The far right’s strong performance in elections was for decades an insurance policy for left- and right-wing neoliberals: any moderate, no matter how bland, could easily get elected provided he stood against a political party widely perceived as unacceptable and offensive. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s share of the vote in the 2002 French presidential election did not grow significantly between the first and second rounds (16.8% to 17.8%), but Jacques Chirac’s surged from 19.8% to 82.2%. Emmanuel Macron won in a similar, though less spectacular, fashion in 2017.
Neoliberals hope that what worked with the far right will work with the left. To block any progress it might make, they are trying to build a ‘wall of values’ that will make the left suspect. They hope this will force people who can no longer bear the government’s policies to put up with them, because they will deem those of its most powerful adversaries even worse.
As if by chance, the left has been accused of antisemitism simultaneously in France, the UK and the US. Once a target is selected, all one need do is find a clumsy, outrageous or contemptible opinion expressed, say on Facebook or Twitter, by a member of the political movement one intends to discredit (the UK Labour party has more than 500,000 members). Then the media take over. One can also destroy an opponent by pretending they have expressed antisemitic prejudices they do not hold — such as ‘democracy/journalism/the financial sector is controlled by Jews’ — as soon as they criticise the oligarchy, the media or a bank.
Philosopher Alain Finkielkraut recently claimed that ‘If [Jeremy] Corbyn was in Downing Street, you could say that, for the first time since Hitler, an antisemite was leader of a European country’ (1). According to President Donald Trump the situation is just as bad in the US because, with the election of a number of leftwing militants to Congress, ‘The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They’ve become an anti-Jewish party.’ (He later said, ‘The Democrats hate Jewish people.’) Bernard-Henri Lévy has even dared to compare French journalist and leftist National Assembly member François Ruffin to Lucien Rebatet, author of the antisemitic pamphlet Les Décombres; to Xavier Vallat, commissioner-general for Jewish affairs in Vichy France; and to Robert Brasillach, a Nazi collaborator executed after the liberation of France. Lévy, a professional defamer, claimed to detect in Ruffin a ‘conscious or unconscious echo of the style of Gringoire’ (2), a magazine dripping with antisemitic hatred; its most notorious smear campaign drove a minister of the interwar leftwing Front Populaire government to suicide.
Jews have been murdered by antisemites in France and the US. This tragedy is now turned into an ideological weapon used by Trump, the Israeli government and mendacious intellectuals. If we must build a cordon sanitaire, let it protect us against those who purposely accuse their adversaries of an infamy of which they know they are innocent.
Translated from the French by Charles Goulding.