Anti-Semitism: the Far Right Whitewashed by its Support for Israel

By  Alain Gresh and Sarra Grira
Jan 4, 2024

The episode would have been unthinkable not so long ago: MPs and fans of the far right, some of them fellow travellers of the Groupe Union Défense (GUD) demonstrating side by side with Jewish extremist groups like the Jewish Defence League (JDL) or the Betar in the “march against anti-semitism” held on 12 November in Paris. At the same time, part of the left, which had agreed to serve as a surety for that demonstration was booed by other participants.

In just a few weeks, the French authorities, with the help of a good number of politicians and many media swept away the last bulwark against the “normalisation” of the far right in the French political arena by tolerating or even saluting the participation of the Rassemblement national (RN) and Reconquête1 in that 12 November march against anti-Semitism. Thus, hatred of the Jews is no longer to be associated with the successors of the Front National – a party co-founded by a former member of the Waffen SS – who repeatedly claim that Jean-Marie Le Pen is not an anti-Semite.

The same anti-Semitism is also claimed to have no connection with Reconquête whose leader, Eric Zemmour continually insists, despite his many defeats in court, that Marshal Pétain “saved the French Jews”. Henceforth, it is pretended that this form of racism is expressed in particular by the “desertion of la France insoumise” [refusing to participate in that demo] as one Dov Alfon put it in Libération, noting too that “the participation of the RN in this civic march” was merely “embarrassing” (sic). And as if this were not enough, some people on that march, contrary to what many media claimed, bore Israeli flags, thus endorsing the confusion – too frequent, too systematic, too dangerous – between Israel and Jews everywhere. A gesture in line with the wish already voiced by President Emmanuel Macron in July 2017 at the commemoration of the Vel d’Hiv’ round-up2 alongside Benyamin Netanyahu, that Israel be considered the sole custodian worldwide of the fight against anti-Semitism.

Jews? No, Israelis

For indeed the example has come from on high, from Emmanuel Macron’s cabinet, a president who has called Philippe Petain “a great soldier” and who wanted to commemorate the birth of Charles Maurras, that advocates of state anti-Semitism. As for the Minister of Internal Affairs, Gérald Darmanin, he published a book in which he explains that Napoleon Bonaparte “was concerned to settle problems caused by the presence in France of tens of millions of Jews, some of whom practised usury and were a source of disorders and complaints3.

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For the RN, the whitewashing process began in 2011: it was then that Marine Le Pen declared that her party supported Israel, while Louis Alliot, her companion and second in command of what was then called the Front National, travelled to Tel Aviv and the West Bank colonies to gain votes among French Jews. The idea was to make people forget the father’s record and his many statements of Holocaust revisionism and to reassure the Israeli authorities. Yet for several years now, these have made no effort to conceal their dealings with anti-Semitic Zionists, among whom the Hungarian populist Victor Orban is one of the most prominent. And just recently, Israel has begun talks with the Alliance for the Unity of Romanians, a party which glorifies Ion Antonescu, the country’s ruler during WW2. He collaborated with the Nazis and was responsible for the death of 400,000 Jews4. In Austria, Poland and elsewhere, Netanyahu has countless allies on the far right, neo-fascists, often Holocaust deniers or Third Reich admirers.

The Israeli ruling class is merely keeping alive a tradition which goes back to the founding fathers of Zionism: seeking out allies among European anti-Semites to help them further a project which lingers on by virtue of a ‘colonial convergence’. Concerning the alliance between his country and Apartheid South Africa from the sixties to the eighties, when the party in power there since 1948 voiced sympathies for Nazi Germany, Israeli academic Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi has written:

“You can hate the Jews and love the Israelis because in a way the Israelis are not Jews. The Israelis are colonists and warriors, like the Afrikaners5.”

Thus, coming to arrangements with European anti-Semitism has long been the preferred option of Israel’s rulers who are only interested in the struggle against this form of racism as a way of silencing those who criticise their government. A strategy illustrated by Netanyahu when he describes as ‘anti-Semitic’ any attempt by the UN’s International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate war crimes committed by the Israeli army. In the newspaper Haaretz, Amir Tibon tells to what extent, ‘This alliance is a priority of right-wing religious forces in Israel, who are offering European nationalists a deal: Israel will give you a stamp of approval (some have cynically described this as a ‘kosher certificate’), and in return you will support Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank’6.

We find the same strategy at work about the United States, when Netanyahu turns a blind eye on Donald Trump’s anti-Semitic entourage, on the ideology of the Christian Fundamentalists, supported by the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington, or when he welcomes Elon Musk, the new owner of X (formerly Twitter), to Jerusalem, only a few days after the latter had endorsed an anti-Semitic tweet. While the US billionaire did finally apologise for this, his platform has witnessed an increase of anti-Semitic tweets by 60% since he took control of it.

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Palestine as catalyst

And it is precisely based on this ‘colonial convergency’ that this ‘new anti-Semitism’ has been forged in France for the so-called republican parties and those of the far right to demonstrate against side by side.

And just what are their specific targets? On the one hand, the decolonial left, which rejects the hierarchy of racism, which refuses to denounce the one (anti-Semitism) to deny the existence of the other (Islamophobia). And on the other hand, all Muslims, designated not so long ago as ‘the Arabs’, and whose elderly people already marched, 40 years ago, against the racism of the State. That left which refuses to whitewash the RN and is itself demonised, described as anti-Semitic at the slightest criticism of Israel, while the Minister of Interior Affairs has on several occasions banned public protests by Palestine supporters, in the name of the fight against anti-Semitism … before being disavowed by the courts.

Because the Israelis like the European far right see the Muslims as the principal enemy. The genocide under way in Gaza acts as a catalyst for that strategy. The defence of Israel serves as a common ground for today’s fascists and the supporters of that country, both mobilising the fantasies attached to the ‘clash of civilisations’, theorised by Samuel Huntington in 1993 and widely popularised since 9/11. Netanyahu’s bellicose, doomsday declarations echo the words of Gilles-William Goldnadel, writing in Le Figaro about ‘the final battle’ between ‘the Westerner and his peace-loving, democratic culture,’ and ‘the East’.

In such minds, there is only one step between the colonial reality of occupied Palestine and the fantasised ‘barbarisation’ of France’s working-class suburbs (largely Muslim, of course) where’ poor whites” are the main victims.

A step gleefully taken by an increasingly large share of the French political class. Comparisons noted by journalist Daniel Scchneidermann in a tweet on 30 November:

“The civilised versus the barbarians: I often have the impression I’m hearing similar stories when I’m told about Gaza and about Crépol”7.

Thus, Senator Stéphane Ravier, a member of Reconquête, could declare from the Senate floor on 11 October:

“Those members of the Muslim Brotherhood who live in our midst on account of the crazy immigration policy which all of you here supported, out of weakness or conviction, we should treat them the way they are treated in Israel: radically and pitilessly.”

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So, there we have the enemy within. Once it was the Jew, now it’s the Muslim. Infected too by the far-right vote-getting rhetoric, the French government has decided to make the fight against immigration its ‘great cause’ and is trying desperately to gain the support of Les Républicains whose views on this issue as on many others are indistinguishable from those of the RN. ‘Today there is a willingness to come to terms’ was what the speaker of the Assemblée nationale Yaël Braun-Pivet declared in this connection. Since he became president, Macron has transformed – or rather has continued to transform – the secularism of 19058  – into a punitive secularism aimed at Muslims. He has raised the spectre of separatism, doing his best to make sure French Muslims cannot feel at home in their country. While anti-Semitic acts are quite rightly condemned, no official public statements have come out against the deluge of overt Arabophobic or Islamophobic rhetoric, or incitements to violence on TV channels or the social networks, including those aimed at Muslim journalists.

This double standard, this passivity of France and the European Union faced with the ongoing genocide in Gaza and the unleashing of Islamophobic institutional violence can have but one result: widening the gap ever more, not only between the global South and North – and especially between France and the Maghreb –, making the rhetoric of the ‘clash of civilisations’ more and more performative – but also at the heart of our own societies. The unceasing stigmatisation of our fellow citizens and immigrants, besides silencing any criticisms of Tel Aviv, will have only one consequence: fuelling an anger which will lead to hatred and come crashing down blindly on the streets of our cities.

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