Anti-Semitism in France is a strange and elusive beast. It seems to shift and mutate, changing shape with each new generation. Today, you might find it lying just below the surface of José Bové’s otherwise legitimate struggle against cultural hegemony, beneath the worthy concern for France’s disenfranchised Arabs, or lurking behind the Parisian intellectual’s critique of American foreign policy. You might also discern it behind the widespread  and vociferous contempt for the current president.

Nicolas Sarkozy talks without difficulty about his father’s Hungarian origins, frequently referring to himself as the son of an immigrant. He never, on the other hand, invokes his mother’s Jewish roots, describing himself as Catholic “in culture, tradition and belief”(1), as if to do so in a society whose anti-Semitism is ever-present and unresolved were just too much for him. This avowed affiliation, however, is not universally respected. The politician, Georges Frêche – who was expelled from the socialist party in 2007 after a series of racist remarks (including a cracker about the number of blacks in the French squad) – chose to make a speech shortly after Sarkozy’s victory hailing the French nation for electing a Jew as president. During the campaign, Le Pen also frequently referred to Sarkozy’s soi-disant judaism in an attempt to stem the flow of National Front voters to his rival.

Back in October, 2005, during one of his legendary visits to a rioting suburb, Sarkozy was, as usual, bombarded with abuse from angry youths, many of whom were of North African origin. The French TV crew covering the incident decided not to report the exact wording of their insults. Claiming poor sound quality, the editor chose to subtitle the real chant, ‘Sarkozy, Filthy Jew!’ as ‘Sarkozy, Fascist!’

That a producer/reporter would run the risk of making an edit so politically loaded and so clearly tendentious is as baffling as the strange denial that surrounds Sarkozy’s Jewish heritage. The media clearly plays a continuing role in upholding the myth of France as a liberal, enlightened and tolerant nation. I’ve often met with incomprehension or resentment when I have dared to compare France’s immigrant suburbs to America’s black and Hispanic ghettos, or indeed Britain’s inner cities. Still obsessed with the idea of equality through rapid and miraculous integration, France will not own up to the seriousness of the problems she is facing.

(1) La République, les Religions, l’Espérance, Nicolas Sarkozy (ed. Cerf)


23 thoughts on “Non-dits

  1. That’s a thought. Though if it is true he’s clearly not ready to admit it.

    well you couldn’t possibly admit it somewhere she might hear it… then he really would be in trouble!

  2. Yes sadly anti-semitism is on the rise in France, largely thanks to Arab immigrants, as is the case in many other European countries, including the model of tolerant multicuturalism that is Britain (BNP MEP’s and Yorkshire suicide bombers are just freak events that British hypocrisy can handle perfectly well).
    Sadly for English monoglots who like to hold simple and definitive views about France and the French, rising islamist antisemitism is now pushing French jews to support Le Pen’s Front National who, even more baffling for all these self-proclaimed British experts on all things French (I wish some of these people took the trouble to master the French language before spouting on ……) is actually far more anti-semitic than it is racist against Blacks and Arabs. The fact that Le Pen’s chose an Algerian as his parliamentary ‘substitut’ when he was first elected in the 50’s and that the FN include several Black senior members is clear proof of this. This however doesn’t preclude many FN members to be both antisemitic and

    Having read the previous posts, I am delighted to that Charles will never, ever move to France. He sounds just like the sort of boorish and pompous little Englander that should never be allowed to go abroad, except perhaps to the Spanish Costas where he could mingle with other fine British specimens …….

  3. An absolutely facinating discussion of a topic that I virtually never heard discussed in my recent 5 year sojourn in France. I hope the thread continues and expands. I have more than a passing interest as my Russian-English-French grandmother was deported to the camps from Paris during the war. She survived and returned to Paris. How the family handled this issue during and after the war was and continues to be a study in the dichotomy that is France on this issue.

  4. just a thought… but maybe M. Sarkozy doesn’t or didn’t like his mother and so therefore reference her in any way…

    I cant stand mine so its entirely feasible that when I become president of france* I too will only mention my fathers catholic upbringing…

    *not being french might prevent this despite living here and paying my cotisations!

  5. CHARLES. An argument about the subject without the personal attacks would be more constructive and less unpleasant to read. What i like about Lucy’s writing is the fact she isn’t jumping onto her soap box and telling us what we should be thinking. She’s just giving her opinion. She keeps it polite, informative and often amusing. I think that’s a fine example to follow. Now i feel as if i’m contributing to this post because you’ve goaded me somewhat. Not by what you have to say but how you’ve chosen to say it. Maybe a little more wit and a little less ‘sarcasm’ (if that’s what you choose to call it) would go a long way? You needn’t reply to my post – i feel this dead horse has been well and truly flogged and i’d rather not hear more of the same.

  6. I’m not trying to defend Bové’s reputation or statement, the latter being totally impossible to defend.
    I am just tired of noticing so often (at least in the French media, I don’t know if it’s the same elsewhere) that people are being accused of anti-semitism (mostly by allusion or insinuation which is much harder to disprove) just to discredit them or their ideas.
    A few exemples : Bernard Langlois (from Politis, a french magazine), Hugo Chavez, Daniel Mermet (from Radio France, a french public radio), Robert Fisk, Serge Halimi (who is jewish…), Noam Chomsky, Siné (a caricaturist), etc.

    “In most ‘open’ societies, such a ‘gaffe’ would destroy the speaker’s reputation” : indeed, but unfortunately it seems we have very keen, in France, on ignoring such statements. Condemned politicians still elected, racist speeches (from left or right-wing politicians) made in the open without many protests…

    “‘But, as I said, this sentence is directed towards a government and its secret services, not the country’s people’. Not true. The statement was directed at the news media and thus public opinion.” Sorry, wrong choice of word. I meant that the sentence attacked a government and its secret services, not the country’s people. Of course it was meant for the public opinion.

    “GWOUIGWOUI is pretending we can ‘un-say’ our verbal offences.” I am not pretending anything. I’m just saying we can make mistakes, we can get carried away and say things we regret, we can be wrong and admit it. Maybe Bové lied in his apologies, maybe not. At least he admitted he made a mistake. A very rare quality among French politicians ! In my opinion, if he was dishonest in his apologies, he wouldn’t have said it so directly, but rather he would have beaten around the bush.

    “In the next posting we were informed that anti-Zionists are not necessarily anti-Semitic – as if GWOUIGWOUI was producing a rabbit (or even a rabbi!) from a hat! Yeah, we know, old pal! That’s why they’ve got different names.”
    And yet, Lucy said “in my experience the two are invariably intertwined” and you said “distinguishing anti-Semitism from anti-Zionism is for the foolhardy: there’s such an overlap”. So which is it ?

  7. The words are ‘Jesus’ and ‘exasperated’, ANNETTE.

    GWOUIGWOUI said Bové’s words were ‘obviously a totally crazy thing to say’. Isn’t it the easiest thing in the world to say something provocative and then to retract it, ANNETTE? Bové’s original statement, that Mossad had had a hand in the attacks on synagogues, was downright insulting, hurtful and finely calculated to cause the maximum amount of outrage. In most ‘open’ societies, such a ‘gaffe’ would destroy the speaker’s reputation… but wait for it! I haven’t got to GWOUIGWOUI’s point yet…

    He continues, ‘But, as I said, this sentence is directed towards a government and its secret services, not the country’s people’. Not true. The statement was directed at the news media and thus public opinion. (There is a fine English phrase for this sort of thing: ‘shit-stirring’.) And this apology for reasoning is either dishonest or not very intelligent, ANNETTE; whence, my exasperation.

    GWOUIGWOUI then compounded his errors by the suggesting that ‘José Bové DID apologize for that, and in UNAMBIGUOUS terms, calling anti-semitism an “ABSOLUTE crime”’ (the capitals are mine). GWOUIGWOUI is pretending we can ‘un-say’ our verbal offences. Fine words butter no parsnips…. and it is cynical or deluded to pretend otherwise.

    May I remind you that I had challenged GWOUIGWOUI to produce ‘bald, unadorned facts’? What GWOUIGWOUI was producing were nebulous, tortuous, conspiracy theories.

    So-called ‘bald, unadorned fact 4’ ran: ‘the probability of having an anti-semitic [anti-Semite] calling anti-semitism an absolute crime is somewhere between “being abducted by aliens” and “seeing a subtle movie directed by Roland Emmerich”. I think this means no anti-Semite worthy of the name would ever call anti-Semitism an absolute crime. Hasn’t GWOUIGWOUI heard of lying? As with an over-worked toaster, up again pops the question: ‘Is he daft or is he dangerous?’

    In the next posting we were informed that anti-Zionists are not necessarily anti-Semitic – as if GWOUIGWOUI was producing a rabbit (or even a rabbi!) from a hat! Yeah, we know, old pal! That’s why they’ve got different names.

    GWOUIGWOUI had been advised it might be a good idea ‘to keep a low profile on Jews or the Jewish state – this, for reasons that should not need stating’. Nothing deterred, he announces: ‘I guess you’re refering to WWII, but I am not liable for the mistakes of former generations’. Well, lucky old you, GWOUIGWOUI!

    I’m sorry, ANNETTE, but such insensitivity makes me sarcastic, not ‘bitchy’.

  8. GWOUIGWOUI, what part of the following do you not understand?

    ‘Your ‘bald, unadorned facts’ 2, 3, and 4 are anything but ‘bald, unadorned facts’. Isn’t that obvious?’

    And isn’t the ultimate sin that of being boring?

  9. I still can’t agree with the idea of anti-zionism and anti-semitism (as you said, this word doesn’t mean a lot, given the fact that semitic languages include hebrew, arab, aramean, etc. Let’s say judeophobia). being linked. Yes judeophobia brings anti-zionism, but I don’t think the opposite is true. For one obvious reason : you can find without any difficulties anti-zionists jews (religious or not, intellectual or not), or jews who are opposed to Israel’s policies.
    Moreover, linking anti-zionism and judeophobia would prevent from criticizing anything based on zionism.

    And no, Charles, I don’t think French people should be prevented from expressing their opinions about Israel. I guess you’re refering to WWII, but I am not liable for the mistakes of former generations. Or Americans should be prevented from expressing their opinions about Amerindians, Turkish people about Kurds, and so on.

  10. Sorry, everyone, for joining this debate so late (the result of Internet deprivation in the Balkans)…

    Charles is right to point out that ‘anti-Semite’ is a nebulous phrase, entirely unquantifiable. And I have never met one, Gwouigwoui, who ever admitted to it, have you? To continue to argue over whether or not there was any anti-Semitic flavour to Bove’s anti-Zionist remark is probably a waste of time but in my experience the two are invariably intertwined.

    As for the link to the ‘politically tendentious’ page, I could have chosen something more apparently objective like this wikipedia entry, which cites the same story but I thought William Cohen’s piece made for much better reading. (Is the blog the right place to look for objectivity, I wonder?)

    I wanted to thank Leon for his comment about France’s Catholic heritage and corresponding anti-judaic legacy. One of the problems inherent in this spontaneous and inherently piecemeal medium is that it is difficult (and not necessarily desirable) to go into any great depth. I do so in the book
    but I think blogging is better suited to raising questions than attempting to answer them.

    I would say that after 25 years of life in this country, I have come to love her – for all her flaws – with a much greater passion than I do my own. I don’t claim to be an expert on France, only to have a point of view. My perspective, for what it’s worth, is one of simultaneous INVOLVEMENT (I have raised four children who think of themselves – culturally, at least – as French) and DETACHMENT (I remain English). That’s pretty much what I have to offer.

  11. Call me old fashioned, GWOUIGWOUI, but distinguishing anti-Semitism from anti-Zionism is for the foolhardy: there’s such an overlap. When French people attack the state of Israel while backing the cause of Palestinian independence, I light up like the Blackpool illuminations. These are warning lights. Shouldn’t the French keep a low profile on Jews or the Jewish state – this, for reasons that should not need stating?
    Bald, unadorned fact 1 – yes, indeed, agreed.
    Your ‘bald, unadorned facts’ 2, 3, and 4 are anything but ‘bald, unadorned facts’. Isn’t that obvious?
    And, unlike yourself, I have no clear idea of when being beastly about Jews becomes anti-Semitism. You see, anti-Semitism is another of these ready-made phrases that confuse more than they enlighten.
    You conclude: ‘José Bové is not anti-semitic’. I conclude: ‘Persecution of Jews I can understand: anti-Semitism, I can’t. (For starters, what is a Semite?) And then José Bové said: “McDonald’s was a legitimate symbol of bad American eating habits” ; and “Ces dernières années, la société a retrouvé le goût de la lutte et de la résistance active contre l’horreur ultralibérale”. Am I supposed to care what a twit thinks? (Psst! ‘anti-Semitism’, ‘legitimate symbol’ and ‘ultra-liberalism’ have one thing in common: they are meaningless, once you prod them a bit.)
    This means that ‘some serious arguments’, as you call them, can go on endlessly.

  12. I see what you meant, and I’m sure we could have some nice conversations about th purpose of a state, the necessity of it, the superiority of morality and what is right on laws, etc.
    However, it seems like we are on the same page, as I too cherish bald and unadorned facts. Let’s get back to what I said.
    Bald, unadorned fact 1 : is a politically-oriented website.
    Bald, unadorned fact 2 : José Bové did say that “the Israeli government and its secret services have an interest in creating a certain psychosis, in making believe that there is a climate of antisemitism in France, in order to distract attention from what they are doing.” which is obviously a totally crazy thing to say. But, as I said, this sentence is directed towards a government and its secret services, not the country’s people. Moreover, being Israeli and being a jew are two differents things.
    Bald, unadorned fact 3 : José Bové did apologize for that, and in unambiguous terms, calling anti-semitism an “absolute crime”.
    Bald, unadorned fact 4 : The probability of having an anti-semitic calling anti-semitism an absolute crime is somewhere between “being abducted by aliens” and “seeing a subtle movie directed by Roland Emmerich”.

    Conclusion : José Bové is not anti-semitic.

    But if I got something wrong, I am ready to hear some serious arguments.

  13. Gwouigwoui, I’m sure you could have worked it out: ‘facteur F’ = French/France factor, by analogy with ‘le facteur x’, if you like. Here is a current instance: ‘Agriculteurs contre grandes surfaces, nouveau chapitre’ [France Info]. To you, this may signify: ‘Ah, the agriculteurs are revolting, quoi de neuf?’ to me ‘(your choice of expletive)*!! When will they stop talking such conneries? Why do disputes involve the breakdown of law and order? What must we think of a State that doesn’t fulfil its function number one: enabling people to go about their boring daily business?’

    By ‘p-ll-cks’ were meant those for whom bald, unadorned facts – honesty, if you like! – play second fiddle to the rhetorical flourish and the art of ‘fare bella figura’. Wrong language? Does it really matter? Those who break wind higher up than their posterior, or those whose self-estimation may not correspond to another’s opinion. Do I have to go on?

  14. Could you please elaborate a bit, Charles ? I don’t really get what you meant by “facteur F” and “Or just too many p-ll-cks around…”.
    I tried to be as factual as possible…

  15. You don’t need to go back to the dawn of civilisation to explain an anti-Jew smear. One minute’s reflection is all it takes, Leon.

  16. What do you expect from a country deep rooted in one the most archaic conservative catholicism?

    Example. In order to fund Crusades, Saint Louis created a personal tax on jews: one had to pay to enjoy the simple fact of being jew…

    It is not France which is antisemitic, it’s its catholic background (the catholic extreme right was also the most antisemitic fringe of the country before WW2).

    Explaining the cultural roots of phenomenons is very useful because it helps putting things into perspective…

    Generally speaking, I find your blog and articles lack some historical and political sciences background.

    For instance these words show a deep ignorance of the country you talk about and shows you see it through your conceptual lenses, you haven’t overcome your own views to actually understand the phenomenons you observe without insights:
    “as the strange denial that surrounds Sarkozy’s Jewish heritage”

    There is no denial for a French: the religious background is of no interest when it comes to public life, it is a PRIVATE matter. One may find that rule a bit hypocritical when compared to actual behaviours but in that case, one must explain the nature of that contradiction and where it comes from.

    “The media clearly plays a continuing role in upholding the myth of France as a liberal, enlightened and tolerant nation”

    No that is not the media, this is the country’s social contract and fundamental reason of being. You may call it a myth but above all, you need to understand that myth and what it means to people before misinterpreting it.

    All together, seen from both the inside and the outside (for I’m not only French), I don’t think you master your own beliefs enough to properly talk about a country you seem to know quite superficially I’m sorry to say.

  17. I have just finished reading ‘The Secret Life of France’, Lucy (and permitting myself some English over-familiarity). I won’t gush, but simply inform you that I’ve ordered a copy for my (French) wife, plus one for each of my daughters. Unfortunately, none of my French in-laws can read English or they would be similarly blessed. Please carry on digging. ‘Nuff said?

    The message (above) from Mr Gwouigwoi… (whatever!) reminds me why I’ve never entertained the remotest desire to live in France. The ‘facteur F’ is there lurking round every corner. Or just too many p-ll-cks around…

  18. Where in the hell did you see at bit of anti-semitism about José Bové in the (quite politically-oriented !) link you posted ? The only statement quoted looks more anti-sionist than anti-semitic to me, and he later apologized for it. I quote : “C’est une véritable erreur, qui a fait mal à la communauté juive, répétera Bové un an plus tard, et qui m’a fait mal à moi, parce que je me suis retrouvé accusé de ce qui est à mes yeux un crime absolu: l’antisémitisme” “It’s a true mistake, which hurted the jewish community, said again Bové one year later, and which hurted me too, because I was accused of what is to me an absolute crime : anti-semitism”.

    Calling people anti-semitic is often a way to discredit political opponents…

  19. “the anti-sarko campaign” came more from the fact people identify him with the extreme right and their policies. The French don’t mind a bit of Bling Bling and even a bit of crookedness in their politicians and public figures. Look at Bernard Tapis, Mitterand and Jacques Chirac. I think the ordinary French anti-sarkozyist doesn’t like that he’s in the front line for every reform, where as other presidents tended to use their ministers more so as to distance themselves if there were problems pushing the reforms through (and eventually force ministers to resign because it’s always good to have a scapegoat). Sarkozy holds himself directly accountable, so if there’s any s**t to fling it goes straight into the face of the man in charge.

  20. I have a lot of thoughts coming to my mind after reading your post.
    You write that one might discern anti-semitism behind the widespread and vociferous contempt for the current president. And yet, Sarkozy’s Jewish roots are rarely known to the public.
    I thought (naively maybe) that the anti-sarko campaign was due to his “bling bling” style of life, since showing your love for money in France is terribly vulgar.
    Isn’t it the paper Libération that came up with the bling bling concept? So does it imply that its journalists are showing, willingly or not, some anti-semitism?

    I don’t know if Parisian intellectual’s critique of American foreign policy is really anti-semite… We tend to see things from a different point of view in France, due to our history with our former colonies in North Africa, and because of the numerous immigrants from these countries who now live in France.

    Of course the israleo-palestinian conflict pushes some of the young Arabs into thinking that all the Jews (including the ones from France) are responsible for what’s going on there. And to my mind, that’s what’s really worrying.

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