Monday, August 11, 2014

Anti-Semitism and Politics....

....what a great idea!

Just like it is 1933 all over again.

As the rally was about to end, about one hundred demonstrators headed to the Don Isaac Abravanel Synagogue on Rue de la Roquette (Roquette Street), a few blocks from Place de la Bastille. Two to three hundred Jewish worshipers had gathered there around the chief rabbi of Paris, Michel Gugenheim, for a pro-Israel and pro-peace service. Security was provided by a few policemen and members of two Jewish youth organizations: SPCJ (the Jewish Community Security Service) and LDJ (Ligue de Défense Juive: a French group modeled after the American and Israeli Jewish Defense League). According to many eyewitnesses, the pro-Hamas mobsters attempted to storm the synagogue and to disrupt the service, or maybe even to torch the place; the Jewish youths fought back.
Manuel Valls, the socialist prime minister of France, whose private home is located in the same neighborhood, called Serge Benhaim, the synagogue’s chairman, and urged him to keep the worshipers locked inside the building until substantial police forces could be gathered. It took hours. In the meantime, Rue de la Roquette turned into a street guerrilla theater scene.
More demonstrations took place on the following day, Bastille Day itself, which is usually devoted to patriotic ceremonies only. There were also protests in many other French cities, in spite of last minute bans issued by the localpréfets (ordinary government commissioners) who wield police powers everywhere but in the largest towns. In Nice, conservative mayor Christian Estrosi had urged for days that a pro-Hamas demonstration be banned. The ban was issued so late that police forces did not bother to enforce it. In Greater Lille, where half the population is deemed to be Muslim, demonstrators circumvented the ban by picking up an alternative itinerary.
On July 19, an unauthorized pro-Hamas demonstration complete with Palestinian, North African, and jihadist flags as well as hate slogans against Jews was blocked by the police in the largely Muslim neighborhood of Barbes, in Paris. Street violence ensued.
On July 20 things went even worse in Sarcelles, a Northern suburb of Paris where large Muslim, Jewish, and Middle Eastern Christian communities had hitherto lived together on largely peaceful terms. Pro-Hamas rioters attacked and indiscriminately torched synagogues, Jewish and Christian shops, and public offices. On July 26, another unauthorized demonstration in the Place de la République (Republic Square) area in Paris, partly sponsored by the Trotskyite New Anticapitalist Party (NPA), ended in violence and clashes with the police. Far Right activists joined the rioters. Some mobsters attacked the Marais, the old Jewish district in Central Paris. One kosher restaurant, located near the famous Hector Guimard-designed Art Nouveau synagogue, was targeted in particular.
Only one demonstration in Paris, on July 23, was authorized and went on without major incident. It was supported by thirty-three socialist members of the National Assembly or the European Parliament, and apparently closely supervised by the pro-Palestinian wing of the socialist party. Indeed, in contradistinction with the previous rallies, the crowd was European in outlook, rather than North African or African. Still, Bruno Roger-Petit from Le Nouvel Observateur, a leftwing weekly, pointed out that crude pro-jihadist and anti-Semitic placards could be seen even there, and that members of the anti-Zionist ultra-orthodox Jewish group Neturei Karta, who had taken part in full Chasidic garb in the rally, had been subjected to verbal and physical abuse.
For about two weeks, the mainstream media and the political class dwelled on the issue of anti-Semitism and the need to combat it, even as it masqueraded as “anti-Zionism.” On July 20, while streets in Sarcelles were set aflame, socialist president François Hollande reiterated that “anti-Semitic or racist words or deeds would not be tolerated.The day after, Valls commented: “What happened in Sarcelles is unacceptable. Attacks against synagogues or kosher shops are racist and anti-Semitic, period.” 
However, a second, very different issue was looming as well. Many people had been shocked, not just by the pro-Hamas demonstrators’ sheer anti-Semitism and violence, but also by their aggressively ethnic or even supremacist attitude. It was perhaps legitimate for demonstrators to wave Palestinian flags. Waving Hamas yellow flags or ISIS black and green flags was certainly more problematic. But what about Algerian, Tunisian, Mauritanian, and Turkish flags? And what about the conspicuous absence of French flags? The message, clearly, was that the immigrant Muslim community, as such, was showing its muscle. And that it was the wave of the future. The Gaza war was merely a pretext.
Conservative media and blogs — which on the whole had been a bit more supportive of Israel in the Gaza confrontation than the mainstream media — were very concerned about the pro-Hamas demonstrations’ implicit message (a “French intifada,” as it was often described), and the rise of an Islamic counter-nation within the nation. The conservative political class, who usually lags much behind conservative public opinion in these matters, took heed. The former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is likely to run in the 2017 presidential election, letValeurs Actuelles, the authoritative conservative weekly, report the following view: “What is going on now in terms of anti-Semitism is very worrying. … First, what is at stake is our Jewish brothers. … Then, it should be stressed that everybody is going to be somebody else’s Jew. … The next step is hatred for all French people.”
Almost instantly, liberal, left-wing, and progressive media engaged in a global whitewashing of the pro-Hamas demonstrators — a trend culminating with Le Monde, the distinguished newspaper, praising “the #Gaza generationon its front page on July 25. Moreover, they started a smear campaign against LDJ, presumably in order to show that “Jewish extremists” were as dangerous as jihadists. On July 31, Libération, which is to France what The Guardian is to England, ran a story on its front page on LDJ and the need to ban it. It quoted, quite accurately, senior officials as saying that the interior ministry was prepared to take such a step. Joel Mergui, the chairman of Consistoire, fiercely retorted on several TV channels that he was not aware that “one single Jew on one single instance attacked one single mosque or Muslim place in France, and wondered why LDJ should be singled out as a security hazard rather than “the organizers and sponsors of antisemitic demonstrations and other hate inciters.
On the same day, a pro-Israel demonstration was held in Paris, one block away from Elysée — the French president’s palace. The new chief rabbi of France, Haim Korsia, said the Prayer for the French Republic, which, as required by Jewish religious law, is said on Sabbath day in every synagogue. Marseillaise, the national anthem of France, was sung. French flags were waved along with Israeli flags. Placards expressing solidarity for Iraqi Christians were displayed. Not a single racist or anti-Muslim word was heard. In fact L’Express devoted its July 9 cover story to the event and the French Jews’ existential dilemmas. It did not prevent Barbier from writing and publishing the astounding editorial where, in fact, he ascribed to French Jews the controversial or unacceptable behavior of many French Muslims.
The love for symmetry and the passion for polarization are powerful human characteristics. Still, it is very unlikely that French liberals, progressives, and liberal media are siding with the pro-Hamas demonstrators and the Muslim community, and getting entangled in anti-Semitic diatribes, just because the conservative media sides with the pro-Israel demonstrators and the Jewish community. Something else must be at play.
Call it the French socialists’ Muslim conundrum. Both President Hollande and Premier Valls are seen, rightly or not, as pro-Jewish and pro-Israel, and have managed to derive some benefit from that. On the other hand, the Muslim vote was overwhelmingly (86%) pro-socialist and pro-Left in the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections and thus instrumental in their otherwise narrow victory (less than two points over Sarkozy and the conservatives in global terms). Many socialists may think they just cannot afford to lose the Muslim vote in future elections.
One way to win back the Muslim vote is to reiterate the socialist administration’s commitment, as Hollande did on Bastille Day, to such revolutionary and possibly unconstitutional measures like granting electoral franchise in local elections to mostly Muslim foreign residents and thus increasing dramatically Muslim political leverage and patronage. Another way is to give the pro-Islamic socialist wing more visibility, as was done with the “authorized” July 23 pro-Hamas demonstration. Still, the wildest card is to pretend to be fighting extremism “on both sides,” which may imply, in practical terms, building from scratch a hitherto non-existent Jewish “extremist threat.
Hence the LDJ scare, Barbier’s pathetic “Baal-Zebuds, and so forth.

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