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John Lichfield For Members

OPINION: A march against anti-Semitism is vital for France, but will also reveal hypocrisy

John Lichfield
John Lichfield - [email protected]
OPINION: A march against anti-Semitism is vital for France, but will also reveal hypocrisy
France has recorded more than 1,000 anti-Semitic acts since October 7th. Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP

The march 'against anti-semitism' in Paris this Sunday will reveal a jumble of hypocrisies, writes John Lichfield. The march is justified, all the same, even essential.

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The far-right Rassemblement National (RN), whose founding DNA is drenched in Jew-hatred, will march against anti-Semitism. How convenient for Marine Le Pen, who can flaunt her hard-won, cosmetic respectability.

The hard-left La France Insoumise (LFI), which is supposedly humanist and anti-racist, will refuse to take part. Its official reason is the presence of Marine Le Pen and the RN.

The LFI’s de facto leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon revealed the true reason. Marching against anti-Semitism was, he said, marching for the “massacre” of Palestinians in Gaza.

For Mélenchon, to defend French Jews from violent, anti-Semitic acts in France is to support Israel.

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Other right-wing parties – the once powerful but failing Les Républicains and Eric Zemmour’s upstart Reconquête!  – will march.

Some of their leaders and supporters are sincerely opposed to anti-Semitism. They are even more sincerely in favour of any event which might imply that the Muslim presence in France is an existential threat to Frenchness.

Let us be honest. There have been 1,000 anti-Semitic acts in France since the slaughter by Hamas of 1,400 Israeli  civilians on October 7th and Israel’s relentless bombardment of Gaza in response. That is twice as many as in the whole of last year.

The overwhelming majority are the responsibility not of the white Far Right but of young Muslims and radical leftists who identify with the Palestinian cause.

But let us also be honest about something else.

After 26 years in France, I can state from personal experience that the well-heeled, French bourgeoisie which supports the LR and Eric Zemmour (who is of North African Jewish origin) is peppered with anti-Semitism. This is not violent anti-Semitism. It is sly, unthinking anti-Semitism, based on mockery and exclusion.

All the same, the Républicains and the Zemmouristes will march against anti-Semitism on Sunday. And rightly so.

Macron’s centrists and the softer left-wing parties will also take part. The Communists say that they will organise their own separate rally to avoid marching in the same column as Marine Le Pen.

Will Mélenchon’s LFI join the alternative, Le Pen-free march? I doubt it.

In sum, Sunday’s march, or marches, will be an occasion for much posturing and humbug. They are no less necessary for all that.

The event is the joint initiative of the presidents (speakers) of the two houses of the French parliament, Yael Braun-Pivet of the Assembly, who is Jewish, and Gérard Larcher, of the Senate,  who is not.

They have called for a “general mobilisation” against the “banalization of hate” to declare “before the world that the French Republic will never allow ignominy to prosper”.

Is an “official” march against anti-Semitism not also an act of hypocrisy? The French government has sought – sometimes with success – to ban demonstrations in favour of the Palestinian cause.

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I believe that pro-Palestine marches should be allowed, both in Paris and in London.

But the two are not the same thing. Sunday’s march is not about the Middle East. It is about France.

This is not a demonstration in favour of Israel, as Mélenchon’s weasel words suggest. It is a stand against the oldest and most tenacious form of racial hatred in French and European history.

Partly because of their support for the Palestinian cause, partly because of the viciously anti-Jewish propaganda of radical forms of Islam, many (not all) young French Muslims have come to detest Jews.

A video which has gone viral on social media in recent days shows a group of young French men of North African origin on a Metro train singing the following words.

Nique les Juifs et nique ta mère, vive la Palestine, on est des nazis et on est fiers.” (Screw the Jews and screw your mother, long live Palestine, we are Nazis and proud of it.)

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Even allowing for youthful ignorance and desire to shock, the words are disturbing.

Despite all the (justified) rhetoric against extreme Islamism in recent years, there have been very few physical attacks on French Muslims as Muslims. Despite the efforts of Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour and others to paint all Muslims as a threat, there have been no more than scattered attacks on mosques or Muslim businesses.

Young, and some not so young, French Muslims and their allies on the hard-left condemn such attacks. But they feel no such revulsion against systematic verbal and physical violence against French Jews.

Sarah, a 41-year-old French Jew, told Le Monde this week: “To be Jewish in France is to be afraid, to be on alert the whole time and especially since October 7th.”

The 600,000 French Jews – the largest such community in Europe – are no more responsible for the brutal actions of this Israeli government than all French Muslims are responsible for the terrorism of ISIS or Hamas.

To accept one form of aggressive generalisation is to invite the other and as Larcher and Braun-Pivet said, “open the gates to all hatreds”.

What good does marching do? More than doing nothing. In France, politics is partly street theatre. Not to demonstrate  would be a statement of submission to anti-Semitism and all hatred based on race or community.

It would be encouraging to imagine a big turn-out on Sunday – equivalent to the crowds which assembled after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015.

Somehow, and I hope I’m wrong, I fear that it will be a much weaker statement than France needs.

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