Julien De Rosa/AFP via Getty Images
French leftist movement La France Insoumise’s (LFI) leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, center, gestures after delivering a speech next to LFI MP Mathilde Panot, second from left, during the inauguration convention of the New Ecological and Social People’s Union, a left-wing political coalition, in northern Paris on May 7, 2022Julien De Rosa/AFP via Getty Images
Navigate to News section

Socialism for Imbeciles

France’s left declares its loyalty to a dark, antisemitic past

by
Bernard-Henri Lévy
August 04, 2022
Julien De Rosa/AFP via Getty Images
French leftist movement La France Insoumise’s (LFI) leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, center, gestures after delivering a speech next to LFI MP Mathilde Panot, second from left, during the inauguration convention of the New Ecological and Social People’s Union, a left-wing political coalition, in northern Paris on May 7, 2022Julien De Rosa/AFP via Getty Images

Just a few days after the miserable provocation—in the midst of commemorating the Vel’ d’Hiv’ Roundup—by Mathilde Panot, the head of the left-wing party La France Insoumise in the Assembly, 38 of her colleagues from La Nupes (the New Ecological and Social People’s Union left-wing alliance) piled on in abjection.

The resolution they were planning to present must have been truly disgusting for it to have disappeared from the National Assembly’s site.

But agencies have provided enough extracts for us to know that we were dealing with an unprecedentedly violent attack against the “apartheid regime” supposedly imposed by Israel on the “Palestinian people,” calling for BDS-style reprisals.

We should first note that such calls for boycott are illegal in France: Two memorandums said this in 2010 and 2012 … it was confirmed in 2020 in a dispatch dedicated to the “suppression of discriminatory calls for boycotts of Israeli products …”

Then we might note that the delegitimization of the State of Israel is also not very legal: Doesn’t it go against a resolution initiated by President Macron that, using the definition of antisemitism promulgated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, criminalizes anti-Zionism?

And so we observe that we have, in France, 38 elected legislators whose first initiative would have been to place themselves, twice over, outside the law.

The will to annihilate Israel is not lacking champions in my country. But never before, in this body, had we gone so far. Recognizing immediately a unitary Palestinian state? To be clear, that would include everything between Gaza and the West Bank—and therefore, if words mean anything, the full territory of Israel.

We can then observe the push of a fully uninhibited left-wing antisemitism.

It was a strong current, at the start of the 20th century, among a young French Socialist Party: Wasn’t it common then, among the friends of Jules Guesde, to call oneself “republican, socialist, and anti-Semite”? To castigate, along with Edouard Drumont, “the yids of finance and politics”? And wasn’t Jean Jaurès himself capable of writing, before the Dreyfus affair, that “the Jewish race” is “devoured by profit fever” and that it was the duty of a line of socialists of “the old Catholic race” to “crush” that “mechanism of pillaging, lies, corruption, and extortion”?

It’s a current that reappears, at the height of the 1930s, in the ranks of the pacifist left: The socialist Fernand Buisson, accusing George Mandel of wanting war “like all Jews”; the radical Yvon Delbos, foreign minister for the Popular Front, explaining that “the Jews chased out of everywhere look for salvation in a world war”; or the head of the party, Paul Faure, indignant with Blum, “ready to have us all killed for the Jews.”

These quotes are cited by Michel Dreyfus in two published studies, one, in 2009, by the Rennes University Press, and the other, in 2010, available on Cairn.info.

We have to believe that this third crisis, today, of the liberal and democratic conscience is happening in a France that has learned nothing, forgotten nothing.

Of Mélenchon insulting the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France (the umbrella body of French Jewish communities), parading with Islamists who shout “death to Jews,” or accusing a grand rabbi of dual loyalties, they say he is “Corbynizing.” Yes and no. He is above all loyal to a dark part of the European and French left. It haunts our memory. It should be not flattered but exorcised.

And to the good-faith men and women who no longer understand anything and ask the question, “What is, exactly, the fate of Palestinians in Israel?” we would note the following.

Of the territories occupied in the 1967 war, there is already one, Gaza, where the accusation of apartheid is grotesque, since it is empty of Jews ever since Ariel Sharon decided in 2005 to withdraw.

In the other, the West Bank, it would take a lot of bad faith, or stupidity, or both, to confuse the fight against terrorism with segregation.

As for Israel itself, the one which the Nupes resolution declares is “since 1948” governed by “a single racial group,” we must tirelessly remind of how it is a multi-ethnic, religiously pluralistic country where 2 million Arabs, Muslim and Christian alike, enjoy the same economic, political, and social rights as their fellow Jewish citizens; we should repeat and say again that it’s a parliamentary democracy where that Arab minority has representation in the Knesset through several parties, of which one, the United Arab List, is currently in the kingmaker position between the centrist Lapid and the opposition leader Netanyahu; and finally we should retain that it’s a lawful state where not a single construction, not the breaking of one branch of a centenary olive tree or a hint of discrimination, is not open to be brought before a sovereign court where one judge out of five is Arab and of which no serious person doubts the equity.

Evidence of all this is innumerable. I’ll return to it if necessary. What the German leftist August Bebel called more than a century ago the “Socialism of Imbeciles” should pipe down and bow its head.

Translated from the French by Matthew Fishbane.

Bernard-Henri Lévy is a philosopher, activist, filmmaker, and author of more than 30 books including The Genius of Judaism, American Vertigo, Barbarism with a Human Face, Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, and The Empire and the Five Kings. His new book, The Will to See: Dispatches from a World of Misery and Hope, was published on October 25, 2021 by Yale University Press.