Can Europe Make It?

We are not at Place de la République because…

Participants in the counter-demonstration organised in Ménilmontant, Paris on February 19 explain their protest against “the instrumentalization of antisemitism by pro-Zionist politicians.”

Alana Lentin Houria Bouteldja
28 February 2019
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Paris, February 19. Counter-demonstration at Ménilmontant. All rights reserved.

Preamble by Alana Lentin

"On 16 February the French ‘new philosopher’ Alain Finkielkraut was verbally abused by some protestors aligned with the Gilets Jaunes (‘Yellow Vest’) movement. They called him a ‘dirty Zionist’ and told him to ‘go back to Tel Aviv.’ This has widely been interpreted as an antisemitic attack. Shortly afterwards, French President Emmanuel Macron declared anti-Zionism a form of antisemitism such as has not been seen “since the Second World War”.

On 19 February, the government and all major political parties, alongside the official organ of the French Jewish Communities and major antiracism organisations rallied at Place de la République in the centre of Paris. In response to this and against the instrumentalization of antisemitism that this rally represented, a counter-demonstration was organised in the multicultural Ménilmontant area of Paris by organisations such as the Union of French Jews for Peace and political allies on the antiracist left.

Houria Bouteldja, spokesperson for the Party of the Indigenous of the Republic, gave a speech that sets the events of 16 February in context, countering the instrumentalization of antisemitism by pro-Zionist politicians and stressing the need for a decolonial approach to the fight against all forms of racism."

Houria Bouteldja’s address to the rally against antisemitism and its instrumentalization, 19 February 2019 at Menilmontant, Paris:

"We are not at République because 14 members of a government that denies and perpetuates racism are!

We are not at République because we wish to denounce the incredible posturing of a government that pretends to fight against racism while being its principal proponent through its anti-migrant policies, its police and its laws.

We are not at République because all the forces of power today, from the Socialist Party to the Right, and including organisations such as the LICRA and the CRIF,[1] have been promoting a profoundly Islamophobic and pro-Israeli politics for several decades.

We are not at République because, under cover of the supposed fight against antisemitism, those in power insinuate that there are good and bad Jews, and good and bad Jewish organisations. On the one hand there are those they promote with the help of the mainstream media and who side with those in power and neoliberalism, who are pro-imperialist and pro-war (the CRIF). And on the other, there are those they suspect, ignore or vilify and who side with social justice, stand against all racisms without distinction, against continued French domination in Africa (la Françafrique) and who are pro-Palestinian (Union of French Jews for Peace, UJFP).

I would go even further. For most of those at République today, there are two antisemitisms: an antisemitism that must be resisted and another which they ignore. We could even say that there is a ‘good’ antisemitism which they tolerate and a ‘bad’ one which they challenge. The one they rightly oppose is that of the extreme right who desecrate cemeteries (as we have just witnessed in Alsace), that of some among the Gilets Jaunes or of some Muslims or those in the banlieues who are influenced by conspiracy theorists. But they do not oppose the most pernicious antisemitism – that of the state. Indeed, the state’s oppression of Jews as a subaltern group within the white nation state is completely negated.

This antisemitism is what allowed former French presidents, Jacques Chirac or Raymond Barre to say that the Jews of France are not full French citizens. This antisemitism, in that it is tolerated and unopposed, is a tolerable antisemitism.

We are not at République because we refuse the instrumentalisation of antisemitism or of any racism against the Gilets Jaunes movement.

Make no mistake: the majority of those who are demonstrating alongside the government, the Socialist Party, the Right or the CRIF are anything but antiracist.

But they use the good conscience of anti-antisemitism against a movement which, while not being completely clear on a number of questions, has nonetheless succeeded in unsettling those in power and has succeeded to escape the clutches of the extreme right by focusing above all else on challenging power and demanding social rights.

Pinning the blame for absolutely condemnable antisemitic acts, which we all share in condemning, exclusively on the Gilets Jaunes, is an abuse of authority. But it is above all a cynical policy, aimed at weakening and discrediting the movement.

We are not at République because, for us, the fight against antisemitism is too serious to leave in the hands of puppets and pyromaniacs.

And for us who take a decolonial stance, the fight against antisemitism is important because it is inseparable from the fight against the structural racism of the state and from the history of this country. In fact, antisemitism has never been rooted out of the intimate, mental and political constitution of the expansionist West. But as Aimé Césaire taught us, this antisemitism and its most appalling expression – Nazism – is rooted in the history of genocide against native peoples, in the transatlantic slave trade and in colonization. Therefore, we cannot think about the extermination camps while ignoring the history of the great crimes of western modernity just as we cannot think about Islamophobia, anti-Roma racism and antiblackness without linking them to the history of colonialism and of the French nation-state and of the antisemitism which it nourished within its own borders.

I want to draw your attention to the ideological tendencies that we must oppose. Because a red thread runs through all of these great crimes it is not the case that we should not consider each one as unique. In fact, there is a tendency on the left to consider antisemitism as exemplary of all racism, as an absolute reference point, just as there exists among non-white people who feel negated by this a tendency to relativise the Jewish genocide. I want to say loudly and clearly here that, while there is an historical link between all these racisms, each one has its own irreducible singularity. Nothing is like the Nazi genocide but so too nothing is like the slave trade.

We must not, and morally we cannot, either relativise or sublimate them. And it is not because the old antisemitism has partially metamorphosed into philosemitism that this specific form of racism has disappeared. It is still extremely strong on the far-right, and it exists in euphemized forms on the mainstream left. And because it is structural, it cannot but exist in one form or another among the working classes.

We are not at République because the occasions for denouncing racism are numerous, beginning with the antiblack and Islamophobic remarks of Finkielkraut and his ilk. Yet not one of the major parties is moved by them, just as they are not moved by the myriad police crimes against Blacks, Arabs, and Rroms that we deplore each year. As I speak, a young man is fighting for his life in the Izards neighbourhood of Toulouse, a fact that has been met with general indifference.

We are not at République because, for us, there is no such thing as scandalous or acceptable racisms.

In contrast, we refuse to dress up the facts. It is not Jews who are the targets of institutional racism today. Today’s targets are Muslims, North Africans, Africans, Rroms, the undocumented, and migrants. Any antiracist struggle worthy of the name cannot ignore this crystal-clear reality. No antiracist struggle can ignore the fact that the Mediterranean has become a cemetery for the wretched of the earth, most of whom are African. We must ask whether this surge of good conscience supposedly in favour of Jews is nothing but a figleaf that hides this heinous crime for which we are all morally responsible?

Finally, we are not at République because we refuse to associate with a government and with all those complicit with it, starting with the opposition parties such as the Communist Party, France Insoumise or Ensemble[2] who, whether coerced or naive, have associated themselves with a march orchestrated by a force which today criminalises anti-Zionism and brings back thought crime in France.

We refuse to associate with those who, on the international scene, dance the tango with Netanyahu, bomb Chad in the name of the ‘war on terror’ and participate in the imperialist destabilization of Venezuela alongside the USA and the fascist, Bolsonaro.

We are demonstrating at Ménilmontant because we wish to be the dignified descendants of Frantz Fanon who taught us that all antisemitism also speaks of Blacks, of Muslims and of Rroms:

 “At first glance it seems strange that the attitude of the anti-Semite can be equated with that of the negrophobe. It was my philosophy teacher from the Antilles who reminded me one day: “When you hear someone insulting the Jews pay attention; he is talking about you.” And I believed at the time he was universally right, meaning that I was responsible in my body and my soul for the fate reserved for my brother. Since then, I have understood that what he meant quite simply was the anti-Semite is inevitably a negrophobe.” (Fanon, Black Skin White Masks, 1952)

Tonight, I declare Ménilmontant the capital of political antiracism! "

 


[1] League against Racism and Antisemitism and the  Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France.

[2] France Insoumise and Ensemble are relatively new minoritarian left-wing political parties in France.

 

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