#27 / Editorial

Eric Zemmour’s presence on the French media scene and the polemicist-cum-politician’s frequent nativist sallies are taxing. One sometimes feels the temptation to no longer hear or speak of him, as if tuning out these nationalist excesses were the best means of vitiating them. Such a strategy, however, could not be less sound. Historians are right to insist on the facts of past events before the constant distortions of the far-right provocateur. On our own account, we feel ourselves obliged to penetrate the media firestorm in order to ascertain the larger questions at stake, or at least to have an initial attempt at doing so. Zemmour’s notoriety, we posit, forms part of a larger phenomenon in which public life has become saturated with conflicts over identity. K. has devoted much attention in the past year to interrogating the notion of “identity” and its centrality in our own time. Why is this era so preoccupied with identity? What does all this mean for Jews, and how can the Jewish experience inform debates on the articulation of personal and collective identity?

Bruno Karsenti and Danny Trom give us this week their first installment in a series on the Zemmour phenomenon, but one manifestation of the identitarian madness. Zemmour does not contribute to the greatness of France, despite his constant assertion of French grandeur. He, in fact, reduces Frenchness to a simple particularism: being French, his discourse implies, matters about as much as being Muslim, Christian or Jewish; female, transgender or LGBT; vegetarian or vegan. He is merely a product of the identitarian fever he denounces, the first victims of which, whether he intends so or not, are Jews. From this position of vulnerability and discomfort, as bearers for a rich history of integration in nation-states, Jews have much to teach about how one can define identity in a productive rather than deleterious manner.

Integration, belonging, and identity… this is also the subject-matter of Juliette Senik’s report on the Spanish law – which 500 years after the expulsion of Spain’s Jews on the basis of “purity of blood” – was meant to help the victims of the past obtain Spanish nationality. The articles evinces the disquiet and ambivalence that Jews feel vis-à-vis a great European nation’s declaration of wanting to make amends for “a historic error.” The fact that the law raised so many hopes before turning out to be a disappointment is indeed revealing.

Finally, as we are discussing Eric Zemmour, himself a great admirer of Viktor Orban (whose election victory in 2018 he hailed as “a lesson for all the parties of the right. Orban’s party won big in assuming the mantle of the battle against the great replacement and for Europe’s Christian roots, while offering a counter-example to multiculturalist countries like France,” RTL), we wanted to re-publish János Gadó’s inquiry on the Hungarian prime minister’s bid to conscript a part of the country’s Jewish community into his nationalist endeavors and the fissures resulting from it.

What does the Zemmour French phenomenon obscure? The growing popularity of the nationalist standard-bearer deserves to be put back in its true place: that of the conflict of identities that has been allowed to swell for at least two decades, where none of the positions in the battle has the legitimacy which it claims…

More than 500 years after the expulsion of Spain’s Jews, and to everyone’s surprise, the Spanish parliament passed a law in 2015 to repair this “historic error” by allowing descendants of the expelled to apply for naturalization. Upon learning of this, documentary director Juliette Senik decided to set up her camera in the office of the Spanish consulate in Paris and follow the official in charge of processing naturalization applications…

What kind of coexistence Viktor Orbán considers to be functional for Hungarian Jews and what is the reception of his politic on the Jewish side? János Gadó answers this question for K., providing an overview in which he discusses both the difficult issue of the memory of the Holocaust in Hungary, Orbán’s relationship with Israel, and the divisions that exist within Hungarian Jewry.

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Thanks to the Paris office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation for their cooperation in the design of the magazine’s website.