Almost 120 years ago, on August 20, 1899, a pro-Dreyfus group led a demonstration in Paris against antisemitism.
On February 19, 2019, almost all French parties across the political spectrum will join a rally against antisemitism, with two exceptions: Le Pen’s far Right and the Mélenchon’s far Left.
The case of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who was unjustly sentenced and humiliatingly cashiered from the French army, took years to resolve.
Here, since the government’s release of its report showing the 74% spike in incidents, antisemitism seems to have become a new fetish – the place to be. Or is this just a flash in the pan? More importantly, how will it treat ‘anti-Zionism’ and the State of Israel?
The call has been addressed to party and municipal authorities in large cities across France, including in Lyons, Marseille and Nice.
The fact that 14 national political parties are mobilizing to protest – not against a mixed bag of hate victimologies drafted against Islamophobia, refugees or gays, but focusing exclusively on antisemitism – is a breakthrough.
The main rally will, of course, take place in Paris, at the fabled Place de la République at 7 p.m.
The Right-Left polarization had put French Jews in a difficult position, just as the threat to bipartisanship for American Jewry or the Corbyn factor for British Jewry.
A French approach views “antisemitism as violating the values of the Republic, beginning with ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.’”
Indeed, this is an occasion to emphasize those values for the absorption of immigrants from backgrounds that are steeped in antisemitism.
The very absence of the extreme Right and extreme Left from the rally accentuates a return to the center of the political panoply.
Swastika graffiti on the image of Simone Veil, the late minister of health and Holocaust survivor, went beyond the pale.
Just as important is to purge the weekly anti-government yellow vest demonstrations from attempted infiltration by identifiable antisemites.
Indeed, a number of yellow vest protesters have already announced their participation in the anti-antisemitism demonstration, expressing their “indignation,” especially at mounting Holocaust denial.
One such leader, Christophe Chalençon, has suggested that their Saturday march focuses on the evils of Jew-hatred – to combat the conspiracy theories on social media, claiming that the Jews are responsible for poverty and other issues on the yellow vests agenda.
Philippe Val, the former editor of Charlie Hebdo – my partner in crime, as we were both victims of defamation suits: he for Mohammed cartoons, me for identifying links to terror – has compiled a new essay collection. Therein he writes: “Antisemitism is not the affair of Jews, but of all. The French have been tested for democratic maturity after each Islamist attack. They live in a tragic paradox. Their country has become the theater of murderous antisemitism. The terror grows, provoking both popular condemnation and media silence.
“Why the silence? Because the old antisemitism of the extreme Right is added to the antisemitism of parts of the radical Left, finding in anti-Zionism the alibi to transform the murderers of Jews into victims of society. Because the electoral system calculates the Muslim vote as ten times that of the Jewish vote.”
The rallies against antisemitism are markers, but will they impact the campaigns for ballots in the European elections in May? Will a new Center in France last – to lead the rest of Europe in excluding extreme Right and extreme Left candidates?
Or will these philosemitic mobilizations simply fade away, leaving only the hate mobs – till the next post-election round?
The author is director of International Relations at the Simon Weisenthal Center.