A few weeks ago, when French Jewish actor Elie Semoun was a prime-time guest on one of the main French television channels, Canal Plus, the words of Sebastian Thoen, a standup comedian who introduced him may have been meant to be to be laudatory, but took quite a different turn: "You never plunged into communitarianism [Jewish activism] ... You could have posted yourself in the street selling jeans and diamonds from the back of a minivan, saying 'Israel is always right, f*** Palestine, wallala.' You show that it is possible to be of the Jewish faith without being completely disgusting."
Semoun was obviously ill-at-ease, but did not react. A couple hours after the show, the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF) issued a statement denouncing a "dangerous trivialization of anti-Semitism." The President of the TV channel responded by saying that the Jewish community had "no sense of humor." The incident occurred, however, in a context where the French Jewish community has no reason to have a sense of humor.
At the end of 2012, Jewish France was republished. The book is a tirade of extreme anti-Semitism, originally published in 1886 by the author Edouard Drumont, and reprinted repeatedly until after World War II and the fall of the Vichy regime.
The publishing company sent a press release for the latest book launch: "A classic of French literature is finally available again." When Jewish organizations protested, articles in Le Monde and Le Figaro (the two leading French daily newspapers) said that Jewish organizations had "overreacted." The publishing company that reprinted Jewish France issued or reissued other books at the same time, such as The International Jew by Henry Ford; The Controversy of Zion by Douglas Reed, the first anti-Semitic writer to deny Hitler's extermination of the Jews, and an Anthology of Writings Against Jews, Judaism and Zionism, including excerpts from the most libelous anti-Semitic writings of the last two centuries. These books are now available at all the most popular French bookstores. Thousands of copies of each have been sold. The CEO of the publishing company Kontre Kulture [Counterculture, with a play on words] is a famous French anti-Semitic writer, Alain Soral; his last book, Understanding Empire, purports to explain the "Jewish hold" on the world; it has been on French bestsellers lists for more than two years.
In recent months, an openly anti-Semitic black comedian, Dieudonné, presented a series of shows in the main cities of France and Belgium before large and enthusiastic audiences. One of his greatest hits is a song ridiculing the Holocaust and the "chosen people" : Shoah-Ananas (Holocaust-Pineapple). He popularized a gesture of greeting which he dubbed "quenelle" (a French dumpling), which echoes the Nazi salute. The "quenelle" salute consists of extending the right arm and straightening the hand, but the arm is lowered, and not raised at eye level. "Quenelle" is now used by many young people all over the country when they want to show what they think of Jews and Israel. Recently, pictures of French soldiers stationed outside a Paris synagogue and welcoming visitors with "quenelles" were published on several websites: a military investigation is now under way. The French Minister of Defense said that one should not attach "great importance" to what happened.
At the end of June, a documentary film, Oligarchy and Zionism, was supposed to be released nationwide. The movie poster, with a likeness to editorial cartoons from Nazi magazines at the time of the Third Reich, should have aroused suspicion: it showed a Jew turned into a spider crushing the planet with his crooked legs. The Jew wore a black jacket with the Star of David and the initials of AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] on his shoulders.
The film itself uses all the themes of "classical" anti-Semitism, with a modern twist. It is based on interviews with Shlomo Sand, author of The Invention of the Jewish People, and Thierry Meyssan, who wrote 9/11: The Big Lie, a book explaining that the September 11 terrorist attacks were organized by the CIA and Israel's Mossad. The film's director, Beatrice Pignede, had previously made the film Snapping up the Memory, glorifying the Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson, and she participated in the Fars film festival in Tehran in 2012.
The film was announced in various mainstream magazines as an "important event." It was not released because Jewish organizations threatened to picket movie theaters. It is available, however, on many websites, and has been widely circulated. Beatrice Pignede said she was a "victim of the Jewish lobby" and that the "fate" of her film is "proof" of what she wants to denounce.
To say that the majority of the French population is anti-Semitic would be going too far. Polls show that a favorite public figure this year is popular Jewish singer Jean-Jacques Goldman. But it is clear that anti-Semitism is rapidly gaining ground in France. It is clear there is a real trivialization of anti-Semitism that goes way beyond some ugly sentences uttered by a standup comedian during a prime time TV talk show.
A few years ago, anti-Semitism in France was still hiding behind the mask of "anti-Zionism" and hostility to Israel. It is still true, but more often now, the targets are the Jews themselves, and the mask of "anti-Zionism" has fallen away.
In a recently published book, Demonizing Israel and the Jews, Manfred Gerstenfeld explains that what happens in France is happening all over Europe. "Polls show," he wrote," that well over 100 million Europeans embrace a satanic view of the State of Israel (...) This current widespread...view is obviously a new mutation of the diabolical beliefs about Jews which many held in the Middle Ages, and those more recently promoted by the Nazis and their allies."
Seven decades after Auschwitz, the oldest hatred is slowly regaining its place on the continent, and it is no laughing matter.