Alan Finkielkraut is a liberal French philosopher whose attachment vis-à-vis his Jewish identity, Israel and a world based on fairness and social justice have always been part and parcel of his thought.
That’s quite a challenge these days: the “yellow vests” (gilets jaunes) movement that began in France in November 2018 paints itself as a grassroots movement fighting against bureaucracy, economic injustice, and what it sees as the wealthy urban elite and the establishment. However, it’s also a movement that includes a large, overwhelming gang of anti-Semitic monsters who hurled verbal insult at Finkielkraut on Saturday in Paris. They called him a “dirty Jew” and a “dirty Zionist sh*t,” as well as screamed that France belongs not to the Jews, but to the French. And that he should go away.
And thus, Finkielkraut, who in the past expressed support for the yellow-vests protests despite criticizing it recently, was seen with an expression on his face that goes beyond disappointment, but rather of acute embarrassment. The protest movement, the social-justice human-rights movements grow quickly into a racist anti-Israel and Jew-hater movement.
Grassroots movements in Europe have always attracted intellectuals and politicians, even when they show Nazi, Communist, terrorist connections. The late German-born philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt wrote some good pages about this.
On Feb. 5, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and Five Star Movement (M5S) leader Luigi Di Maio, along with M5S MP Alessandro Di Battista, visited yellow-vests leaders in Paris to lend international solidarity to the movement. But they should have known full well that this movement wreaks havoc and promotes hate, and has repeatedly chanted in the streets that “Macron is a whore of the Jews” and have displayed banners that read “Macron = Zion,” or have posted videos on social networks that have stated that the “Jewish people light Hanukkah candles while the French are dying of hunger” or hold Jews “responsible for the lowering of taxes on the rich.” These anti-Semitic statements today are even more disgusting because they come from a country that sent its Jews, along with their children, to their deaths during World War II at Marshal Philippe Pétain’s orders. Di Maio or Di Battista, who were just now in a Che Guevara-style trip in South America and that pushed its government to refuse solidarity to Juan Guaidó against Nicolás Maduro, probably don’t know or don’t care.
In the past year, anti-Semitic incidents in France have increased by 74 percent. The yellow-vests movement is the latest effort responsible for the promotion of this anti-Semitism, as is the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in the United Kingdom. In Europe, while social movements and parties become more extreme in the effort of challenging populist movements, anti-Semitism increasingly takes the form of liberal movements that blame the old-party structures and consolidated elites.
The late historian Robert Wistrich, one of the world’s most renowned scholars on anti-Semitism, gave a firsthand account of France’s predicament in 2014 when he expressed his amazement at how most of the French elite reacted with a snobby shrug or averted its gaze after bloody attacks on Parisian synagogues. In that time, the French comedian Dieudonné M’Bala-M’Bala went so far in the wake of these attacks to compare Israel to the Nazis and gained widespread applause. It was just freedom of expression. Ilan Halimi’s Islamic killers weren’t caught because the liberal mentality refused to look for them in the banlieues (in the Parisian suburbs) with their widespread Islamic presence.
Today, there’s a reluctance to address the anti-Semitism present within liberal-populist movements, or to associate the hate for the Jews and Israel with them, while it’s very common to associate it with right-wing movements. The Five Star Movement ignored the anti-Semitic impulses emerging from protestors that, they thought, were attempting to improve society. While battling for a better society is not a problem, it will be if they aspire to incinerate a couple of Jews in the process or become an actor of the international movement that aims at destroying the one country in the world that Jews call their homeland.
Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies, served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Translation by Amy Rosenthal.
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