France has the biggest Jewish population in Europe – around half a million people – and prejudice against Jews is a very real thing here. Jean-Marie Le Pen built his National Front organization, with its fascist core, while insisting that the ovens of Auschwitz were “a detail of history” and while repeatedly making “jokes” implying he wanted the same fate to befall Jewish personalities who opposed him. Jordan Bardella, presently head of this organization (now called National Rally and with 88 Members of Parliament), insisted this week that Jean-Marie Le Pen was not antisemitic, and promised his party would march alongside Macron’s ministers against antisemitism, which he insists is to be blamed on French Muslims and left-wing activists.
Antisemitism in France
Violent antisemitism in France mostly comes from the far right, but not only. There have been a number of racist murders of Jews over the last twenty years, including the terrorist attack in 2014 on a kosher supermarket, which left four dead. In addition, polls show that up to a third of the population hold prejudices such as “Jews have too much power in the business world”.
Police figures say that there have been 1159 antisemitic offences (from insults to assaults) committed in France in the last month or so. Authorities give very few details. Some of these will be from the far right (swastikas were daubed on walls in the Southern town of Nice, while anti-Jewish and white power slogans were seen in Fresnes in the Paris suburbs). Some are certainly from people stupidly blaming Jews in general for Israel’s massacres, and some from reports to the police of pro-Palestine activity which is not in fact antisemitic at all. Darmanin, the Minister of the Interior has already declared that waving a Palestinian flag is an act of antisemitism, whilst even the respected newspaper Le Monde is saying that the slogan “From the river to the sea” is probably antisemitic!
It suits Macron to claim that the rise of antisemitic attacks, and not his government’s support for killing Gaza’s children, is the most important news story of the day. And there are regular attempts by Macron and other right wingers to blame French Arabs for antisemitism. This has obviously been made easier by the Jihadist anti-Jewish terrorist attacks, which in fact horrified French people of North African origin just like they horrified everyone else.
Unsurprisingly, when the government of Israel, and the French mass media, declare every day of the year that everything Israel does is in the name of all Jews everywhere, there are those who are foolish enough to believe them, and this can push uninformed people into antisemitic ideas. But France had no need of Arab immigration to see a strong current of antisemitic prejudice in the country. Antisemitism goes far back in French history, and the active involvement of the French state during the Second world war in the massacre of Jews turned a hateful trend into a murderous one. Even General de Gaulle could cheerfully express his antisemitism, declaring in the 1960s that the Jews “had always been a people of the elite, sure of itself and dominating”.
Today, the French state is cynically using the existence of antisemitism to strengthen support for Israel. At the same time Macron is welcoming fascist currents further into mainstream politics. For many right wingers, this is the first step to what they hope will be a future government alliance between right and far right.
It was in 2019 that Macron first declared that “antizionism is one of the modern forms of antisemitism”. The Macron government is determined today to smear the Palestine solidarity campaign as anti-Jewish, despite the large numbers of Jews active in it. Several demonstrations in Paris were banned, with the Paris police chief declaring that the danger of antisemitic slogans was too high. Once pro Palestine sentiment got even stronger, and the banned demonstrations had taken place anyway, the government authorized protests the following week. The result was huge demonstrations, without any antisemitic slogans (despite the right-wing press scouring the streets looking for them).
The repression continues though. The theatrical deportation of a Palestinian speaker, Mariam Abudaqa, is being organized. Activists putting up posters reading “stop the genocide” were arrested and kept in detention overnight last week. Then, in early November, some of Macron’s team came up with a cunning new plan: to have a big march, from the National Assembly to the Senate “against rising antisemitism”. The media jumped on the opportunity to denounce any organization not calling to join the march as Jew-haters.
The initial call to demonstrate around the country on Sunday 11 November, which was published by Macron’s team included the demand that Israeli hostages be freed, but said nothing about the massacres in Gaza. It claimed that “Islamists” were the main culprits carrying out attacks on Jews in France, but said nothing about islamophobia. The far-right organization “National Rally” unsurprisingly called at once its supporters to join the demonstration. And all the most prominent fascists in the country were suddenly moved to pour out their well-known empathy for Jewish people. Eric Zemmour, Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella all marched in Paris on Sunday, scarcely able to believe the huge favour Macron’s team were doing for them by including them in this initiative.
The Left was under huge pressure to join the march in Paris. The Socialist Party, Communist Party and the Greens called to march but insisted there should be a “Republican barrier” to make sure that the far right would march separately (in fact an entirely impracticable proposal). The biggest radical Left organization, the France Insoumise (“France in Revolt”) decided not to join the demonstration. “Fighting against antisemitism and all forms of racism is not possible if marching alongside a party whose origins are in collaboration with the nazis”, the FI press release explained. Jean-Luc Mélenchon went even further declaring that it would be “a meeting point for those who support the massacre in Gaza”. The combative trade union confederation, the CGT (who recently invited the Palestinian ambassador to address their national council), rejected Macron’s march and called instead to join a long-planned weekday rally against antisemitism which coincided with the anniversary of Kristallnacht.
Fortunately, on Sunday, large numbers of people understood the cynical manipulation. Only 7,000 joined the demonstration in Marseille, only 3,000 in Bordeaux, Lyon and Nice. In Paris, though, around a hundred thousand marched. No doubt most present had no intention of helping the fascists rehabilitate themselves, and the supporters of Israel’s massacres did not have the confidence to carry Israeli flags. The fascist contingent was disrupted briefly by a few dozen members of the Left Jewish group Golem, waving placards “We can see you, antisemites!”
It is no surprise that this collaboration with the fascists in smart suits of National Rally comes from a Macron government which last year announced the banning of the local antifascist grouping in Lyon, known under the acronym GALE, on the grounds that the group supported violent acts “against far-right activists and their property”, at the same time as it banned the CRI, a legal aid organization for victims of islamophobia.
Macron’s team aims at killing two birds with one stone – attacking the pro-Palestine movement and preparing the ground for future alliances with fascists. The demonstrations of the Palestine solidarity movement on 11 November, far more dynamic, is the sign that another option is possible, as long as most left activists do not fall into Macron’s carefully laid traps.