March 7, 2017, the 17th Chamber of the Tribunal Correctionel of Paris acquitted Georges Bensoussan, a Jewish Moroccan-born historian, of any "incitement of racial hatred" ("provocation à la haine raciale").
On January 25, 2017, all of France's "anti-racist" organizations -- even the Jewish International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA) -- joined the Islamist Collective Against Islamophobia (CCIF) in court against Bensoussan. He was prosecuted for remarks he made in October 2015, during a debate on radio station France Culture about anti-Semitism among French Arabs. Benoussan said:
"An Algerian sociologist, Smaïn Laacher, with great courage, just said in a documentary aired on Channel 3: It is a shame to deny this taboo, namely that in the Arab families in France, and everyone knows it but nobody wants to say it, anti-Semitism is sucked with mother's milk."
The Islamist CCIF send the quote to the public prosecutor, who opened a case against Bensoussan. The charge was simple: "mother's milk" was not a metaphor for cultural anti-Semitism transmitted through education, but a genetic and "essentialist" accusation. "Mother's milk", they claimed, means: "all Arabs are anti-Semitic" -- in other words, that Bensoussan supposedly a racist.
The decision of the court to acquit of Bensoussan is a key moment for freedom of speech in France in general, and for the freedom to speak about Muslim anti-Semitism in France.
Georges Bensoussan, a highly regarded Jewish historian of Moroccan extraction, was recently found not guilty of "hate speech." (Image source: Jusqu'au dernier video screenshot)
The judges said that "the impugned remarks [of Bensoussan] were held in a very particular context" -- a radio debate on a hot topic, "in the heat of conversation". The judges recognized that the quotation of Smaïn Laacher by the defendant was not strictly accurate. Laacher said:
"it is a monumental hypocrisy not to see that this anti-Semitism is in the beginning domestic, and quite evidently, is without doubt reinforced, hardened, legitimized, almost naturalized with various distinctions... externally. He will find it at home and will sense no radical lack of continuity between home and the external environment. Because the external environment, is, in reality, the most often [experienced]. It is to be found in what are termed the ghettos, it feels as though it is in the air one breathes, it is not at all strange. And it is difficult to escape from it in those places, particularly when you find it in yourself."
According to the judges, however, "the idea expressed by Smaïn Laacher is almost the same, or even identical to that expressed by Georges Bensoussan."
"Lastly and above all," according to the court, "the offense of incitement to hatred, violence or discrimination presupposes to be constituted, an intentional element," and the characterization of this intent is lacking and "runs against the fact that Georges Bensoussan... never ceased to deplore this constitution of two separate peoples [Muslims and non-Muslims in France]... and never called for a separation of the faction [Muslims] supposed to have seceded, its rejection, its banishment or its eradication, but on the contrary, [Bensoussan called] for their reintegration into the French nation."
Since Bensoussan rejected "any idea of destiny or essentialization," the judges denied any possibility that he could "be accused of having aroused or wished to arouse a feeling of hostility or rejection against a group of people [Muslims]".
The Islamist CCIF said it would appeal the decision.
It is becoming more and more difficult in France to hide the fact that hate speech and anti-Semitic statements are coming mainly not from non-Muslims, but from French Muslims.
Yves Mamou is a journalist and author based in France. He worked for two decades for the daily, Le Monde, before his retirement.