This article, another translation from the investigative website, MediaPart, deals in-depth with the Jewish Defence League, its appearances at pro-Palestine demonstrations in France, and the French state's collusion with it. I am grateful to Maurice Lanselle for the translation.
Pro-Palestine demonstrators, overrun by partisans of Dieudonné and of Alain Soral, also face the competing mobilization of small, radical Jewish groups, and in particular the Jewish Defence League (LDJ in French). Who are the militants of this Jewish organization on the far right, an organization which some call to have outlawed?
Last Wednesday, pro-Palestinian militants demonstrated in Paris again, this time with the government's authorization. Overrun by partisans of Dieudonné or Alain Soral, they are also confronted by the competing mobilization of small, radical Jewish groups (or factions). Among them, the Ligue de défense juive (LDJ), Jewish organisation of the far right.
This faction, widely present on the Internet and in social networks - where it promises to defend the Jewish community and send the "Muslim pro-terrorism vandals" "to the hospital" - uses violent methods. It patrols some neighbourhoods like the rue des Rosiers, an emblematic street for the Jewish community of Paris, to "provide security."
On 22nd July, the on-line petition platform wesign.it, which hosts a petition calling for the dissolution of the LDJ, published a communiqué accusing the group of attacking its Internet site. "We underwent an attack with an exorbitant number of IP addresses from Sweden, the United States and numerous Western countries," Baki Youssoufou, founder of wesign.it, explained to Mediapart.
On Facebook, the organization announced that it would come to each pro-Palestinian demonstration to "accompany" in its manner the pro-Palestinian demonstrators - although, there was no specific call to attend Wednesday's demonstration in evidence.
In the past few days, the LDJ has been at the heart of several confrontations around synagogues. On 13th July, for example, some of its members confronted pro-Palestinian militants near the synagogue of the rue de la Roquette, at the end of the demonstration of solidarity with Gaza, before the groups were separated by the CRS (the national police force). Several conflicting accounts of those events have appeared. (See our article
). "We only defended ourselves," asserted the LDJ. However, there are indications that the confrontation was premeditated. In an amateur video broadcast by i-Télé
, members of the LDJ can be seen brandishing motorcycle helmets, iron bars, tear gas cannisters, table legs and chairs from the restaurant La Cappadoce, before taking refuge behind the CRS police line.
Asked about this incident, on France inter this Wednesday, the Interior Minister* Bernard Cazeneuve judged the the Ligue de défense juive "has crossed limits." "It is involved in acts which may be reprehensible and must be condemned and these acts are so [condemned] by me in extremely firm manner" he asserted. Before adding that "if acts of violence have been committed, complaints have been filed, the law will be applied."
The minister nevertheless denied the claim of a listener that the police had provided protection to the LDJ activists. "The police forces interposed themselves between the LDJ and the demonstrators to avoid confrontations," stated Bernard Cazeneuve. "All these stories, all these assertions that the police might have been complicit with the LDJ and that explains why the demonstrations went wrong, are purely and simply manipulation."
During the day on Wednesday, the blogger Al-Kanz was left speechless upon finding that a tweet from the Minister "firmly" condemning the "reprehensible acts" of the LDJ had been deleted from his official Twitter account. According to his office, when contacted by Mediapart, what had been erased was the entirety of the "live Tweet" from the Minister's appearance on the France inter morning show, which was deleted "as usual" and replaced by a link to the video of the interview. "Bernard Cazeneuve can repeat what he said about the LDJ fifty times if need be," we were assured. Several "live Tweet" sessions from media appearances by Bernard Cazeneuve have nevertheless been conserved on his account, such as his 9th July session on France info.
Who are the militants of the LDJ? The small group claims several hundred militants, but in fact only has about forty, with a hard core of about fifteen people, essentially young people based in Paris and Lyon. Among its leaders, one finds Jean-Claude Nataf, who also goes by the aliases "Amon Cohen" or "Carlisle." Man of networks, he has his hand on the group's communication tools and maintains contacts with the French far right. In 2013, Mediapart spotted him in the crowd of the May 1st gathering of the Front national (FN), where he listened to Marine Le Pen's speech in the company of Philippe Péninque, formerly of [the violent student neofascist group] GUD and unofficial advisor of the FN party president.
His first contacts with the French far right, retraced by the anti-fascist information site REFLEXes, go back to the early 2000s, via Louis Aliot, current number two of the FN. According to Libération, he also attended the "Blue White Red" festival of the Front national, in the mid-2000s. In parallel, he also frequented the former FN member Jean-François Touzé, with whom he is close, and turned to the leaders of the Bloc identitaire (BI) for a time. A meeting with Fabrice Robert and Richard Roudier, who he had already met in 2005, took place on the sidelines of a BI demonstration in Paris.
In 2010, le Monde reported a note posted on the LDJ web site, in which its administrator supported Marine Le Pen after she assimilated prayers of Muslims in the street and the German Occupation. A year later, after the death of a jeweller killed in the course of a robbery, Nataf explained in le Parisien that "in the [Jewish] community" some are "more and more tempted by a protest vote in favour of the Front national." For a section of the LDJ takes a favourable view of the strategy of "de-demonisation" of Marine Le Pen, her nudges and winks in the direction of the Jewish community (Louis Aliot travelled to Israël in late 2011) and her anti-Islam discourse.
Prior to the 2012 presidential election, the LDJ published on its web site a "clarification" that was rather ambiguous. The organization "does not support the Front national," one could read, "although the position taken by the FN against Islamization remains a significant step among the political urgencies of our country." More recently, the organization "rejoiced" that Marine Le Pen had "killed the father" following the declarations of Jean-Marie Le Pen about an "ovenload" of Jewish celebrities. On July 21, in a memo titled "No, it is not the Front national that attacks synagogues," the organization [LDJ] reprimands watch committees--comprising the Union of Jewish students of France (UEJF) and SOS Racisme--observing FN mayors.
On Twitter, the faction cultivates this same duality, combining defence of the FN with provocations:
COMMUNIQUE LDJ: the killer in Brussels is not a member of the Front National
COMMUNIQUE LDJ: anti-Semitic aggression in Paris day-before-yesterday the aggressor is not a member of the Front National.
LDJ_Paris: For Marine Le Pen, the FN is the best shield to protect French Jews.
LDJ_Paris: The FN first party of France. The yellow star on the torso is coming soon.
LDJ Militants Already Convicted of Aggression
Concurrently, part of the LDJ approached the anti-Islam collective Riposte Laïc and its satellite unit Republican resistance. In several instances, it was militants of the League that provided security services for events organized in 2010 by Riposte Laïc -- like the apéro républicain (republican aperitif), a demonstration held in front of the Iranian embassy, or the "Judgement panel (Assises) on islamization." Organized with the 'identitaires' [the “cultural” racists of the Identitaires movement], the security of this event was provided under the oversight of Philippe Wagner, a former skinhead nationalist who had joined the LDJ. The president of Résistance républicaine, Christine Tasin, remembers. In a memo, July 16th, she salutes the "patriotism" of the organization and expresses "relief to know that LDJ exists, is effective."
What are the militant actions of the LDJ? On its web site, the organization presents itself as a "patriotic and nationalist Jewish movement" which aims to "protect the Jews of France from the verbal and physical violence of their enemies." It asserts that it favours a "pacifist discourse." But on social networks, it claims credit for acts of violence:
Tweets from 17 January 2014, when militants of LDJ confronted Dieudonné supporters.
LDJ_Paris: Young Jewish girls assaulted by little nazis near the Bastille. The LDJ is going back there! SHAME ON YOU!
LDJ_Paris: The response to the assaults undergone by these young girls has been firm. Unfortunately for the anti-Semites, most dentists are Jewish.
Tweet from 27 March 2014
LDJ_Paris: The '30s are over. The blood of the professor lynched because Jewish last week will be avenged very soon, this is a promise! #LDJveille (LDJwatches).
And emits radical messages:
Tweet of 6 April 2014:
We repeat always: assimilation and mixed marriage took more Jewish lives than the Shoah.
In the field, the faction behaves like a militia which supposedly backing up the police and proliferates messages of support to the police. Examples:
LDJ_Paris: We are about 200 in front of the synagogue in #Sarcelles in case the CRS line proves insufficient ! No journalists...(Tweet of 20 July 2014)
Photo posted on LDJ Facebook account, 20 July 2014. Four young men seated on the ground against a wall, hands apparently attached behind their backs.
The organization functions with a core of youths led by a gang leader and violent methods that some of its members admit, as in this video broadcast in 2009:
On its site, on social media or YouTube, the LDJ shows off its violent in-your-face actions. One sees, for instance, militants spraying with red paint the Moroccan Jewish writer and militant anti-Zionist Jacob Cohen, the president of the association CAPJO-EuroPalestine Olivia Zémor, or the spokesperson of the "Indigenous of the republic" Houria Bouteldja.
But other of the organization's actions go far beyond symbolic violence. The list of assaults authored by the LDJ is long (see the catalogue amassed by the journal Politis and the article of the daily Times of Israel which lists 115 violent incidents since 2001). Some of its members have been convicted of acts of violence.
In 2002, militants of the Betar and the LDJ provoked violent incidents during a demonstration of support for Israel in Paris. A police commissioner was gravely wounded after a stabbing. In 2004, one of its leaders was convicted of assaulting students from the Nanterre university campus in the administrative court building in Paris. In 2009, four of its members were convicted after the vandalism, with ski masks, sticks and bottles of oil, of a Paris bookstore close to the Palestinian cause. The same year, they were suspected of being responsible for the assault of three high school students, two of whom were of Tunisian descent.
Two years later, the LDJ violently interrupted a meeting organized by the France-Palestine association. Rue89
[an online investigative journal] described this aggressive operation: "Israel will win" signs, Israeli flags waved, wearing leather gloves weighted with lead or sand.
The same year, the organization created a controversy by announcing in a communiqué that it was sending an expedition of "militants with military experience" to "help (their) brothers faced by the aggressions of the Palestinian occupants" and "reinforce the security measures of the Jewish cities of Judea and Samaria (West Bank territory, ed. note) ."
Metronews reminds that in June 2013, the LDJ had published a message claiming responsibility for the violent assault on a youth. Several associations or sites had denounced this Facebook post made while the victim was in a coma.
In 2012, "Enquête exclusive"
[an investigative television show broadcast on the M6
channel], demonstrated how the organization acts as vigilantes in Paris, sometimes with illegal methods, under the orders of their leader, then faced by three accusations of aggression. One sees them practise shooting (despite being forbidden from bearing arms in France) and explain that they are "prepared to face threats that might be made against Israel." One also sees the organization prowling in the Marais neighbourhood of Paris in the middle of the night, for an unauthorized postering campaign of posters calling for murder of the anti-Semitic killer of Ilan Halimi. A few days later, they made a punitive expedition to the porte de Bagnolet, with telescopic clubs, to avenge an adolescent supposedly the victim of an anti-Semitic insult.
In 2004, "Complément d'enquête" [another investigative television show] revealed that the members of LDJ trained in a government building protected by the French police. The broadcast by France 2 had filmed about forty of their members being trained at "krav maga", combat techniques used by the Israeli army, in this building.
“If at some point, the LDJ meets the criteria for dissolution, it will be applied.”
Around the Jewish Defence League, a whole galaxy of youths gravitate. Besides the Betar, another movement of radical Jewish youth, a multitude of little communitarian groups form. They meet in krav maga clubs, like the Maccabi, in the Xth arrondissement of the capital. They are linked via social networks, where they launch calls to converge on the synagogues.
The LDJ remains, however, an ultra small minority within the Jewish community. "It's a tiny little organization, which is not affiliated with Jewish institutions, which is not a member of the Crif," "it's very, very marginal" discounted Roger Cukierman, the president of the Crif (Representative council of Jewish institutions of France), questioned by RFI on the responsibility of the LDF in the current tensions.
A "tiny" organization that some parties and associations call to have disbanded again. The LDJ is issued from the Jewish Defense League, founded in 1969 by the rabbi Meir Kahane in the United States then in Israel, and claims that affiliation. Its creator also founded the Kach party (since become the Kahane Chai), which calls for the expulsion of Arab populations from Palestine out of "Greater Israel." The party was outlawed by the Israeli government in 1994 after the Hebron massacre [committed] by one of its members. It is classified a terrorist organization by the American government.
These are the arguments put forward by the Communist deputy Jean-Jacques Candelier to demand the disbanding of the LDJ. In an open letter to François Hollande, July 19th, he denounces "a criminal organization." "The impunity of these barbarians whose only goal is to conflate Judaism and Zionism is unacceptable," argues the deputy. On the left, other elected representatives demand this disbanding. "It appears that there have been provocations by the Jewish Defence League (LDJ), so I am in favour of its disbanding," declared the senator Esther Benbassa (EELV) in les Inrockuptibles [a French weekly rock music and culture magazine] .
This is not a first. The Mrap [a French anti-racist NGO] has demanded this disbanding since 2002, following several aggressions attributed to the LDJ. "The violence of this group, the advertising on Internet of its paramilitary training programs, the videos recounting the group's commando actions, its provocations even into courthouses, cannot be ignored by the ministry," complained the Movement against racism, again in July, 2012.
Meanwhile, the French Jewish Union for Peace (UJFP, a progressive Jewish pro-Palestinian organisation) was also joining the fray, expressing to Manuel Valls their amazement that the LDJ be "one of the rare fascist militias authorized in France." "In France, it has multiplied its attacks on authorized demonstrations, gatherings, public meetings, associations' facilities, and has committed anti-Arab brutalities," the association accused.**
According to Libération, the charter of the Ligue de défense juive was first filed with the prefecture as "Liberty, democracy and Judaism." On 19 July 2003, barely two years after its creation, the LDJ disbanded itself. Since that day, it is thus only an informal group, not legally registered in the Journal officiel (official record).
In the context of the law of 10 January 1936 regarding combat units and private militias, the president of the Republic can dissolve (disband) militias by decree, whether or not they are constituted as associations. That is what was done for the "Service d'action civique" (SAC), dissolved by François Mitterand in 1982. More recently, 1 March 2012, Nicolas Sarkozy dissolved the Islamist radical faction "Forsane Alliza" on the basis of it being a "combat group" which had for "goal to hinder the republican form of government by force."
In July 2013, after the murder of militant antifascist Clément Méric, François Hollande dissolved several far right organizations (12 July 2013): "Third Way", the "Revolutionary nationalist youth" of Serge Ayoub, then, two weeks later (25 July 2013) the "Nationalist youth" of Alexandre Gabriac and l'Oeuvre française (see our articles here
Due to its [potentially] freedom-destructive character, this measure must meet stringent conditions and be preceded by contradictory debate. To dissolve "l’Œuvre française," for instance, the president of the Republic applied three grounds expressly defined by the law: the form and military organization of the movement; its avowed worship of the collaboration and the Vichy regime; and its ideology inciting hatred of, and discrimination against foreigners, Jews and Muslims. The State Council*** validated these grounds on 25 October 2013, rejecting the appeals filed by the leaders of this far right movement.
"The State Council recognizes a private militia by its hierarchic paramilitary organization, the obedience of all to its chief, its collective training in martial arts, its capacity to conduct strikes of force, that is to say to mobilize its members collectively and rapidly for a particular event and in a logic of violence," explains lawyer Nicolas Gardères in Le Nouvel Obs.
Asked Tuesday by Mediapart in Marseille about an eventual disbanding of the LDJ, Bernard Cazeneuve skirted the reply, answering that no group can be allowed to be "in violation of the principles of the Republic if one wishes these values to prevail." He then cut short his press conference, at the police headquarters, regarding the elucidation of several of the recent inter-gang killings by the criminal investigation unit.
"If at some point, the LDJ meets the criteria [for dissolution], it will be applied," his office clarifies, reminding that dissolution is "an exceptional procedure, which must meet stringent conditions." "We know that it is composed of ill-intentioned people and they have been monitored for years by the Ministry of the Interior which is very vigilant," reassures the office of the Ministry. "The best demonstration is that the demonstration planned by LDJ for Sarcelles Sunday has been forbidden as well."
"It is clear that the LDJ is not simple and that its members cause more problems than anything else, but the prefecture can do nothing as long as the Minister of the Interior does nothing", laments a responsible of the Paris prefecture, in Metronews, anonymously.
This Monday, we submitted a list of questions to the Ministry of the Interior, the prefecture and the public prosecutor of Paris concerning the lack of reaction on the part of the police July 13 when faced with armed LDJ militants on the street, on the building where the LDJ trains according to "Complément d'enquête", on the legal sequels to several physical aggressions attributed to LDJ, etc. Many are still unanswered.
*The French Interior Minister is roughly equivalent to the US Secretary of Homeland Security.
** The original term in French is "ratonnade", a modern term (first attested use in 1960) designating violence exerted against a North-African community for punishment of actions attributed to some of its members. More generally, brutality exerted against any particular group. [[http://www.cnrtl.fr/definition/Ratonnade][Centre national de ressources textuelles et Léxicales]].
*** State Council: Conseil d'état, a French state institution (since 1799) which advises the government on matters of administrative law and decrees.
Despite a French state ban, a protest in support of Gaza took place last week in Barbès. The demonstration took place for several hours, despite a police assault armed with tear gas. The following eyewitness account is written by the French antifascist journalist Rene Monzat. Monzat is one of the leading figures in the far left-inspired antifascist organisation Ras l'front. His account also includes reflections on antisemitism in the movement. I am grateful to Stephen Hastings-King for providing the translation.
Rene Monzat: The Surprising Protests of July 19
I followed the (banned) demonstration in solidarity with Gaza from 3 PM at the Gare du Nord until 7:30 PM at Boulevard de la Chapelle, passing through Barbès at around 4:30. From the viewpoint of someone whose first demo was in 1971, against the American bombing in Vietnam, that of 19 July 2014 was atypical and, in at least one of its aspects, unprecedented.
I left the Gare du Nord at 1500 at the same time as a group of women, most of whom seemed high-school or college students. As we left, several of them began shouting “Israel murderer, Hollande accomplice” and “We are all Palestinians,” slogans that others took up and repeated.
At that time in front of the station I saw some Palestinian flags and one or two Turkish flags. Dozens of people wearing headscarves, Keffiyeh etc. carried a large Palestinian flag. There was only one banner: it said “Jews and Arabs United for Justice” and belonged to UJFP ATMF, Union juive française pour la paix et Associations des travailleurs maghrébins en France (the French Jewish Union for Peace and the Association of Maghreb Workers in France).
While hundreds of people continuously yelled slogans, others addressed the crowd with speeches, most of which were fairly disjointed in their delivery. Some of them had a certain “nationalist” tone, claiming that Hollande’s was a double betrayal, one aspect of which was the pro-Israeli inflection in French policy and the other the banning of a legitimate demonstration in violation of basic civil and constitutional law. The chants from the crowds shifted from “Hollande accomplice” to “Hollande resign.”
The demo was more or less static, stuck in a section of the rue Dunkirk in front of the exit from the station, penned in by the CRS, which has surrounded it at a remove of a few dozen meters. After a while, a discussion began: “The police will let us go to Barbès (where the larger demo was being held). What should we do?” Some protestors began to shout “To Barbès” while others said: “But, if we stay here, we occupy a strategic location and complicate the work of the police, who have to manage two demos instead of one.” Applause. Some shouted “Occupied Gaza. Occupied Gare Du Nord” which was good. But it was never taken up and repeated. It is difficult to arrive at that precise a political direction.
Suddenly the people who were carrying the banner and some other protestors decided to take the metro, the only way into Barbès, which was also encircled by the police. Sometime after 4 PM, the group that had remained at the Gare du Nord decided to head to Barbès as well. Some young men acting as security were negotiating with the police and got them to open their roadblocks. The group entered Barbès by the rue Guy Patin. One part walked beneath a Palestinian flag that was 70-100 meters long, held aloft like a sheet by dozens of protestors both male and female.
The first surprise: the demonstration was composed of hundreds of little groups, acquaintances, friends, people from the same organizations, comrades from school. There were mixed groups that were either mostly women or mostly men, and a significant number of groups comprised of young women. In the confrontation zones, the overwhelming majority of the groups were made up entirely or almost entirely of young men.
The collective movements of this kind of crowd made life difficult for the police. Each group of 10 to 100 people had its own tactics. Some staged sit-ins in front of the police line, shouting with their backs to them, not concerned particularly with them, re-occupying the same space 30 seconds or so before the exchanges of projectiles, tear gas grenades and flash balls happened. What’s more, the banning of the protest ipso facto guaranteed the absence of any official security. But dozens of people took it on themselves to manage security: they were calm and able to put themselves in positions to stop the initial confrontations between the CRS, firing teargas and flash balls, and demonstrators throwing projectiles (plastic bottles or stones).
The radical sense of determination shared by a protest comprised of hundreds of fragments and the total absence of fear of the police on the part of ordinary people who had internalized the idea of non-violent protest certainly created a much bigger problem for the police than the overexcited boys throwing stones at the police from a dozen meters away.
This radical sense of determination had a source, which was expressed within each group: the absolute certainty of embodying right and legitimacy. While no-one demonstrates for a cause they do not find to be just, I want to talk about this absolute certainty that each was defending a fundamental right in protesting despite everything, despite the ban and despite the troublemakers whose activities were totally counterproductive. The protestors claimed that, here and now, they embodied The Law. The disorder was stupid, but the scandal was the ban itself. From this followed the fact that thousands of people stayed for hours, surrounded by police who continuously shot tear gas at them (at least since Chateau Rouge). No-one can say that the police were able to prevent the demonstration. In reality, it held out for several hours. Insofar as numbers are concerned, “The Collectif des organisateurs des manifs” (The Collective of Protest Organizers) counted 7-10,000 people and the RG (Renseignement Généraux, basically the police surveillance unit), which counted fewer, nonetheless told the press that, without the ban, the protest would have drawn over 10,000 people.
There is no doubt that for decades in the history of banned Parisian demos, this one drew the largest number of people and “held” for the longest time.
The inability of the police to ban the demonstration, despite an order from the Commissioner’s office, is remarkable. They only encircled the demo, which happened almost “normally” despite the roadblocks, the closing of the metro stations and some fairly violent incidents. Explosions were audible in the Barbès station. Metro circulation was interrupted. At around 6 PM, dozens of people, including elderly women, were seen walking the platform along elevated sections of track on the way to La Chapelle station. It was a strange situation. I have never seen the two phases of protest and confrontation happen simultaneously. Usually, one phase follows the other: the classic demo with slogans, then the call to disperse, then, eventually, incidents by the “hard-core,” or incidents that start in the course of a demo that bring about the dissolution of the “demo” phase. The massive bombardment [of teargas] at the start of Chateau Rouge either should have prompted the rapid dispersal of the demo itself. Otherwise, it was nothing.
The police found themselves confronted with a problem they could not solve. The announcement of the ban on protests did not dissuade “ordinary” people from coming out. The prohibition did not separate the “troublemakers” who would have come out alone, from the others, who would have stayed home out of fear. So the police had to wait until the protestors were ready to leave. But had they left too quickly, the departing groups would have themselves formed a demo and spread what the police had to contain. This is what happened in part with the gathering that reformed into a procession and protested in Paris, without incident, dispersing at Les Halles around 7 PM.
Because the protestors stayed, the situation became politically delicate. The CRS did not want to be shown arresting people who were doing a sit-in, tear gassing groups of seated and peaceful people.
Around 5, the teargas grenades launched by the CRS, which had come back down the boulevard Barbès as far as Chateau Rouge, started falling near the Barbès metro-stop. The surge of protestors sped up along the boulevard de la Chapelle, while the hard-core of both sexes set up barricades using palettes from markets and umbrellas from nearby stands, but not without being called out by other protestors: “What are you doing? This will be on TV’”; “Stop: you’re trashing your mother’s stand” etc.
A clash at the top of rue Fleury, a police checkpoint on the rue de Chartres: a young woman, cheerful but also very calm, stood against the line held by the CRS, held up a megaphone and said, in a voice that parodied commercials: “Free passage. Last minutes before closing. Last minutes before gas.” The CRS asked protestors who, one by one, crossed the checkpoint to remove their stickers, which they handed over on the way through. Immediately a mini-demo formed of 60-70 people yelling: “Israel murderer, Hollande accomplice” right in front of the police line. A group of maybe a dozen of the 200 police reservists who were in the neighborhood (they often come from the provinces) pulled flash ball pistols and tear gas launchers from their shoulder bags. Wanting to move the group of protestors that was now among them, the reservists roughed up a young woman who made a phone call within a tenth of a second it seemed, saying “These reserve guys (there were some women in other groups of reservists) are pulling out retractable clubs.” And the group continued to protest. After several alternating periods of total calm and mounting tension, flash balls were fired from the rue Timbouctou. The group retreated to the SNCF station at the Rue Jessaint, where they protested for a minute. They disappeared as new reservists arrived over the bridge, calmly opening the trunks of (civilian) parked cars from which they pulled their materials: helmets, flash ball pistols etc.
The scene became surreal. Struggling along 200 meters of the boulevard de la Chapelle, while shots were heard and clouds of teargas appeared, protestors, again covered with stickers or draped in Palestinian flags, talked amongst themselves as if nothing was happening, as if the police were not assaulting them with clubs and shooting flash balls at them. The same scene repeated in several places, and again at 7 PM where rue de Chartres dead-ends into boulevard de la Chapelle, a hundred meters or so from confrontations that were happening on the same street along the short section that runs beneath the walkway to Barbès. This sort of thing is inconceivable after a far-left or student union demo. In those context, the cops are impersonal: they are abstractions or robots. But on Saturday, dozens of protestors went to talk with and shame the police: “What are you doing? We have the right to protest.” Or “I pay my taxes, you have to protect me.” Again, there was this certainty of being in the right before the police, who were taken as citizens and confronted with the values that they are charged with defending by their trade.
The final notable element concerns the political statements made by the protestors in the course of discussions. While this is of course not a poll, I head dozens of people express the feeling of being betrayed by the Socialist Party. Most of the people I heard had voted for Hollande in the presidential elections but said they will not be doing so again. In fact many of them had already abstained from municipal and European elections, so their outrage about Gaza and the ban on protests confirmed developments [in their political thinking] that had started before [the Israeli operation in Gaza]
François Hollande and the political authorities did not understand the nature of the demonstration. They created a situation which the police (those who acted “professionally”) could not manage. This made the government look ridiculous: its decisions had augmented problems instead of helping to maintain calm around the exercise of the right to protest.
Second point: François Hollande lost the support of a sector of the population which had voted for him (children of immigrants, particularly among Muslim populations) after having lost the support of the sector of the population that, sociologically, most consistently votes Left (the workers).
I have been asked if I heard anti-Semitic slogans. I saw many protestors walking behind the banner “Jews and Arabs United for Peace” which is the only one I saw at Gare du Nord and then at Barbès. There might have been another with the NPA at the front on the way to Chateau Rouge.
I heard nothing anti-Semitic, neither in the main demo nor in the confrontations with the police. Nor did I hear anything of the sort in the protests on the previous Saturday.
The “eye-witness accounts” that have been making the rounds concerning the demonstration on Saturday 13 July derive from an article written that afternoon which reported slogans that were not started from the organizer’s vans and were not taken up by any group. Some of these are completely foul and were not referenced anywhere except by people who read this “eye-witness account” and pretended to hear what the article suggested they heard. A video “documentary” called “Demonstration of Hate” superimposed the sub-titles “Jews murderers” or “one Jew all Jews are terrorists” when the demonstrators were shouting “Zionists, Fascists, It’s you who are the Terrorists”. Paradoxically, the subtitles show that the slogans were never shouted: they were invented.
That said, I’m convinced that, in the present circumstances, the confusion of Israelis/Jews/Zionists is exceedingly dangerous and that it often happens….but not in the context of the slogans used in the two demonstrations that I attended, demos in which the organizers, on the contrary insisted on the need for new amalgamations: NPA (Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste), UJFP (Union Juive Française pour la Paix), ATMF (Association des Travailleurs Maghrébins en France), CMF (Collectif des Musulmans de France), PIR (Parti des Indigènes de la République)).
These confusions are undoubtedly shared by the least politically structured elements among the protestors. I read an article in Le Monde Juif that reported on things launched by “Jewish flunkies” at the CRS on July 19 at the same time as rocks, or from which crushes of people. I didn’t hear anything like that during either of the two demos, but I have no reason to doubt Eric Hazan’s reporting (Hazan is a journalist).
There is a more measured article in terms of tone than in its title is called “Anti-Israel Protest: Anti-Jewish Hatred of the Protestors; Selected Excerpts.” The text specifically references Le MondeJuif.info and specifies that, while it is not accusing all protestors of being anti-Jewish, very few among them had the courage to stand up to the unacceptable.
Beneath the article on Le Monde Juif’s site, you can read the following comments (edited independently of the will of the editors, with the original spelling). The absolute irony of the situation, and the courage in standing up to the unacceptable!
Karen dit : 20 juillet 2014 à 15 h 15 min We proud Zionists will crush pieces of shit like you like rats. We’ll call Tsahal to count your dead one by one. AM ISRAEL, HATED
MICHEL ATTIAS dit : 20 juillet 2014 à 16 h 00 min Bunch of miserable, rotten niggers, stupider than sheep. ISRAEL WILL TERRORIZE YOU AND FUCK YOU EVERY DAY. 250 DEAD AND WE ARE NOT FINISHED. 250,000 DEAD IS NOT ENOUGH, YOU MUST BE EXTERMINATED YOU ARE THE CANCER OF THE PLANET.
ISRAEL FOR EVER THE STRONGEST
Again, the below - an open letter from Palestine scholar Julien Salingue to Roger Cukierman of the French Jewish body CRIF - is translated from the original French. It helps place a lot of the lurid anglophone reporting in context.
Since the beginning of the Israeli offensive against Gaza, the pro-Israel camp in France has continuously attacked the Palestine solidarity movement, accusing it, more or less directly, of antisemitism. It is often however those very people who denounce the conflations between, on the one hand, Israel, and on the other, Jews in general, who are actually the worst offenders in such very conflations, thereby fuelling antisemitic reactions. Roger Cukierman, President of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France (CRIF) (which claims to speak for all French Jews) and Vice President of the World Jewish Congress, is a prime example. Julien Salingue, a political science scholar and specialist of the Palestinian question, here addresses an open letter to him.
Roger Cukierman’s dangerous conflations (an open letter)
I have been paying close attention to your statements for a number of days, both with regard to your open support of the current Israeli offensive (over 600 dead in Gaza in two weeks; a child killed every hour, on average, on the 21st and 22nd July), and to your well-informed comments on the incidents and acts of violence which have taken place on the fringes of certain demonstrations held in solidarity with the Palestinians.
The aim of this text is not to respond to the questions of form and content raised by your declarations in their entirety, but simply to make you aware that you sometimes speak thoughtlessly, and that it would be wise for you to come to your senses. As to whether this is possible, I doubt it.
The conflation of Jew with Israeli
You wish to defend Israel, its politics and its military offensives? You have every right to do so. In that case, however, stop claiming to speak in the name of the Jews of France and stop upholding a dangerous conflation of Jewish people, on the one hand, with Israel on the other. Let us recall, therefore, as an example, your words on Radio France Internationale (RFI) on the 21st July:
“We claim to represent the Jews of France and we feel an affection towards the State of Israel. In the same way, French citizens of Italian origin feel a sympathy towards Italy, and it’s the same for the Spanish, or for those of any other nationality or dual nationality who might live in France.”
Of which “nationality” or “dual nationality” are you speaking? Does a Jewish nationality exist in the same way as an Italian or a Spanish nationality does? This is actually the case in Israel, but not in France. So to what “nationality” are you referring? It must, logically, be either to an Israeli “nationality” or to a Franco-Israeli “dual nationality”. In all logic, this “we”(who feel “affection” towards the State of Israel) is therefore a we which encompasses the Israelis of France and the Franco-Israelis. But if so, why are you speaking in this way while putting yourself forward as a “representative of the Jews of France” and not as “representative of the Israelis of France”? Do you think that being Jewish and being Israeli is the same thing?
In introducing this confusion, you are upholding a dangerous conflation which you, however, have not ceased to condemn over the last few days. Need I remind you of your words from June 2010, on the precise subject of this conflation? I believe that I do, since you seem to have a short memory: ”The conflation of Jew with Israeli is a seductive one, and encourages people to smack Jews around”. You would be well advised to take this remark into account…
“It was a bit like Kristallnacht”.
You have moreover seen fit, in commenting on incidents and acts of violence which have taken place at the fringes of some demonstrations, to raise parallels which, although they are probably supposed to be striking, are no less dubious, scandalous even. You have stated accordingly, with reference to the confrontations which took place on July 13th, on the Rue de la Roquette in Paris: “It was a bit like Kristallnacht [the Night of Broken Glass] and we barely avoided a veritable pogrom.”
“The Night of Broken Glass”. A “pogrom”. Nothing less.
Let us call to mind, for the sake of memory, what the Night of Broken Glass was, by referring to the Encyclopaedia Universalis:
On November 9th , just before midnight, the Gestapo commander Heinrich Mueller, sent a telegram to every police unit informing them that “in a very short time, actions against the Jews, and in particular against synagogues, are to take place all over Germany. Nothing must hinder these operations.” On the contrary, the police were to arrest victims. Fire brigades set themselves up beside burning synagogues, having received explicit orders to let the buildings burn. They were only to intervene if neighbouring “Aryan” properties were threatened by fire.
In the space of two days and two nights, more than 1000 synagogues were set fire to or damaged. Rioters ransacked and looted approximately 5700 Jewish businesses, murdered at least 91 Jews, and vandalised Jewish hospitals, houses, schools and cemeteries. The attackers were often neighbours of the victims. Some 30000 Jewish men between the ages of sixteen and sixty were arrested. In order to incarcerate such a large number of new arrivals, the Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps were made bigger.
Are you really referring to this tragic historic event? Did you dare compare the incidents on the Rue de la Roquette to a gigantic, murderous unleashing of violence and hatred, organised by the State itself, and seen by many historians as a prelude to the deportation and genocide of the Jews? It would seem so.
Let us put aside the fact that the initial reports of violence on the Rue de la Roquette were refuted by…the chairman of the synagogue itself, who stated, in an interview with the news channel i>Télé, that: “We were not in physical danger at any point”.
Let’s go back to your high-flown rhetoric and what it leads to: in comparing the events of the 13th July to the Night of Broken Glass, you are relativizing, to put it mildly, the reality of the latter event. In fact, in wishing to crudely exaggerate, you lead one to understand that the Night of Broken Glass could be seen, in the end, as a demonstration which turned nasty and degenerated into violence. Would you allow me to note that your statements could easily be described as revisionist?
And the same holds for your allusion to “pogroms”, just as misplaced, if not to say outrageous, as the reference to the Night of Broken Glass. Let us cite the Encyclopaedia again:
Pogrom: Russian Term describing an attack, with looting and murders, by one part of the population against another, which entered international use to describe a massacre of Jews in Russia. (…) They arose during a political and economic crisis and were carried out thanks to the neutrality (on occasion also due to the tacit support) of the Russian authorities and army. (…)It is not easy to establish the toll of the pogroms: some 887 major and 349 “minor” pogroms can be counted, which could have caused more than 60000 deaths.
In using the term “pogrom”, you are trivialising, once more, a real historical tragedy, of massacres tolerated, indeed encouraged, by the Russian authorities and army. And you are relativizing, once more, the violence of which hundreds of thousands of Jews have been the victims, on this occasion in Russia and its neighbouring countries at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth.
Fighting anti-Semitism, but not by your side
Does anti-Semitism exist in France? Obviously, and it’s up to us all to fight it implacably, whether it is from the “classic” extreme-Right, from the duo of Soral-Dieudonné, or from other hateful people trying to use the Palestinian question to brew up a stigma-fuelling discourse against the Jews, which is sometimes unfortunately acted on.
But your statements, made again and again, do not help, to put it in euphemistic terms, those who aim to fight anti-Semitism while holding on to their support for the legitimate (and internationally recognised) rights of the Palestinians.
Because YOU continue to equate Jew and Israeli.
Because YOU trivialise some of the tragedies of which Jews have been the victims.
In doing this, you are doing a service to anti-Semitic vermin in recapitulating some of the worst of their filth on your own account, even though your purposes may differ.
You wish to defend Israel? You have the right to. I am actually a believer, unlike you who supported the banning of the demonstrations, of the freedom of expression and of opinion.
However, you obviously have nothing to teach anyone about the struggle against anti-Semitism, and the best service you could render Jewish people would be to stop claiming to speak in their names.
Translated by Kieran O’Meara