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[update below] [2nd update below]

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

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

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

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

As for what Zionism 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”—which I took note of—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.”

Bastille Day 2017

[update below]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liu Xiaobo, R.I.P.

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

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

Simone Veil, R.I.P.

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

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

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

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

And this tidbit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Libération

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

À suivre.

Le Monde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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