An insightful article by the French antifacist group Luftmenschen about the conflict between the “anti-Zionist” and “anti-Islamist” currents within the French Left.(1) Both create their own imaginary threats and do not fight for concrete immigrant’s and refugee’s rights anymore. This picture becomes increasingly clear everytime Israel start bombing Gaza again and solidarity demonstrations are being organized. Reaping the benefits from this development is the extreme Right, especially the Front National. A translation from French by Yves Coleman from Ni Patri, Ni Frontière.
“This article will not say much about Palestine and Israel. But it will deal with the fantasized and politically oriented vision which has been created by a fraction of the French far Right and other tendencies. This text will deal with an imagery which is more widespread than we think and with an allegorical bestiary where the “young stone-thrower”, as well as the infamous “Zionist”, are put forward only to mask the real thoughts of those who never speak as clearly about the Arabs and Jews here, in France, than when they claim to evoke the situation in the Middle East.”
These few sentences were written five years ago. They introduced the first text published by Luftmenschen, when another Israelian military offensive against Gaza was happening, and when the holocaust-denier Robert Faurisson was invited on the stage of the Zenith theater by the antisemite stand-up comedian Dieudonné to meet his 5,000 spectators.
Five years later, once again, what’s happening in Israel and Palestine enables many political forces to unleash their anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, while pretending to only express their position on the international situation.
Two major positions exist simultaneously in two “camps” which pretend to being fierce enemies.
Among the “anti-Zionist” far Right or far Left, as well as among their “anti-Islamic” enemy brothers, ideologues are trying to impose the image of truncated parallel realities. They want us to believe that suddenly in France, only “Zionists” and “Islamists” are in command.
They could have attacked Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls for his measures against undocumented workers and as one of the best servants of French capitalism in recent years (thanks to his policy, French bosses received 50 billion euros, a very significant gift). But his far Left and far Right opponents chose to denounce him as the incarnation of “Zionism”, a politician supposedly influenced by his Jewish wife.
Let’s take another example on the “opposite” side: the leaders of the anti-Semitic movement in France, the stand-up comedian Dieudonné and political writer Alain Soral, are undeniably French and Catholic, but the national-republican Left prefers to concentrate all its attention on the “new” anti-Semitism supposedly imported from Arab and Muslim countries. But what is really new in Dieudonné’s shows (who imitates Streicher, the Nazi propagandist of the 1920’s), or Soral’s speeches (who chose his mentors among early twentieth-century far Right French writers like Barres and Maurras)?
In these parallel and truncated interpretations, recent historical realities have totally disappeared from the analyses proposed by both camps.
When some demonstrations against the Israeli intervention in Gaza were banned by French Left government last summer, “anti-Zionists” explained that the French State wanted to “protect the interests of Israel”. But they forgot to denounce the racist attacks in the media against the Algerian football team supporters in France, an offensive supported by prime minister Manuel Valls. This Left politician has obviously used certain episodes of anti-Semitic violence which followed some pro-Palestine demonstrations: his police could have prevented these events, stopped their direct perpetrators and even their organisers who campaigned and gave appointments on the Net, several days before the demonstrations. The Left governement chose to let these people act in the streets, in order to take advantage of their actions, by solemnly banning some pro-Palestine demonstrations and publicly targeting “allochtone” protesters (or protesters whose parents or even grandparents came from “Muslim” countries).
It’s not the first time that a French government bans demonstrations to discretely favour a racist agenda: demonstrations of undocumented, or poorly housed foreign workers, have been repressed several times by French Left government, even though these demonstrators never committed any violence during their demonstrations. At the same time most far Right demonstrations have not been banned.
On the other side of the alleged barrier between the “anti-Zionist” and “anti-Islamist” camps, the “anti-Islamists” have forgotten to criticize the hundreds of thousands of followers of the antisemite stand-up comedian Dieudonné: they are undeniably typical French, combining all sorts of backgrounds (from working class youth to policemen and members of the military forces, everyone waving the French flag).
It’s true that during the pro-Palestine demonstrations, one can sometimes hear slogans like “Allah is great”; it’s true that the tiny group called “Parti des Indigènes de la République” (PIR) supports Hamas. (Let’s note that the leaders of the PIR are all former trotskysts or student trade-unionists, perfectly integrated in French university or public sector.) But socalled “anti-Islamists” use these facts to pretend that pro-Palestine demonstrations are fundamentally influenced by Muslim religion, a factor which explains (according to them) the anti-Semitic actions which happened on the margins of these protests. “Anti-Islamists” never mention that the “anti-Zionist” Left has for years reproduced, in its press, demonstrations and websites, anti-Semitic caricatures drawn by the French Zeon or the Brazilian Latuff (who pretends to be communist). They never mention that the radical Left has been obsessed for many years by the Ligue de défense juive (Jewish Defense League, a tiny far Right grouplet of less than 60 members), and that this obsession may have had very negative consequences.
This complex reality does not prevent the same two parallel and paranoid discourses to go on: whether they denounce “Zionist” or “Islamist” influence, both camps want us to believe that Jewish and Arab minorities, which together represent less than five percent of French population, are dominating French political agenda.
Once you falsely present the leaders of these minorities as powerful and influential, it’s easy to deny reality, and to reverse the actual course of events, the underlying trend in French society for years, the rise of political persecutions against the two minorities and permanent growth of physical violence combined with verbal abuse.
Florian Philippot, one the leaders of the National Front, said in July 2014 that he “had not noticed a recent growth of racism and anti-Semitism in France”. Big lies are always more effective than small lies, and even more so when most sectors of the Left share the same position.
On one side, part of the anti-Zionist Left stays silent about anti-Semitism or reduces it to the crazy actions of a “handful of fanatics”: this part of the Left denied that Ilan Halimi’s murder was anti-Semitic. (Halimi was working in a phoneshop, kidnapped, tortured and killed because his kidnappers thought that, being Jewish, his family could have paid a ransom, Y.C.) The anti-Zionist Left stayed also silent when Mohamed Merad murdered Jewish children (in Toulouse, in the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school on the 19th March 2012, Y.C.) because they were Jews. And when in the summer of 2014, several groups participating to pro-Palestine demonstrations attacked Jewish people near synagogues, burnt Jewish shops or launched raids against a Parisian Jewish district, this same Left denounced a “Zionist manipulation of public opinion” before being obliged to recognize the existence of a few dozen “nuts”.
But why would a few dozen people, who share absolutely nothing with thousands or tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators, come to such a demonstration? Let’s imagine that a few dozen activists would come to such a demonstration waving Israeli flags even claiming they struggle for peace. They would immediately be attacked as “Zionists”. An active minority can act and recruit in an organized crowd only if it has enough common points with the people surrounding it.
Another part of the Left, the national-republican Left, does not criticize French state racism anymore: the few rights gained by migrants are continuously reduced; the popular revolts in working class neighborhoods against police violence are severely suppressed; the national-republican Left does not support anymore the creation of a ten-year residence permit for all foreigners, the right of foreigners to vote; it does not fight anymore the growing precariousness in economic sectors which primarily hire migrants (and sons or grandsons of migrants).
For many years, on the contrary, national-republican Left policies are converging with Right-wing policies or even preceding them, demanding anti-Muslim measures. The national-republican Left thinks, openly or not, that the main problem in France is not the oppression of Maghrebian and sub-Saharan African minorities, no, the main problem is their religion. While the anti-Zionist Left pretends anti-Semitism is just shared by some “isolated nuts”, the national-republican Left considers racism and Islamophobia as a problem only when they are propagated by “small far Right grouplets”. The national-republican Left has the same obsessions as the National Front, it promotes debates about the veil (hijab), halal food, “failed integration”, so-called “anti-White racism” and “communitarianism”.
What is happening about Palestine and Israel in France today, derives partly from a political logic operating inside the Left on a daily basis for years: the Left has chosen the same themes, the same debates as the fascists. Some even pretend that the fascists have “stolen” its themes from the Left.
In fact, in the current period, fascists don’t have to do anything; they can calmly wait to reap the poisoned fruits sown by others, as we have seen during this summer 2014.
The anti-Semitic far Right could have easily organised its own “anti-Zionist” demonstrations. They are numerous enough to organise such protests; they have done it in the past in the name of “anti-imperialism” to defend Syrian or Libyan dictatorships. Massive mobilizations such as the “Day of Wrath” (organized by 50 far Right groups on the 25th of January 2014, this protest had many targets: “islamisation of France”, “European threat”, Socialist government, gay mariage, etc., Y.C.) showed that they were now able to demonstrate in the streets shouting unambiguous fascist slogans with significant support. They did not demonstrate in favor of Palestine, probably for two reasons: first, they knew they could have been repressed by the State if attacks on synagogues, or raids against Jewish districts, had happened during their own demonstrations. In this case, nobody on the Left would have denied these agressions or covered these anti-Semitic episodes attributing them to a “media conspiracy”.
The general attitude of the Left, anticipated by the fascists, is the second reason for their abstention: pro-Palestine demonstrations were a cozy nest for extreme Right anti-Semites. Neither because of their official topic, nor because they hosted bloody Islamists; but because they shared all the defects and flaws of the anti-Zionist Left. For example a group like Europalestine, which called to this demonstration, is both a theoretical and practical pillar of the anti-Zionist movement, and a supporter of far Right holocaust deniers like the political writer Paul-Emile Blanrue or the jazz saxophonist and writer Gilad Atzmon. No wonder that the leaflets calling to these demonstrations had an anti-Semitic rhetoric.
But we must not forget that the national-republican Left, which claims to fight anti-Semitism while supporting Islamophobia, has done nothing else than paving the way for the National Front.
This summer, the national-republican Left attributed the rise of anti-Semitism in France to the emergence of a generation of young Muslims and to a supposed “integration problem” and “rejection of French and republican values”. By doing so, the national-republican Left paved the way to Marine Le Pen, who was at the time on vacation; when she came back from her holidays, she only added a few words about “communitarianism” to reap the benefits of the offensive led by Manuel Valls and supported by the national-republican Left and Right.
To explain anti-Semitism in France, the national-republican Left puts the blame on the solidarity of a part of the Arab-Muslim minority with Palestinians (who are the victims of repeateed deadly military offensives) and on the religious beliefs of a fraction of this Muslim minority. This is what they label as a “new” foreign, imported, anti-Semitism; for them, the “old” anti-Semitism is a minor problem coming from “small far Right or far Left groups”.
Increasingly, Dieudonné and Soral are thus described as “henchmen” of the “Islamists”. Similarly, the role of the NPA (New Anticapitalist Party, trotskyist) and of the Front de Gauche (a coalition around the French communist Party) has been minimized in the organization of pro-Palestine demonstrations in Paris. The far Left is mostly accused by the national-republican Left of tailing behind the “Islamists”. The so-called “Islamists” being the Parti des Indigènes de la République, a very tiny group.
For the national-republican Left, the problem is not so much what the NPA, French Communist Party and other Left groups say, but the fact that their ideology has been supposedly contaminated by the “Indigènes de la République” (Natives of the Republic), or that they have “collaborated” with them. Yet no Arab-Muslim organisation has pushed the trotskyist NPA to support the “Bonnets rouges” (red caps) (2) movement in November 2013, which was actively and openly supported by far Right groups. Similarly, the leaders of the “Indigènes de la République” (Youssef Boussoumah and Houria Bouteldja) have not been whispering in the ears of Jean-Luc Mélenchon (leader of the Parti de Gauche, a national-republican split coming from the Socialist Party, Y.C.) when he participated in a protest organised, on the 29th of August 2013, by the Communist Party against “the war in Syria” and justified his cohabitation with neo-nazis in this demonstration.
In the national-republican Left a swift move has rapidly occurred: the problem is no longer the anti-Semitic actions which use the pretext of Palestinian solidarity; no, the problem is now the denounciation of Israeli wars for what they are. They are, of course, not coming from a conflict between two nations fighting on equal terms, but from a radically asymetric relation between the forces on the ground, where Palestinian armed groups will never have the military means and weapons of destruction of their adversary. Very quickly, under the guise of “defending peace”, part of the national-republican Left started to defend the status quo and an apparent “neutrality”: Palestinians have the right to a state, and Jews too. “Why should we defend the first against the latter”, said the national-republican Left, forgetting that, in reality, the state of Israel exists, but not the state of Palestine. “Yes, but anyway, if the state of Palestine existed, it would be a Hamas-led government; this would not be a victory for the Palestinians, let alone for the progressive camp”, says part of the national-republican Left.
With this kind of reasoning, as Israel is currently headed by a far Right government, there would be no reason to oppose those who support the destruction of this state!
In fact, this simplistic discourse does not concern so much Palestine and Israel. If that had been the case, a movement would necessarily have emerged in France, a movement which would have understood what was happening in the Middle East: families of young Israelis murdered by Palestinian far Right groups joined their forces with families of young Palestinians killed by Israeli far Right groups. This movement would have proved, if necessary, that there was no “historical impasse” and no “eternal conflict”. At the heart of the war and facing a massive propaganda, under enormous pressures from the Israeli government and organised fascists groups, thousands of people have chosen to say together: “No to war AND no to occupation”.
But here, in France, there is no such thing, but a continued focus on “Islamists”. It’s not surprising since, for more than ten years, the national-republican Left is only focusing on the “Islamists” in order to justify its abandonment of antiracist policies.
It’s in the name of a supposed “Islamist” threat that the French State expelled veiled Muslim girls from the schools; it’s in the name of an “Islamist” threat that part of the Left did not protest against the avalanche of security laws. It’s in the name of an “Islamist” threat that part of the Left mildly protests against racist attacks coming from the Right and far Right, and denounces the verbal excesses of their leaders while approving their basic policies: this is what happened during the campaign against Muslim street prayers, a campaign initiated by the National Front, retaken by the Right and supported by the “secular” Left. This is what happened when Nadine Morano, a Right wing ex-minister and MP, protested against the presence of one Muslim woman on a French beach (who was fully dressed with a veil while her husband took a swim in the sea and Morano considered her veil as “an attack against our culture”, Y.C.), a protest supported by some Socialist Party leaders (presenting beaches as a “space of liberty” and not of “inequality”!, Y.C.).
And, in the radical Left, even if some militants concede that anti-Muslim racism exists, they will always find a good reason not to do anything against it.
For the last ten years, a significant part of the Left has been only complaining about existing mobilizations, because they are organized by “religious” and “communitarist” groups, because they do not use the “right words” and because the “Islamophobia” concept is problematic.
For much of the national-republican or anti-Zionist Left, victims are never innocent: Jews are always a bit “Zionist”, Arabs are always a little “Islamist”. Either manipulated by “Zionists”, or used by “Islamists”. This reversed vision of power relations between minorities and majorities always pretends to defend a minority.
The final result is simple: in the end, very few Left-wing people fight racism and anti-Semitism. The anti-Zionist and anti-Islamist brother enemies are two sides of the same coin; produced in the same mold, they produced the same disaster: quantitatively weak mobilizations, which gave way to the emergence, on both sides, of fascist leaders.
Many leaders or personalities of the fascist milieu (Florian Philippot, Dieudonné, Fabien Engelman, Etienne Chouard, Christine Tasin, Michel Collon) come from the reformist or radical Left. This phenomenon is not a “minor event”, an “epiphenomenon” because these individuals and milieux bring their own contributions drawn from the legacy of the French Left.
This situation weakens, and sometimes even paralyzes the offensive against racism and anti-Semitism: in fact, ideological and practical collusions of the anti-Zionist and anti-Islamic Left with different variants of fascism weaken or neutralize many initiatives.
In January 2014, no significant mobilisation was organised against Dieudonné’s followers while he could calmly call to throw Jewish journalists in gas chambers in front of thousands of hilarious spectators. Such an appalling situation had two causes: a. the weight of the indulgence for anti-Semitism (part of the Left defended the freedom of expression of neo-Nazis; the other part did not to criticize anti-Semitism in order “not to play into the hands of Zionism”); and b. the weight of racism, embodied by the Interior Minister Manuel Valls whose racist remarks made the struggle against anti-Semitism almost inaudible.
During the spring of 2013, no significant mobilization occurred against the wave of attacks targeting veiled women. Left racism (as veiled women are, for these people, a symbol of fundamentalism, they justify almost every attack against Muslim women except physical attacks) combined with indulgence for anti-Semitism; the combination of these two phenomenon generated criticisms abour “double standards” favoring one or another minority and had a demobilizing effect.
Consequently, racist and anti-Semitic violence grew: damages against synagogues and mosks have become common place in recent years, and even the swastikas systematically painted on both religious buildings did not trigger a united response.
Each “camp” or “community” has started to jealously watch the political reactions to anti-Semitic or racist violence; each “community” compares these reactions in order to show that the other minority is better off and defended by the entire society. Today, degradations and threatening letters also affect personal homes, while street aggressions grow at the same pace against all those who belong to a “visible minority”. The lack of a common and universal reaction causes the emergence of so-called “community defence organizations” which help fascist propaganda and nurture hatred of one minority against another.
Powerless to build an alternative, the national-republican Left then theorizes the need for collusions.
For example, the journalist Frederic Haziza, who should have been defended only as a victim of anti-Semitism, has increasingly become an acceptable reference for a part of the adversaries of Alain Soral (a fascist opinion leader which strong influence in social networks, Y.C.) just because he wrote a book on the subject, and goes to demonstrations to record anti-Semitic remarks. This journalist is a very strange kind of “antifascist”: he wanted to invite Marine Le Pen (leader of the National Front) on Radio J (a Jewish radio) and he is also in very good terms with Brice Hortefeux, former vicious Right-wing Interior Minister who was supporting, ten years ago, a reactionary French association.
Rather than always seeking the hidden hand of the state of Iran and of a supposedly imported “new anti-Semitism”, the anti-fascist Left should instead question the bonds, even if they are temporary, between the French parlamentary Right and some French reactionary Muslim leaders.
A reactionary mentality is growing: the national-republican Left is not interested anymore in universalist antiracism: the struggles of undocumented migrants, the fight against discrimination inside workplaces or the equal access to social rights are met with indifference today.
Undoubtedly, our analysis can be interpreted as a simple statement of helplessness and passivity. But, for us, the fact of refusing to calmly live in the shadow of fascism is an optimistic perspective.
We know, because we experience it every day, what’s the weight of fear today, for Left-wing minority members: the fear of being physically attacked, but also of being alone, politically isolated for what we are and for what we refuse to be. We know the precarious comfort which can be gained by renouncing to universalism, by choosing a place where other minorities are stigmatized and humiliated, but where we can be sure to have some room.
We also know the attraction of any street mobilization for those activists who are always waiting for “social movements”; we know how it’s sometimes easier not to watch reality in order not to see it. The Net is full of stories of enthusiastic demonstrators who never see anti-Semitic banners, who have absolutely not noticed the presence of any racist organisation. When they are obliged to confront reality, they will always decide these events are non significant and meaningless.
We also know that sometimes it may seem reassuring to be “defended” by people we hate, at least more reassuring than not being defended by anybody.
Feeding one form of oppression is to feed them all. What stands in front of us today is a fascism which is equally racist and anti-Semitic, a modern fascism, not in its content but in its forms: its network organization, it has assumed a variety of expressions and leaders. It does not need to “solve” its alleged contradictions between its racist members who denounce a “new anti-Semitism” and its anti-Semitic members who try to attract Arab-Muslim people. These apparent contradictions reinforce a multifaceted field of action, and they all lead to promote the National Front, a party which does not necessarily speak with one voice, but which welcomes all facets of hatred, and all those who want to persecute one or another minority.
Conspiracy theories about socalled “Jewish conspiracies” or “islamist plots” do not mutually neutralize themselves even if they hold contradictory thesis. Cacophony only helps fascism. These “theories” can even fuse in the “Great Replacement” ideology, according to which “stateless and globalized elites” are trying to replace Whites by Arabs and Blacks.
Confronted with these murderous irrational ideas, we can only answer by promoting a rational solidarity. We don’t need to constantly deconstruct antiracism and the fight against anti-Semitism. Today, those who advocate separatist ideologies, who claim that the rights of a minority can only be built in opposition to another minority, are more numerous in the streets and culturally dominant in the Left. But this gloomy situation does not change the facts. In France, minorities’s social rights have always evolved positively with the help of universalist movements.
We should always refer to facts which have lasting and long-term effects rather than following short-lived crowds.
Luftmenschen (September 18, 2014)
1. Translator’s note: with the agreement of the authors, I specified the term “Left” because it was not always done so in the original French version. To the word “Left” I added adjectives like “radical”, “governmental”, “national-republican” and “anti-Zionist” (Left). The authors did not systematically specify the term “Left” because the boundaries are often not very clear between these different currents of the Left, and the same arguments are used by militants who consider themselves political enemies. These small changes may help English speaking readers who are not very familiar with French political realities. But just keep in mind that this confusion and these (hidden or unconscious) ideological convergences are at the center of the authors’ arguments (Y.C.).
2. “The so-called Red Caps are Breton critics of the move to introduce an ‘ecotax’ on lorries using French roads. They have destroyed several tolls and 48 cameras designed to track the lorries for the new levy in Brittany alone – at an estimated cost of 6 million euros. This disparate bunch also includes workers furious at closures, food industry bosses angry at the end of European export subsidies and Breton autonomists.” (The Telegraph, 14th November 2013)