Leaders of French President Emmanuel Macron’s governing party marched alongside fascists in Paris on November 12. The mass demonstration purported to oppose rising antisemitism, but was, in fact, aimed at crippling the pro Palestine movement. John Mullen cuts through the confusion.
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France has the largest Jewish population in Europe — around half a million people — and prejudice against Jews is very real.
Jean-Marie Le Pen built his far-right National Front, with its fascist core, while claiming 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 now heads this organisation, which has since changed its name to National Rally and has 88 Members of Parliament. Bardella insisted this week that Le Pen was not anti-Semitic. He promised his party would march alongside Macron’s ministers against antisemitism, which he insists can be blamed on Muslims and left-wing activists.
Violent antisemitism in France mostly comes from the far right, but not solely. A number of racist murders of Jews have occurred over the past 20 years, including the 2014 terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket, which left four dead.
Polls show that up to one-third of the population hold prejudices such as that “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 past month or so. Authorities give very few details. Some of these will be from the far right — for example, swastikas were daubed on walls in the southern town of Nice, while anti-Jewish and “white power” graffiti was seen in Fresnes in the Paris suburbs.
Some offences will be committed by people stupidly blaming Jews in general for Israel’s massacres, and some will be reports to the police of pro-Palestine activity — which is not antisemitic at all.
Minister of the Interior Gérald Moussa Darmanin 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 in antisemitic attacks, — not his government’s support for killing Gaza’s children — is the most important news story of the day.
There are regular attempts by Macron and other right-wingers to blame French people of Arab descent for antisemitism. This has obviously been made easier by the Jihadist anti-Jewish terrorist attacks, which horrified French people of North African origin just as they horrified everyone else.
Unsurprisingly, when the Israeli government 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. This can push uninformed people into antisemitic ideas.
Antisemitism goes far back in French history, and the active involvement of the French state in the massacre of Jews during World War II turned a hateful trend into a murderous one. Even General de Gaulle cheerfully expressed 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 the right and far right.
Macron first declared that “anti-Zionism is one of the modern forms of antisemitism” in 2019.
Today, his government is determined to smear the Palestine solidarity campaign as anti-Jewish, despite the large numbers of Jews active in it.
In Paris, several demonstrations against Israel’s war on Gaza were banned — the Paris police chief declaring that the danger of antisemitic slogans was “too high”.
However, as the pro-Palestine sentiment strengthened, and people demonstrated despite the ban, the government authorised protests the following week. The results were huge demonstrations, without any antisemitic slogans — despite the right-wing press scouring the streets looking for them.
However, the repression continues.
Visiting Palestinian speaker, Mariam Abudaqa, an activist with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, is to be deported, in an act of theatre. Activists putting up posters reading “stop the genocide” were arrested and kept in detention overnight last week.
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 organisation not calling on people to join the march as “Jew-haters”.
The initial call to demonstrate around the country on November 12 — 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.
Unsurprisingly, National Rally immediately called on its supporters to join the demonstration. And all the most prominent fascists in the country were suddenly “moved with empathy”. Far-right politicians Eric Zemmour, Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella all marched in Paris on the day — scarcely able to believe the huge favour Macron’s team had done 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 on people to march but insisted there should be a “Republican barrier” to make sure the far right marched separately — an entirely impracticable proposal.
The biggest radical left organisation, France Insoumise (France in Revolt, FI) decided not to join the demonstration, saying “Fighting against antisemitism and all forms of racism is not possible if marching alongside a party whose origins are in collaboration with the Nazis.”
FI leader 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 General Confederation of Labour (CGT) — which recently invited the Palestinian ambassador to address its national council — rejected Macron’s march. The CGT called on people instead to join a long-planned weekday rally against antisemitism that coincided with the anniversary of Kristallnacht (a Nazi pogrom carried out against Jews across Germany and Austria in November, 1938).
Fortunately, large numbers of people understood the cynical manipulation. Only 7000 joined the demonstration in Marseille, only 3000 in Bordeaux, Lyon and Nice.
In Paris, about 100,000 people marched. No doubt most of those 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 left Jewish group Golem, waving placards saying “We can see you, antisemites!”.
This collaboration with National Rally’s “fascists in smart suits” comes from the same government that last year banned a local anti-fascist grouping in Lyon, known as GALE, claiming it supported violent acts “against far-right activists and their property”. Macron’s government also banned the Coordination Against Racism and Islamophobia in France (CRI), a legal aid organisation 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 the fascists.
The demonstrations of the Palestine solidarity movement on November 11, which were far more dynamic, are the sign that another option is possible, as long as most left activists do not fall into Macron’s carefully laid traps.
[John Mullen is a revolutionary socialist who has been active in the Paris region for more than 30 years. His website is randombolshevik.org.]