Anti-Semitism on Both Sides of the Channel

Anti-Semitism on Both Sides of the Channel


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

In a matter of a few days anti-Semitism exploded on both sides of the English Channel. The manifestations have been different, but the seriousness of these activities have been both disconcerting and ominous. Politics is only partly to blame for the uproar. As was the case of Representative Omar in Washington, all the ancient canards once again reappeared with scary intensity.

In France, the renowned Jewish philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, was verbally attacked and booed last weekend during a meeting of the elite Academie Francaise. This verbal assault against Finkielkraut, which was captured on videotape, came a week after France had seen widespread anti-Semitic protests. On Saturday, the personal anti-Semitic attack against Finkielkraut spilled out into the streets with the continuing demonstration of Yellow Vests carrying anti-Semitic banners and shouting similar slogans. On Tuesday, Jewish cemeteries were desecrated in Alsace.  (There was also a bit ironic as Finkielkraut initially had expressed sympathy with the Yellow Vests protesters arguing against the economic and social disparity in the country.)

There was an important, impressive event, however, which did occur on Tuesday as demonstrations were held throughout France against anti-Semitism. In Paris, President Emmanuel Macron was joined in solidarity by former Presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy at the demonstration, together with other political officials. Whether this effort will quiet the growing left and right extremist voices is very unclear. The anti-Israel, anti-Zionist mood throughout Europe has served to fuel and justify this action in the eyes of many of the protestors.

In Great Britain, a much more political event occurred which was connected, at least in part, to the upsurge of anti-Semitism in the U.K.  Seven Labour MP’s resigned from the Labour Party. They expressed multiple reasons for their decision to form a new coalition in Parliament, but the growth of anti-Semitism within the party was clearly one of them.  This group was very dissatisfied with the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and the direction in which he was leading their party; a tolerance of anti-Semitism being very much part of their complaint.

The political action of these MP’s is dramatic. In the United Kingdom, while there are single member districts the voters generally vote for the party and less so for the Member.  These seven Members—baring a dramatic reorganization of the parties—have probably insured that they will not be returned to the next Parliament, regardless of how their current district votes. This constitutes, therefore, a very serious matter of principle on the part of the MP’s and underscores, at least in part, how affected they have been moved by the anti-Semitic tone that has taken over the Labour Party. In addition, Britain is so consumed by the political debate over its future relationship with Europe, that one senses that nothing will capture public attention in Britain until Brexit is resolved. Words of condemnation are expressed but one does not sense any serious concern being raised.

What is noticeable is that there were forces in France and Britain which appeared ready to protest and confront the anti-Semitic ugliness. The public outcry on the streets as well as from many political leaders was dramatic.  What effect any of this will have on the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel climate in France and Britain remains to be seen.

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