On ‘goyish fragility’. Jewish response to an offended left

In France, the radical left is plagued by antisemitism that expresses itself in a variety of ways. Since October 7 in particular, anti-Jewish outbursts, conveyed in particular by France Insoumise executives and activists, have been documented and constantly denounced by Jewish organizations. Yet, while this left wing acknowledges its anti-Zionism, it denies any accusation of antisemitism, claiming to belong to the anti-racist camp. Recently, intellectuals close to France Insoumise published an opinion piece[1] that caused quite a stir, with the explicit aim of clearing their movement of any antisemitism. Elisheva Gottfarstein’s text is a step-by-step response to their diabolically specious arguments.

 

 

The text is long – very long. That’s the first feeling you get when reading this tribune signed by the usual figures of this ecosystem (Nobel Prize-winning writer Annie Ernaux, philosopher Enzo Traverso, historian Julien Théry, Tsedek activist Simon Assoun…), as well as new recruits whose coming-out is no surprise (historian of Nazism Johann Chapoutot). What it aims to demonstrate in exhaustive detail is the absolute innocence of France Insoumise when it comes to antisemitism. The signatories are hurt and offended, bruised by this accusation. And they’re making the depth of their grief known by mobilizing the whole vocabulary of offense: how can anyone accuse the Insoumis of something as serious as antisemitism?

In the militant lexicon, this hyperbolic reaction of horror in the face of what is considered to be unjust incrimination is designated by a highly ironic term: “fragility”. Indeed, this tribune is nothing less than a masterly illustration of what might be called “goyish fragility”[2] – even though they are joined, as always, by a few cautionary Jews always ready to come to the rescue of the victims of “infamy”.[3] These intellectuals, shaken in their conviction of being beautiful people, are offended that Jews can massively report, document and denounce the antisemitic protrusions that plague France Insoumise.

With all due caution, therefore, so as not to offend their sensibilities any further, the aim here is to respond to them and bring to light some of the “red flags” included in their tribune, i.e. the warning signals indicating that an unacceptable limit has been crossed.

One: choosing to denounce the instrumentalization of the fight against antisemitism rather than the fight itself

For the signatories, the accusation of antisemitism emanates from those in power and aims to disqualify the progressive struggle: “We know very well why this unleashed offensive is being waged: the possibility of the Left coming to power terrifies the representatives of a social, economic and ideological order”. This rhetoric is widespread in this militant milieu. It can be found, for example, in the recent article by journalist Vincent Edin, who takes offence at the fact that antisemitism can be denounced within this party: “It’s a tactic as old as the world of capital when it sees the camp of sharing. In fact, antisemitism is all that capital has left when it has screwed up to scare people away from sharing”. Jean-Luc Mélenchon had already used this strategy during the Yellow Vests social movement. The denunciation of an antisemitic imaginary active within this movement was perceived by the Insoumis leader as a desire to discredit the social revolt.

Admittedly, the fight against antisemitism is largely instrumentalized by the ruling forces , and Marine Le Pen recently attempted to discredit the left by posing as the only true friend of the Jews. But, as the philosopher Jean-Yves Pranchère rightly reminds us, there is only one way to fight against this instrumentalization: it’s to occupy the very terrain of the fight against antisemitism[4]. Vocalizing against its instrumentalization is futile if we don’t lead the fight at the same time, and this has the dramatic consequence of leaving Jews alone with those who instrumentalize their defense. Worse still, this rhetoric insinuates that, in the event of the electoral failure of the left-wing union, the Jews would be responsible… The Jews and not the antisemitism, whereas it is indeed their presence within the left that imprisons every Jew and every honest Republican in a painful case of conscience. One could almost see this as a new variation on the antisemitic trope of Jews as “destructive agents” of society. But let’s spare our signatories’ irritability.

The ethical rule commonly accepted on the left, however, is to give our full attention and trust to the expertise of those affected by an offense. What applies to all minorities obviously doesn’t apply to Jews.

Three: blindness to the implications of the term “genocide”

This legal term has an “electric” dimension, because in the collective imagination it inescapably refers to the Holocaust – notwithstanding the authors of the petition who feel obliged to point out the existence of other genocides. Of course. But they are far from ignoring the fact that the term was coined to designate the destruction of European Jewry. In the West, this fundamental link between genocide and the Holocaust is maintained. We may regret it, we may oppose it, but we cannot deny the fact. Consequently, using the term “genocide” to denounce the crimes committed in Gaza inevitably carries with it an abject equating of Israelis with Nazis[5]. Against a backdrop of an explosion in antisemitic crimes perpetrated by those who insult, hit or rape Jewish people, in the belief that they are avenging acts of war committed by Israel in the Middle East[6], one would expect a humanist and progressive left to be particularly attentive to the risk of activating one of the main levers of contemporary antisemitism. However, we are witnessing the exact opposite, and this forum, which aims to justify the use of this term, is part of it.

This argument is valid in and of itself. However, as for the legal relevance of using the term, I refer you to the explanations already given in K. by international law specialist Yann Jurovics[7]. Based on orders issued by the International Court of Justice, he shows that the crimes committed by Israel in response to the October 7 massacres do not amount to genocide, but could be characterized as war crimes or crimes against humanity. He adds – and this is important – that there is no hierarchy in terms of seriousness between these three qualifications: genocide, crime against humanity, war crime. In other words, in law, genocide is not “more serious” or “less serious” than a crime against humanity, they are simply different qualifications. Consequently, refusing to use this term does not mean minimizing what is happening in Gaza but, on the one hand, conforming to the characterizations of international law and, on the other, taking into account the weight of history – in this case Jewish history.

It’s worth recalling this legal point when we discover how one of the text’s signatories, despite being a lawyer by profession, proved incapable of giving a simple definition of genocide during the live interview given to Le poste on June 20, devoted to the genesis of the tribune.

Four: saving irredeemable figures

Part of the text is devoted to whitewashing two figures from the Insoumis who have been in the news a lot lately: European deputy Rima Hassan and Nord deputy David Guiraud. Regarding the former, the signatories are full of praise for her, claiming that she is well aware of the antisemitic threat: “R. Hassan is unfailingly solid on the subject, knows the history of antisemitic persecution, understands the fear in the face of their resurgence and expresses this understanding with genuine care – sensitive, human, political”. They back up their point of view as follows: “It is ethically and deontologically inadmissible to associate with any form of antisemitism the expression she uses like so many others: ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’. To say that this political hope would be antisemitic is an odious manipulation. Rima Hassan has never ceased to repeat it with the utmost clarity and firmness: this is an aspiration that for decades has been held by supporters of a peace based on anti-colonialism, a coexistence of the two peoples on the same land, a bi-national state”.

What is most astonishing in reading these lines is the considerable effort of self-hallucination deployed. The slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” necessarily implies – arithmetically – the destruction of the State of Israel at the very least in its current form, i.e. as a refuge state, the only state of the Jews in the world. Should they alone be denied the right to exercise full sovereignty? Would the signatories know better than the Jews themselves what is good for them? Rima Hassan’s sensitivity to the “Jewish question” – and that of the authors of this text – is still somewhat lacking.

It has to be said that the deputy is getting bogged down in the “Jewish conspiracy” theory, suggesting that the French government is at the behest of the CRIF,

and refers to MEP Raphaël Glucksmann as “part of the problem”, even though he denounced the crimes committed at Rafah and, more generally, Netanyahu’s policies[11]. Furthermore, although no one is asking Rima Hassan to “apologize for being Palestinian” as the text implies, it must be clearly stated that the misogynistic and racist attacks she is regularly the target of are unacceptable.

As for MP David Guiraud, accused in particular of having posted an antisemitic tweet, the same blindness of argument is at work: “In this instance, the accusation made against David Guiraud seems to us to be absolutely unfair. Not only do we affirm that he is not antisemitic, but we also believe that his post was not, and that, as he indicated, he was unaware of the use of this dogwhistle “.

So, because David Guiraud – who admits to having become interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through videos by Dieudonné and Alain Soral[8] – didn’t know that he was mobilizing a dogwhistle[9], he’s automatically cleared. Let’s take a look. The fact is, what Guiraud is accused of is equating the Jewish Observatory with the “celestial dragons”, i.e. a Jewish association with an organization of manipulative, slave-owning nobles exercising world domination, and condemning to death those who dare utter the slightest criticism of them. Consequently, whether or not the deputy knows that the image used is a dogwhistle (i.e. is already being used by a community of antisemites), what is significant is that he himself has made this intrinsically conspiratorial assimilation. Or are we to understand that, in 2024, there are people, including political leaders, who don’t know that the “Jewish conspiracy” theme is an antisemitic trope? Here again, it’s a colossal effort not to see what’s obvious.

Five: the absence of antisemitic convictions as the ultimate proof of innocence

The signatories put forward an argument that is invalidated in absolutely all other struggles (against racism, against violence against women, against police violence, etc.) but which, concerning antisemitism, astonishingly, becomes not only authorized, but even more sacralized. What is this argument? To date, no LFI executive has been convicted of antisemitism. No conviction, no antisemitism. Move along, there’s nothing to see. This argument is widely mobilized by LFI activists and journalists, who know full well – as they rightly point out on other subjects – that an absence of conviction by the courts does not amount to a guarantee of innocence: it may be a sign of flaws in the operation of the judicial system[10]. What applies to all other minorities does not apply to Jews, and the signatories can cynically boast: “this fact matters”.

Six: saving the supreme leader

After Rima Hassan and David Guiraud, the signatories set about the perilous task of rescuing the leader himself, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Researchers, activists and journalists have already – and for a long time – documented and analyzed his equivocal remarks. All this is available and accessible in just a few clicks for those who take the trouble to look into it[11]. Let’s look instead at the arguments put forward by the tribune.

This is based on three distinct strategies. The first is to list all the times when Jean-Luc Mélenchon… didn’t make antisemitic remarks. The approach is curious, to say the least. What do the signatories expect? Congratulations? A trophy? A medal? Perhaps we could give them the one we’d award to anyone who hasn’t grabbed their buttocks in the metro.

Let’s remember a basic fact: the declaration by the leader of the Insoumis party that he is opposed to antisemitism – reported emphatically in the text – is in no way extraordinary. Such a general declaration is the minimum that can be expected from a party whose political doctrine cannot structurally be based on hatred of Jews, since it is a left-wing party, and therefore a political formation intimately attached to the rights of minorities. So it’s normal that, while antisemitism thrives within France Insoumise, it’s obviously not programmatic[12]. Turning this normality into a matter of glory reveals only one thing: the signatories’ stubborn blindness to the problem.

After all, they are well aware that the multitude of anti-racist declarations issued by politicians does not magically abolish the thought structures and racist imaginaries inherited from the colonial era, and that these are still at work in today’s societies, often manifesting themselves clandestinely. Here’s a little scoop for the tribune’s signatories: antisemitism too has a history. But, once again, what applies to the defense of other minorities clearly does not apply to Jews.

The second strategy consists of deliberately biased or truncated reporting of certain controversial episodes. Take, for example, the eviction of Jean-Luc Mélenchon by the far-right LDJ from the march in tribute to Mireille Knoll, the victim of an antisemitic murder in 2018. For the signatories of the text, “this indecent brutality had obviously not prevented J.-L. Mélenchon from considering that it was an ‘epiphenomenon’, the importance of which bears no relation to the seriousness of the antisemitic murder committed. Above all,” he reminded us, “we had to feel solidarity and stand by all Jewish people who might feel in danger”. This wisdom would be respectable if it were true. Unfortunately, the Insoumis leader chose instead to spread his bitterness and hostility in a staggering blog post. As Jean-Yves Pranchère shows, in this text Jean-Luc Mélenchon adopts a threatening tone, doesn’t hesitate to pit a republican “us” against a communitarian “them”, and points the finger at the CRIF and its president as responsible for the rise in antisemitism[13]. Our signatories’ relentless refusal to see the obvious is clearly based on hallucinatory disorders.

Finally, the third strategy consists in timidly conceding a few “clumsinesses”, only to immediately adopt a victimized posture: the Insoumis and their leader would in fact be summoned to keep quiet, victims of a vast media operation of intimidation because of their empathy for the Palestinians. This is how the signatories describe the sequence of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s tweet accusing the President of the National Assembly of “camping in Tel Aviv”. The media’s attention was focused on one word, a little word that didn’t deserve so much. And they conclude: “A perfectly senseless tour de force (…) to intimidate, silence and castigate those who are horrified by the situation in Palestine, such is the result of this operation”.

Let’s add to this that this tweet is revolting in many other ways, and not just for the use of the term “camping”. As a reminder, the leader of the Insoumis once again contrasted France, the “real” France, the one demonstrating on Place de la République, with an antagonistic France embodied by Yaël Braun-Pivet, “in Tel Aviv”, which would “encourage massacre”. Need we explain to the historians who signed this tribune that equating Jews with an “anti-France” is an old antisemitic theme? Indeed, Jean-Luc Mélenchon persisted, once again reactivating the opposition between a France and an “anti-France” at a recent meeting. In an astonishing sequence, he had his militants boo the collective Nous Vivrons, accusing them of “preventing others from living” and asserting without batting an eyelid that they were “not acting for France”.

Conclusion

What is astounding in reading such a text is the authors’ resolute, stubborn, relentless blindness, their ability to refuse to “see what we see”, to use Charles Péguy’s sharp phrase[14]. The signatories slalom between principles to which they adhere but which they stubbornly refuse to apply to the Jews. This results in statements of principle from which no consequences are drawn. For example, they concede – half-heartedly – that antisemitism has a structural history in France: “We are well aware that racism in our societies is dramatically structural and even systemic; that antisemitism is part of it; that it has a long history, from which the Left is not exempt”. But at the same time, all its – very numerous – manifestations within France Insoumise are brushed aside with a wave of the hand.

The erroneous notion that “today’s Muslims are yesterday’s Jews”, that Islamophobia has replaced antisemitism, prevents us from understanding the mechanisms specific to each of these two forms of hatred, and fuels a disastrous competition between victims.

It’s also a good idea to give a central place to the voices of those first affected by discrimination, and this precaution can even be repeated several times: “This principle of listening to those first affected counts, in all struggles and in this one in particular”. This does not prevent our signatories from immediately and definitively stifling the word of the Jews. In this respect, the account given of the eviction of the Insoumis activists who came to the Jewish Martyrs’ Square at the Vélodrome d’hiver after refusing to take part in the great march against antisemitism on November 12, 2023 is edifying. The authors see it as a new media operation to disqualify LFI, and are completely impervious to the justifications put forward by the Jewish activists who opposed their arrival. The latter – despite being the “first and foremost concerned” – become mere “counter-demonstrators who have come to disrupt the solemnity and contemplation that characterized this initiative”.

On the eve of decisive elections for our country, which could bring the extreme right to power, we are forced to note that the signatories of this article prefer to persevere in their blindness to the relationship between the Insoumis and antisemitism, rather than engage in a serious self-examination and self-criticism that would take into account the massive and repeated reports of the first concerned, the Jews: according to a recent poll, 92% of them feel that LFI contributes to the rise in antisemitism[15]. This is a massive reality.

The initiator of this tribune wrote in 2013, after the murder of Ilan Halimi and the Toulouse attack, that antisemitism in France remained “very much in the minority and has now been supplanted by stigmatizations that have Islam as their main target”[16]. The erroneous notion that “today’s Muslims are yesterday’s Jews”, that Islamophobia has replaced antisemitism, prevents us from understanding the mechanisms specific to each of these two forms of hatred, and fuels a disastrous competition between victims.

Ultimately, when you know nothing about the history of the Jews, anti-Judaism, antisemitism, Jewishness or Zionism, you shouldn’t display your ignorance and blindness in a column that pretends to be something it’s not. Ladies and gentlemen, don’t worry about fighting antisemitism, we’ll take care of that.


Elishéva Gottfarstein

Cadeau en annexe ci-dessous : un florilège de citations made in France Insoumise à toutes fins utiles.

Notes

1 https://www.auposte.fr/reponse-collective-a-une-infamie-sur-laccusation-dantisemitisme-portee-contre-la-france-insoumise/
2 This ironic syntagm circulates in militant circles, feminist anti-racist activist Ilana Weizman uses it notably in her book Des Blancs comme les autres, Stock, 2022.
3 This fragility is comparable to the “white fragility” often mobilized to account for the Trump vote in the United States or the RN vote at home.
4 See the interview “Cachez cet ansemitic que je ne saurais voir” by Jean-Yves Pranchère given to Akadem in June 2022.
5 This equating of Israelis with Nazis has been found on a considerable number of placards at pro-Palestinian demonstrations for decades.
6 Remember that the terrorists in Toulouse and the Hypercasher intended to “avenge Palestinian children” by murdering Jews. Ditto for the recent rape of a little Jewish girl in Courbevoie, France.
7 See Yann Jurovics’ columns on Akadem and his interview with K.
8 See Jonas Pardo’s column on Akadem: ” David Guiraud: anatomie d’une insulte “.
9 An antisemitic code understandable by insiders, but enabling the avoidance of accusations and the moderation of explicit remarks: here an image from manga culture.
10 See, for example, Salomé Saqué’s video capsules for Blast.
11 See in particular the following articles: Face à l’antisémitisme, sortir de la confusion”, Solitudes intangibles, by Jean-Yves Pranchère, “La France insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon et l’antisémitisme”, Histoire politique de l’antisémitisme en France, by Milo-Lévy Bruhl, “Antisémitisme, les fautes de Jean-Luc Mélenchon”, Médiapart, by Lénaïg Bredoux and Fabien Escalona From silence to fighting antisemitism: the turn of a radical left-wing Jew“, K. Jonas Pardo, “The future of the Left and the battle against antisemitism”, K., Milo Lévy-Bruhl, “Mélenchon and Ozar Hatorah: one massacre too many”, K., Milo Lévy-Bruhl.
12 Herein lies the fundamental difference with the Rassemblement National, whose ideology is structured in part on anti-Jewish hatred – albeit muted in a perfectly opportunistic manner.
13 See “Facing antisemitism, getting out of the confusion” by Jean-Yves Pranchère, article cited.
14 ”We must always say what we see; above all, we must always, which is more difficult, see what we see.” Charles Péguy, Notre Jeunesse
15 See IFOP Opinion poll.
16 La France à l’heure du monde. De 1981 à nos jours, Seuil, Ludivine Bantigny.

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