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Manfred Gerstenfeld on Rising from the Muck: The New Anti-Semitism in Europe

Filed under: Anti-Semitism, Europe and Israel, World Jewry
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review 17:3-4 (Fall 2005)

Pierre-André Taguieff, a French philosopher, political scientist, and historian, is a leading expert on anti-Semitism. The publication of one of his important books in English is thus particularly welcome.

Developments and mutations of contemporary anti-Semitism occur at a rapid pace. Many profound and often original insights of this book – first published in 2002 under a more solid title that translates into English as The New Judeophobia1 – are now increasingly understood.

When reviewing the English translation, one must stress how remarkable Taguieff’s analysis was when initially published in French. One of the author’s merits is integrating earlier observations with his own into a wide-ranging picture of contemporary anti-Semitism, and particularly as it targets Israel. Taguieff assents to Orwell’s view that intellectuals are more totalitarian in outlook than ordinary people. He also refers to Nietzsche’s remark “Blood is the worst witness of truth,” noting that “martyrs” prove nothing about the validity of a cause.

Taguieff emphasizes, as some authors had noticed several decades ago, that the new anti-Semitism consists of mutations of the classical version. In 1968 Jacques Givet published a book titled The Left against Israel? An Essay on Neo-Anti-Semitism,2 and in 1969 Léon Poliakov had described the relationship between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.3


Israel and Jews, Interchangeable Targets

Taguieff explains how Israel and Jews have become usually inseparable or interchangeable targets for a wide range of disparate enemies. Among those lined up against them are the entire Arab world, radical and political Islamists, “humanitarian” neo-Christians and various elements of the extreme Christian Right, parts of the Left and Right elites, Communists, Trotskyites, and others on the extreme Left, as well as neofascists.

The author details the alliances between several actors and in particular between the Left and Islamists. The Islamist doctrine that the end justifies the means, he points out, resembles that of Lenin and Trotsky. He exposes the process by which the crimes of the disadvantaged are condoned, including the media’s role in justifying violence and turning criminals into victims.

The next step is to declare the latter nonresponsible because their acts are determined by their socioeconomic conditions. This is nothing but an updated version of Marxist determinism. A further step, then, is that the Islamist version of Islam becomes the religion of the poor and the victims. This also involves asserting that Muslims or Arabs are being humiliated or attacked. Taguieff also demonstrates how the new myth of the “intrinsically good Palestinian” is coupled with an anti-Zionism aimed at destroying Israel.

The author clarifies some links between anti-Semitism and anti- Americanism. He illustrates how the Palestinians have become the standard-bearers of democracy’s enemies, with the criminalization of Israel and of the West going hand in hand. Taguieff explains that this is also related to the rejection of modernity. Furthermore, he recognizes the dangers of blind pacifism, which places the aggressor and his victim at the same moral level and turns legitimate self-defense into a crime.

Taguieff also realizes that in the last three decades of the twentieth century, Judeophobia – a term he prefers to anti-Semitism-based on racism and nationalism was gradually replaced by a new version centering on antiracism, antinationalism, and antiglobalism.

Taguieff saw – as many at the time still did not realize at all – that by 2002 anti-Semitism had reached unprecedented levels in the post-Nazi period in both the Arab world and Europe and that the common belief that it was in decline was false. At a time when a Jew’s risk of being attacked in France was many tens of times greater than a Muslim’s, as it still is today, he also exposed another lie, prevalent in Europe: that Islamophobia is a worse problem than anti-Semitism.

Many of these observations are by now more widely accepted, as often happens with a pioneer’s interpretations of rapidly evolving realities. Such dynamics also turn a book with many original insights into a valuable time capsule for historians. It documents what was observable at a given moment.


France, a Precursor to Anti-Jewish Violence

The works cited in the book mainly deal with the French reality. Today it is no longer possible to write about neo-anti-Semitism in general while focusing predominantly on a single European country. In 2002, however, France was still far “ahead” of others, both in physical violence against Jews and in new intellectual mutations of anti-Semitic motifs. Since then, some countries such as the United Kingdom have caught up as far as physical violence against Jews is concerned.

Reacting to the developments in France, some intellectuals have begun to expose and analyze the new anti-Semitic phenomena. Taguieff was among the first. Sowas Shmuel Trigano, who founded the Observatoire du Monde Juif, a publication that carried his own and others’ essays. Also in the forefront of such research are Georges Bensoussan, who revealed the rampant racism and anti-Semitism in French schools, and Georges Elia Sarfati, who focused on the semantics of the neo-anti-Semites. Jacques Tarnero in his movie Décryptage, or Decoding, unmasked the French media’s anti-Israeli manipulations and bias.4

Taguieff also exposed French society’s low resistance to Islamist aggression and at an early date noted how politicians, hoping to be reelected, kept silent about the anti-Semitic violence of the Muslim population.


A Time Capsule

Rising from the Muck was written during the first of the four distinct periods of the French government’s attitudes toward the explosion of anti-Semitism. This initial stage started in the latter months of 2000 when violence against Jews rapidly increased and lasted until after the French parliamentary elections in June 2002. It was characterized by denial of the anti-Semitic nature of these acts, which were described as hooliganism without mentioning their racist character. This approach was shared by both the socialist Jospin government and the Gaullist President Jacques Chirac. There are strong indications that in this period the government made a major effort to suppress information about the anti-Semitic nature of the incidents.

The presidential elections in April 2002 caused a national trauma when the extreme rightist leader Jean Marie Le Pen, during the first round of voting, bested the socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin, to become Chirac’s challenger in the final round. Soon thereafter the Gaullist Nicholas Sarkozy became interior minister and announced a policy of zero tolerance toward anti-Semitic violence. Chirac, however, steadfastly denied the existence of anti-Semitism until November 2003. This second period was thus characterized by inner divisions and Gaullist ambivalence.

The third period marked the end of the authorities’ denial, which was replaced by declarations and an increasingly concrete policy of fighting anti-Semitism. At the same time, the government’s own anti- Israeli attitude continued to incite neo-anti-Semitism. A fourth period might be considered to have started in October 2004, when a government- commissioned report on anti-Semitism by Jean Christophe Ruffin was published.5 He wrote: “It is not conceivable today to fight actively in France against anti-Semitism in its new mutations without going all-out to try and balance anew the public’s view of the situation in the Middle East.” Since this report, the relationship between French anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism has become a matter of record.

One other aspect of the mood in France is illustrated by some of Taguieff’s remarks. One expects a scholar to publish his analysis without explaining his political views. It is a sign of the times that the author felt the need to declare his personal outlook on the Palestinian- Israeli conflict so as to avoid the impression that he opposed a negotiated agreement that would lead to Israel’s return to the 1967 borders.

In today’s France, the fact that Taguieff is non-Jewish lends him much more credibility than his equally scholarly Jewish colleagues. As Trigano has noted: “In contemporary French society, the views of the Jews are delegitimated in advance. The opinions of pro-Jewish, pro-Israeli intellectuals are shunted aside by intellectual opponents as resulting from their ethnic origins.” This is one of many indications that the new anti-Semitism in its various manifestations represents a serious cultural danger to the well-being of French society at large.

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1. Pierre-André Taguieff, La nouvelle judéophobie (Paris: Mille et une nuits, 2002) (French).

2. Jacques Givet, La Gauche contre Israël? Essai sur le néo-antis sémitisme (Paris: Jean-Jacques Pauvert, 1968) (French).

3. Léon Poliakov, De l’antisionisme à l’antisémitisme (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1969) (French).

4. Décryptage, directed by Jacques Tarnero and Philippe Bensoussan, 2002.

5. Jean-Christophe Ruffin, “Chantier sur la Lutte contre le Racisme et l’antisémitisme,” Ministère de l’interieur, de la sécurité interieure, et des libertés locales (French).