France: A Tale Of Two Demos

Authored by Amir Taheri via The Gatestone Institute,

A week after Paris witnessed a march in support of the “Palestinian cause” it hosted another march, this time against anti-Semitism.

Ostensibly provoked by the ongoing war in Gaza the two marches may persuade the French to take a closer look at the messages they convey and their impact on French politics.

Despite denials by its organizers, the leftist and extreme left parties, the first march, which took part on the right bank of the River Seine, was clearly anti-Israel, at times with anti-Semitic undertones.

The second march, last Sunday, was organized by Senate President Gérard Larcher and National Assembly Speaker Yaël Braun-Pivet, both on the right, who insisted that it was not meant as a show of support for Israel’s war in Gaza but as a defense of the Republic.

Held on the left bank of the Seine, where French café intellectuals have been discussing the fate of mankind for generations, Sunday’s march, which I attended as a reporter, attracted over 100,000 people, five times larger than the pro-Palestine demo.

In his typical neither-nor style of centrism, President Emmanuel Macron decided not to attend either demo, adopting Barack Obama’s style of “leading from behind.”

Sunday’s demo was more inclusive than the one on Saturday.

Several leftist figures attended along with two former presidents of the republic, François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, a dozen Cabinet ministers led by Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne, and most members of the Senate and National Assembly.

There were also many Muslim figures including imams of mosques who ignored the “advice” of the Grand Mosque of Paris not to attend. The Grand Mosque announced it would prefer a march “against all forms of racism including Islamophobia.” Implicitly, it regards Judaism and Islam as racial entities rather than religions.

Representatives of other religions of France, from Buddhism to Judaism and Catholicism, were present.

The hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon boycotted the demo because it included Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party. Yet the same Mélenchon had welcomed Le Pen’s participation in a demo he attended against the reform of pension laws earlier this year.

In what could be seen as secular fundamentalism, a few left-wing intellectuals also boycotted the march because they saw Gaza as a war between two rival religions.

Sunday’s demo included fewer of what the French call “visible minorities” but more marchers from the provinces. There were also fewer semi-professional marchers but more celebrities of all kinds. Like the Saturday demo, the one on Sunday also included figures on a virtue-signaling exercise.

The marchers I talked to in both demos seemed unable to distinguish between what is a geopolitical issue and what they imagine is a clash of civilizations.

Neither were they prepared to admit that anti-Semitism is an evil whose effects go beyond transient issues such as the Gaza war or the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Paralyzed by group-think, they couldn’t conceive of a situation in which one may have two victims hurting each other. To some of them, as long as one side had a legitimate grievance it mattered little how he tried to redress it.

Anti-Semitism has been and remains a live issue in France.

France was the first country to witness a concrete example of anti-Semitism at the state level with the Dreyfus affair of 1894-1906. The French Vichy state collaborated with Nazi Germany’s occupation, a collaboration that included arresting thousands of Jews for deportation to forced labor and eventually death camps in the Nazi empire.

Since then hardly a year has passed in France without some anti-Semitic action hitting the headlines. Little of that history is related to the Israel-Palestine issue, although in recent years it has been used by neo-Nazi and/or anti-Israel activists as an excuse.

The bulk of the French anti-Semitic constituency, as exemplified by the “Action Française” group, consists of individuals and groups that hate Arabs, Muslims, and Jews, not to mention blacks, single mothers, and LGBTQ+ people.

The Gaza war has provoked a rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents, at the time of this writing over 1,300 in a month.

Anti-Semitism isn’t a byproduct of the Israel-Palestine conflict; it is an evil in its own right and a threat to what even the politically correct Macron says he upholds as “values of our civilization.”

Some apologists have tried to belittle the threat by presenting anti-Semitism as another form of altrophobia (fear of the other) and, implicitly at least, a reaffirmation of sameness or national unity.

That, however, amounts to gift-wrapping raw hatred into a Hegelian package — intellectual aesthetics trumping ethics.

Paralyzed by petty political postures, the United Nations has not only failed to define anti-Semitism as a threat to “universal values” but has allowed some members to include anti-Semitic tropes in their discourse.

To think that anti-Semitism concerns only Jews is to miss the point.

You don’t have to be pro-Israel to oppose anti-Semitism. There are some Christian fundamentalists who are pro-Israel but anti-Semites; just as there are Jewish sects that are anti-Israel but, obviously, not anti-Semites.

Anti-Semitism challenges the fundamentals of what one may call modern civilization. It denies the existence of human beings as individuals with inalienable rights beyond religious, ethnic, racial and other backgrounds. It dissolves the concept of citizenship as the basis of the relationship between the individual and the state.

Anti-Semitism also violates the principle under which guilt by association and collective punishment could not be accepted. Worse still, it rejects the principle of innocence until proven guilty by a court of one’s peers, thus sapping the roots of civilized legal systems.

Anti-Semitism reaffirms the barbarian notion of imagined inherited sin under which, as T. S. Eliot put it, the blood of children must be spilled to atone for the father’s guilt.

It returns us to the ancient Greek concept of the scapegoat as a symbol of collective sin whose sacrifice purges society and triggers a new beginning. Christianity destroyed that concept through the rival concept of the innocent scapegoat.

Sunday’s demo was one of the largest in France since 1990 and the first to specifically reject anti-Semitism.

National Assembly Speaker Braun-Pivet says the demo was meant to show that a silent majority exists and sees anti-Semitism as a threat to the French Republic. She is right.

Sunday’s demo was a good start in treating it as what it is: an evil that threatens all of us.


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