Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s astonishing statement about the sudden occurrence of a “major event” during the next presidential election has been widely commented upon. However, what is most surprising here is the astonishment itself that these remarks have provoked. There is nothing new in Mélenchon’s dabbling in conspiracy theories, underestimation of the seriousness of anti-Semitism and concomitant scolding of those who dare to worry about it.
In 2013, already, Jean-Luc Mélenchon raised hackles when he claimed, on the sidelines of a party congress for ‘La France Insoumise’ (LFI), that Pierre Moscovici, then Economy Minister, had “a behavior of someone who no longer thinks in French, who thinks in the language of international finance.”
The following year, against the backdrop of violent clashes in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas, Mélenchon declared in a speech that he and his comrades did not believe “in peoples superior to others,” superimposing on the tragedy of an intractable conflict a reading in which aversion to the State of Israel is confused with one of the oldest and most inane themes of anti-Jewish libels. Insinuating that the cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to be found in the arrogance of a racist people imbued with a belief in its own superiority, the president of LFI returns to the Soviet propaganda of the late 1960s, precisely that which made anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism indistinguishable.
In 2017, Jean-Luc Mélenchon shared a video on social networks from an openly conspiracy-minded YouTube account suggesting that former Prime Minister Manuel Valls was Israel’s enforcer. The same year, Mélenchon attacked the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF), the umbrella body for national Jewish organizations, for having used anti-Semitism as “a stun weapon.”
A few months later, before a memorial march organized in honor of Mireille Knoll, a Jewish octogenarian victim of an anti-Semitic murder, the CRIF made it known that it rejected the presence of representatives of the National Front and of La France Insoumise. Mélenchon then accused the CRIF of having “done more for anti-Semitism on this occasion than dozens of dirty deeds committed by vectors anti-Semitic. ”
On December 13, 2019, commenting on the debacle of Labour in the British general election, Jean-Luc Mélenchon explained that his friend Jeremy Corbyn lost because he would have “wanted to please the important people,” because he would have been “shot in the back” without reacting but also because he would have suffered “without help the crude accusation of anti-Semitism propagated by the chief rabbi of England and the various networks of influence of the Likud.” He concluded by saying that he will never “kneel before the arrogant edicts of the CRIF communitarians”.
This is certainly not the “language of finance” that Mélenchon speaks. It is the language of Dieudonné and Alain Soral, the latter of which has recognized so well the barely coded signals that were sent to his political clientele that he has sometimes urged the leader of LFI to make a little more effort in this direction in order to be totally credible.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon knows, like any honest man, that the attacks committed by Mohamed Merah were the occasion for a conspiracy fervor that sought to disguise a murderer as a victim. To this day, some people exonerate the young jihadist for his crimes, that is, when they do not simply contest the reality of them. Whatever the conspiratorial version propagated, only one culprit and beneficiary of the operation is designated: Israel. When Mélenchon plays with conspiracy rhetoric, it is with this kind of infamy that he flirts. Is he acting out of electoral calculation or has he ended up being sincerely contaminated by this vision of the world? We will not probe here what is in his heart – there are cardiologists for that. The fact remains that, in his evocation of a last-minute manipulation of the presidential election, Jean-Luc Mélenchon puts on the same level two terrorist attacks and the horrible assault on an old man beaten up in his home in 2002 (“Grandpa Voise”). This equating of the two makes one lose sight of the heterogeneity of these events and leads to the relativization of terrorism.
But that is not all.
To characterize these three distinct events, among which the cold-blooded murders of several children in a Jewish school in Toulouse, Jean-Luc Mélenchon first spoke of a “serious incident”; a description that some people were quick to compare to the famous “point of detail in the history of the Second World War” to which Jean-Marie Le Pen had, in his time, reduced the gas chambers.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon knows the meaning of words. He knows the importance of them. How then can we explain his use of the term “incident” here? Do we need to recall that on March 19, 2012, Mohamed Merah went to the Ozar HaTorah Jewish school in Toulouse to shoot at point-blank range a thirty-year-old man, his two sons aged six and three, and a little eight-year-old girl who was caught by the hair before being shot in the head?
A discourse of denial, conspiracy is a means of concealing reality and bending it to one’s will. The idea that the attack on Ozar HaTorah was part of a scenario that allowed Muslims to be stigmatized then makes sense: it proceeds from the same denial that dictates to Jean-Luc Mélenchon the euphemism of “serious incident.” Towards the end of his speech, however, Mélenchon spoke of a “very grave event.” But his initial hesitation perhaps says less about him than about our collective unconscious.
For an incomprehensible selective amnesia is flourishing around the attack on Ozar HaTorah. On the evening of July 14, 2016, a 31-year-old Tunisian, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, left a scene of carnage on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice: 86 dead, including 13 minors. The former Secretary of State for Victims’ Assistance, Juliette Méadel, declared a year later on the France Info radio station that it was the first attack that has “deliberately affected children.” When, four years later, the history-geography teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine by a young radicalized man of Chechen origin, Abdoullakh Anzorov, we heard again that it was the first time that Islamist terrorism had targeted a school…
What can this erasure of the Ozar HaTorah attack mean for the collective memory if not that, far from having forgotten that Jews were targeted and killed as Jews, our unconscious has as it were obscured the fact that it was French children who were murdered? Instead of reinforcing the scandalous nature of the crime, the anti-Semitic dimension of the crime has, on the contrary, naturalized it, as if these three Jewish children were Jews before they were children: is not it somewhat in the order of things that Jews are killed for the sole fact of being Jewish?
The Ozar HaTorah massacre shows the permanence of a deadly anti-Semitism that cannot be reduced to a simple anathema brandished by some “community sect.” It speaks of the acuteness of the problem posed to us collectively by Islamist terrorism. For these reasons, it constitutes an intolerable event. Too embarrassing not to be written off, relativized and finally derealized by the Islamists, the anti-Semites, their accomplices and all those who seek extenuating circumstances for them: if the assassinations committed by Mohamed Merah were “written in advance” by an “oligarchic system” that manipulates us, then terrorism itself is only a bugbear and the anti-Semitic fanaticism that inspires it a false problem.
Did Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s words carry another message than this one?
|1||Translator’s Note: Dieudonné, a purported humorist, and Alain Soral, a popular Internet polemicist and conspiracy theorist, are two of the guiding lights of contemporary anti-Semitism in France. More can be read about each in the links attached to their names.|
|2||Translator’s Note: The author here references former Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen’s notorious statements of Holocaust denial.|