Emmanuel Macron sees anti-Semitism everywhere except where it really lurks. Earlier this month his government accused protesters opposed to the Covid Passport of giving the Nazi salute, a charge that was disproved by video footage and this week dismissed by the public prosecutor’s office in Paris.
Yesterday, in a speech to mark International Holocaust Day, Macron warned of the return of ‘an ill wind’ blowing through the continent in some ‘political discourse’. He vowed that France would never cease to honour the memory of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust ‘particularly when some try to falsify it.’
Macron’s Prime Minister, Jean Castex, spoke on similar lines during a commemoration at Auschwitz, stating that recent history has shown where ‘political posturing’ can lead. ‘The Republic is not the falsification and the rewriting of history,’ declared Castex.
Although neither Macron or Castex named him, the man in their sights was Eric Zemmour, who claims that Marshal Philippe Pétain, head of the Vichy regime during the German Occupation of France in world war two, saved many of the country’s Jews. This idea has been debunked by historians.
The Vichy government’s contribution to the Holocaust in deporting 75,000 Jews to concentration camps is one of the most shameful periods in France’s history, and President Jacques Chirac’s apology in 1995 was long overdue. His predecessor, the Socialist François Mitterrand, who counted among his friends the notorious Vichy police chief René Bousquet who helped organise the round-up of French Jews, refused to accept that the French State was culpable.
But if it is preposterous of Zemmour to attempt to exonerate Pétain, so is it irresponsible of Macron to accuse his political rival of stoking the wind of anti-Semitism sweeping across Europe. For a start, Zemmour is himself a Jew and twice in the last two years he has been threatened on the streets of Paris, the last time in September when a man ‘swore on the Quran’ he would kill him.
Such threats must be taken seriously, for Paris is not a safe city for Jews. In December an elderly man was set upon by two men, allegedly of North African origin, who repotedly checked his religion before launching their vicious assault. He was fortunate to survive, unlike 85-year-old Mireille Knoll, a Holocaust survivor, murdered in March 2018 as her assailant screamed ‘Allahu Akbar’. The killing was grimly similar to that of Sarah Halimi, butchered in the same arrondissement of Paris a year earlier.
Her killer was judged criminally irresponsible for his actions because of heavy cannabis consumption, and a religious motive was downplayed, to the disgust of many. ‘It’s always the same story in France,’ said Bernard-Henri Lévy. ‘Anti-Semitism is not supposed to exist, especially among minority communities.’
Lévy called it the ‘politics of the ostrich’ and one is entitled to wonder if anything has changed. A report by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) released on Wednesday revealed that ‘anti-Semitism is strongest among Muslims who frequently attend Mosques, 61 per cent of whom think Jews “have too much power”.’ According to Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, the director of AJC Europe, the new wave of anti-Semitism in France has its origins in the Second Intifada in Palestine in 2000. Attacks on Jews are now so prevalent in France that they account for 40 per cent of recorded hate crimes, despite the fact that Jews make up less than 1 per cent of the population.
The emergence of Zemmour as a political force is convenient for Macron and his government. Rather than confront the truth they have created a new bogeyman, the successor to Jean-Marie Le Pen, who infamously described the Holocaust as a ‘detail’ of history.
Le Pen was an anti-Semite, as were some of his voters when he led the National Front. There may well be anti-Semites among Zemmour’s followers as well. But they are not the ones slaying Jews on the streets of France, just as in Britain most recent anti-Semitic attacks are not the work of skinheads in bovver boots.
Ten years ago Mohammed Merah shot dead three Jewish children in their school playground in Toulouse, the first act in an ongoing campaign of Islamist terrorism that has cost the lives of nearly 300 French people. Several have been Jews, singled out specifically for their religion. This is the ill-wind of anti-Semitism blowing through Europe and it will strengthen and become more destructive if all presidents and prime ministers do is falsify its source.
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