, almost all the youths were boys (mid-late teens).

They were whooping it up and having a fine time but I found the ambiance unsettling. The boys got off the truck at the lycée, started to drag empty garbage containers into the middle of the street, and then set fire to them, throwing other combustible material in (including a fire extinguisher). I decided to go down to the street, at 10:00, and get a closer look.

I tried to ask a couple of boys why the hell they were doing this but no one even looked at me. It was pretty clear that they were not, in fact, students at the lycée. I know the profile of kids at that school—which is a lycée général et technologique, tracking students to higher education—and these were not it. They were manifestly from the nearby cité, with its sizable population of families of North and sub-Saharan African origin (but also others, including regular “white” French). Des renois et rebeus, et des petits blancs. Et tous des petits cons. Une bande des branleurs dans toutes ses couleurs. A mob in the making, with zero political consciousness and who don’t know anything about anything. I was afraid that one of the wankers would have the brilliant idea to torch a car, which would lead others to do likewise. It does happen. That’s how mobs work.

The fact is this: student movements—university and particularly lycée—are always infiltrated by casseurs and/or black blocs, who couldn’t care less about the political or social questions behind the movement, who come to loot, pillage, smash, commit arson, and clash with the police—and also to rob from legitimate student demonstrators. Ils n’en ont rien à foutre. It never fails to happen (and, pour l’info, this was equally the case in May ’68, when there was serious degradation inside the Sorbonne committed by hordes of non-students).

I went to the intersection, where a few municipal cops were watching the scene from a distance, to ask when the sapeurs-pompiers (firemen) were going to arrive. When I told one of the cops that the youths were certainly not students at the lycée, he agreed, saying that they were déscolarisé (school drop-outs). I also asked when the regular police were going to come back and deal with the situation—even though their initial presence may have made the situation that much more tense in the first place. The relationship between the police and youths of post-colonial immigrant origin is toxic, as one knows, and with the behavior of the police hugely to blame (I’ve written about it at some length here).

The pompiers finally arrived, and not a minute too soon.

And the police too, with flash balls and other riot equipment (but no firearms visible; France is not the United States ٱلْـحَـمْـدُ للهِ‎). And as the pompiers put out the fire they slowly advanced on the chanting mob (who numbered maybe fifty or sixty).

And the mob dispersed, without the police resorting to tear gas or cracking skulls. Ouf. By 10:45 it was over.

It was finally no big deal. Nothing to write home about. But it could have been far worse. Holding my breath for tomorrow.

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Rochefort, 24 November 2018 (credit: Xavier Leoty/AFP)

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I’ve been closely following the Gilets Jaunes movement over the past two-three weeks, reading analyses—several very good, by social scientists and historians—in the press and various websites, and trying to understand it. I intend to write something on the subject, by next weekend inshallah. In the meantime, stateside friends, family members, and relatives, who have seen dramatic televised images, have been asking me about it. In lieu of my own take, which will come, here are some good reports in English that I came across today.

One is the latest dispatch by The Washington Post’s invariably excellent Paris correspondent, James McAuley, “In France, the pain behind the ‘yellow vest’ protests is felt mostly outside Paris.”

Another is by veteran Paris correspondent John Lichfield, who writes in The Local that “The savage violence which erupted in Paris on Saturday was not a protest, it was an insurrection.”

The images of the violence and destruction in Paris yesterday were shocking indeed, not to mention outrageous. Whatever the legitimacy of the revindications of the Gilets Jaunes, these cannot be served by rioting, arson, and destruction.

As for who was responsible for this, Lichfield writes

I was on the avenues and streets surrounding the Arc de Triomphe most of the day. The “casseurs” (thugs) were, actively or by consent, the overwhelming majority of the 10,000 gilets jaunes (yellow vests) in the capital.

At least 70 per cent, by my reckoning, were not urban guerrillas from the ultra-right or from the anarchist left. They were amateur provincial guerrillas. They came from the radical parts of the gilets jaunes movement in suffering areas of northern or western France or from the outer Paris suburbs. They were mostly men in their 20s and 30s but there were many older men and some women.

Lichfield may have been there—whereas I was chez moi in my banlieue flat, catching up in the evening via reports on the télé—but I do not believe, until definitive proof to the contrary, that the majority of casseurs were bona fide Gilets Jaunes. The televised images after the fact showed many of the casseurs to be the usual hooligans who profit from such movements to loot, pillage, and torch cars. As for casseurs who were wearing a gilet jaune (yellow vest), any wanker can put one on. Hell, I could put one on myself—I have a gilet jaune in the trunk of my car, as does every car owner in France (it’s the law), and they can be purchased in any supermarket—but that would not ipso facto make me a #GiletJaune.

There were certainly radicalized elements from the provinces who came to Paris to raise hell—we know this, as quite a few were arrested yesterday—but I will wager that they did not participate in the first big Gilet Jaune demos on November 17th, or even the 24th. Those in the image up top were far more representative. And they are not the rioting, smashing types. There has certainly been a bandwagon effect over the past two weeks. And it is incontestable that ultra-left and ultra-right groupuscules played an important part in yesterday’s rioting (antifa and alt-right joining forces, if you will).

And then there were faux Gilets Jaunes, e.g. this well-known hard-right activist—from the 2013 anti-gay marriage movement—who slipped on a yellow vest and was interviewed as a legitimate Gilet Jaune by Russia Today (whose reporter wore a helmet, as if in a war zone):

Don’t miss Arthur Goldhammer’s latest post on the Tocqueville 21 blog, “‘Ce peuple est encore dangereux’.” Also the highly informative and interesting interview with Gérard Noiriel, just up on the Libération website, “Pour Macron, les classes populaires n’existent pas.”

À bientôt.

UPDATE: Mediapart editor-publisher Edwy Plenel has an excellent commentary, which has been translated into English, “The ‘gilets jaunes’ protests: the battle for equality.” Hopefully Mediapart will lift the subscriber wall for it.

2nd UPDATE: See Arthur Goldhammer’s latest post (December 4th), “Did Macron’s Tax Reforms Spark the Riots?,” which is based on this piece in the FT.

3rd UPDATE: Emile Chabal—a Reader in History at the University of Edinburgh—has an op-ed in The Hindu (December 6th), “United colours of the ‘yellow vests’,” that is one of the best analyses of the Gilets Jaunes I’ve seen so far in English.

Also see Adam Nossiter’s report (December 5th) in the NYT, “How France’s ‘yellow vests’ differ from populist movements elsewhere.”

4th UPDATE: Le Monde editorial director Sylvie Kauffmann writes in the NYT (December 6th) on “Macron’s moment of truth.” The lede: “Weeks of violent protest by France’s angry working poor are testing a president who promised the people reform but has failed to govern with them, rather than over them.”

5th UPDATE: Paris-based journalist Cole Stangler, who leans to the left, has a good piece (December 7th) in The Nation, “What’s really behind France’s Yellow Vest protest?” The lede: “It’s not just about the fuel tax; it’s about anger at ever-increasing burdens on the working class.”

6th UPDATE: Hudson Institute fellow Benjamin Haddad, a onetime UMP activist who strongly supported Emmanuel Macron from the outset of his presidential campaign, weighs in (December 7th) on “Macron’s moment of reckoning” in Politico.eu. The lede: “Protests are part of France’s DNA. These are different.”

7th UPDATE: Claire Berlinski, who’s a friend, has a piece (December 7th) in the right-leaning City Journal, “Riots in Paris: The police underestimated the madness of the crowd.” N.B. Contrary to what Claire writes, the regular army has not been deployed and there are no tanks on the streets of Paris.

8th UPDATE: Adam Gopnik, who knows France well, has his take (December 6th) in The New Yorker, “The Yellow Vests and why there are so many street protests in France.” He errs on a couple of historical details but gets the big picture right.

9th UPDATE: The Financial Times has a ‘Big Read’ article (December 7th) by reporters Harriet Agnew and Ben Hall, “‘Look at me, I exist’: French protesters send message to Macron.” The lede: “‘Gilets jaunes’ demonstrations have become a rallying point for a legion of disaffected workers.”

And the FT’s Paris correspondent, Simon Kuper, had a tweet storm (December 8th) with his “quick thoughts on what’s happening in France.”

10th UPDATE: See the 3-minute WSJ YouTube video, “What is France’s ‘Gilets Jaunes’ or ‘Yellow Vests’ protest movement?”

Better yet is the 5-minute interview (December 8th) with Arthur Goldhammer on France 24, “‘Yellow vest’ protests: What can Emmanuel Macron say to turn things around?”

11th UPDATE: I’ve copied-and-pasted in the comments thread below a lengthy take (December 11th) on the Gilets Jaunes by anthropologist Hannah Davis Taïeb.

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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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