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

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what issues initially drove the protests (gasoline taxes, a new speed limit law, cost of living; which have since been superseded by others).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)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below] [7th update below] [8th update below] [9th update below] [10th update below] [11th update below]

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’.”

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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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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