Film at Rivesaltes Memorial

A Jew in France

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

W.B. Yeats, 1920

A lot has been written lately about the rise in anti-Semitism in France. The New York Times and The Guardian have reported in the last week on increased incidences of the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues with the painting of that most recognizable symbol of hate: the Nazi Swastika, and the denunciation of these acts by the Macron government. An article in Le Monde quoted Macron as saying in a speech to CRIF, a coalition of French Jewish organizations: the resurgence of anti-Semitism in France is unequaled since the second world war. In contrast to Mr. Trump, President Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe unequivocally denounced hatred and the haters, saying “this is not the country we are.” It may not be the country they want, but it is undeniable that there is a long history of anti-Semitism in France, a country with the largest Jewish population outside of Israel and the United States, and a country that deported 78,000 Jews to Nazi death camps.

Entrance to Camp de Rivesaltes
Camp de Rivesaltes

There is certainly an alarming increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents but it is unclear if this reflects a burgeoning hatred in the population or the increased freedom to broadcast opinions that used to be kept quiet. There is no doubt that as this and other western countries become increasingly polarized, the rhetoric becomes more heated and people gravitate to the extremes of left and right as moderates disappear. In France, Macron’s election destroyed the centrist Socialist and Republican parties; in Britain, Brexit has fractured both the Conservatives and Labor; and in the US, Democrats have moved to the left as Republicans lined up behind Trump. The void in the middle opens a path for populist demagogues as has happened in Brazil, Austria, Hungary, Italy, and the United States.
Macron seemed to be aware of this dynamic when in his speech to CRIF he supported the adoption of a definition of anti-Semitism that is enlarged to include anti-Zionism.

What to make of this?

It can be perceived as a political act, both in attempting to woo a frightened French Jewish community and as a lightly veiled reference to the left-wing leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon who has been accused of cloaking his anti-Semitism in criticism of Netanyahu’s policies. Tarring the left with the same brush of bigotry that sticks to Marine Le Pen on the right, leaves Macron as the only acceptable choice for a majority of the country. Opposition to the Zionist policies of the Israeli government is not anti-Semitic.
I support the right of Jews to a homeland. I oppose the destruction of the Palestinian people to annex more land for Israel. I am not an anti-Semite, but including opposition to Zionism in a definition of anti-Semitism seems to put all Jews in the same boat which is not very different from saying all Muslims are terrorists.
Macron also spoke of additional laws to ban online hate speech by anonymous postings and an investigation into the increasing number of Jewish students who have left school under the fear of violence.
Macron had to respond with more than words of sympathy. It remains to be seen whether his initiatives will become effective actions but it may not matter. Prejudice is as old as humanity and cannot be legislated away.
©2019 Ron Scherl

Camp de Rivesaltes
Camp de Rivesaltes

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