Michael R. Shurkin

France and Antisemitism, p.4

Note the intermingling in Bové's discourse of political themes, religious imagery, and bizarre conspiracy theories. This is typical of "Absolute Anti-Zionism," which links the two phenomena Zebda's Cherfi sought to keep so distinct: the old Jew-hatred of antisemitism and Second-Intifada-period anti-Zionism.

Why is this hybrid appearing now, and why in France?

The first reason, of course, is simple, and political: whoever is to blame, the situation in the Middle East has deteriorated horribly, and, even if justified, the policies of the Sharon government have imposed graphic and telegenic suffering on the Palestinians. Moreover, with the US war in Iraq, French leftists can see a clear pattern of US/Israeli occupation, which distinguishes Israel/Palestine from, say, Spain/Basque, an occupation much closer to French soil.

But the political explanation does not explain the seemingly willful blindness on the part of the French left to Muslim anti-Semitism at home and the chain of events that led to the second Intifada in Palestine. And what attracts people like Bové, who has built himself into one of the world's leading anti-globalization activists, to this cause in particular?

Let's consider three recent answers proposed by contemporary French intellectuals.

The first answer is that Absolute anti-Zionism addresses fundamental needs in French leftist ideology. Robert Redeker suggests that, post Cold War, the French left has replaced "sovietophilia" with "islamophilia," and that "Palestinians and the contemporary Muslim masses replace the proletariat in the intellectuals' imagination" as the pure, ideal alternative to Western capitalism.(Le Monde, 11/21/01). In other words, absolute anti-Zionism is French contrition coupled with a fetishization of the 'innocent' Palestinians, which in turn results from the ideological need to fill the post-Soviet vacuum. Similarly, Alain Finkielkraut has argued that in Europe there reigns a "sacralization of the Other." Finkielkraut argues that French thought has so wrapped itself up in the cult of the Other that the French have succeeded in transforming Palestinians into an ideal-type, an always perfect victim, and Jews into a similarly fantastic abstraction, monstrious and criminal torturers.

Finkielkraut also offers an important distinction between absolute anti-Zionism and traditional antisemitism. In the March 2002 issue of the Jewish magazine, L'Arche, he argues that traditionally antisemites were Nationalists: "the French who worship a cult of their identity and who love each other in opposition to Jews." "Contemporary antisemitism," however, is the domain of the French who "do not love each other, who think in terms of a post-national future, who rid themselves of their Frenchness to better identify with the poor of the Earth, and who, through Israel, group Jews in the camp of the oppressors." More recently, Finkielkraut has published an essay on antisemitism, Au Nom de l'Autre: Réfléxions sur l'antisémitisme qui vient (In the Name of the Other: Reflections on the Coming Antisemitism) in which he has taken aim at the left, explaining that anti-Jewish hatred of today comes not from those nostalgic for Pétain and Vichy but rather the activists of the anti-globalization and anti-racism movements. He explains that European unity is constructed around a series of 'never agains.' No more war, nor power, nor empire, nor nationalism. Progressive Europe has disavowed its embarrassing past. This makes it ill at ease with a state, Israel, that clings to its borders just as Europe renounces its own, that nurtures its army just as Europe demilitarizes, and that must combat implacable enemies just as Europe denies such things exist.

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Image: French Pro-Palestinian rally in April, 2002

November 2003

Niles Goldstein

France and Antisemitism
Michael Shurkin

Jay Michaelson

No Pulp
Dan Friedman

Raphael Cohen

Koby Israelite
Matthue Roth

Josh's Jewish Reminders
Josh Ring

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From previous issues:

Zionism and Colonialism
Michael Shurkin

Manufacturing Dissent
Chad Beck

On Being a Leftist and a Zionist
Jay Michaelson