December 5, 2023

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, sent a message to a large crowd — over 100,000 people, according to the Associated Press — who marched Sunday against anti-Semitism.

The march was called by parliamentary leaders alarmed at a sharp spike in anti-Semitic expression since the Hamas attack on Israel, most of it in the form of low-level vandalism and vile graffiti. It might almost be called a preemptive strike by civil society — it was dubbed la grande marche civique — because the fear in France is that Jew-hatred, riding on currents of support for the Arab-Islamist war against Israel, could get violent, for the plain reason that it has in the not-so-distant past.

Bearing this in mind, the government of Élisabeth Borne (who was among the marchers), through Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, has shown some muscle in closing down mosques and expelling “Islamist” imams from France if they are not citizens. The difficulty here is that it is not really clear where Islam ends and Islamism begins. No one wants to stigmatize Islam as a bloc — but then why hasn’t Islam, to the degree that it is an organized religion, rid itself of its anti-Semites and other anti–Western civilization rabble rousers?

It was not as difficult as one might have thought for the right-wing nationalists led by Marine Le Pen to purge itself of its anti-Semites. Le Pen’s party, the National Rally, is the successor to the National Front founded and led by her father, Jean-Marie, and she purged him. He is a spry 95 and claims that he was misunderstood, but there is documentary evidence of how he felt about Jews in his more vigorous years. His daughter has made it clear that hers is not her father’s party, and she is the leader of the second-largest contingent in the National Assembly, behind the party of Macron.

The French Left, which, for over a century, largely defined itself by reference to the commitment to human and civil rights that it took during the Dreyfus affair, a famous anti-Semitic scandal of the 1890s, is, in ironic contrast to the nationalist right of Marine Le Pen, riven by divisions over Israel — which, by any commonsense measure, means its attitude toward anti-Semitism.

As soon as the march was announced, the leader of France’s major leftist party, La France Insoumise, which roughly means “France Unbowed,” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, stated that his party would not participate. His excuse was that he would not march with Le Pen, but the slogans he has been using for the past month are axed around the “Gaza genocide,” without reference to Hamas’ attack on Israel. He went and stood in front of a memorial to French Jews deported to death camps during World War II but made no connection to the threat to Israeli Jews today.

Mélenchon and a significant part of the French Left is the epitome of what they call Islamo-gauchisme, left-Islamophilism. They cannot utter a word of reproach against practices that go against French custom and law — notably in the treatment of women — and have scarcely anything to say about criminality among young Muslims, including anti-Semitic aggressions, and intimidations, and even murders of public school teachers.

There was, in fact, a contingent from an Islamic country in the march, to wit, a group from Kabylie, Algeria’s mountainous region to the east of its capital. Their condemnation of Hamas is as unequivocal as their opposition to what they consider Arab colonization of their country. They see in Israel a people they can identify with and admire.

They are well aware that the government in Algiers is a vociferous supporter of Hamas, despite the fact that, in the 1990s, it put down an insurrection by Islamists at a terrible cost — 200,000 lives, by some estimates. Now, the Kabyle Berbers say, they are made the scapegoats of a failed regime that needs to burnish its anti-Israel, anti-Western credentials, and their leaders are charged, when they peacefully demand ordinary civil rights, with capital crimes (insurrection and insult to Islam, among others).

A few hundred Berbers in a large Parisian demo may seem a small number, but it represents, perhaps, an opportunity to reflect on the necessity of assimilating foreigners in the countries to which they migrate, as well as to consider the possibilities for Islamic reform in the countries from which they come. If Islamic societies cannot purge themselves of their anti-Semitic, anti-Western dogmas, and Islamic states cannot reform themselves, what are the countries of the free world to do?

In the case of France, this remains an open question. If Macron was clear and forceful in his message on anti-Semitism, he equivocated on the anti-Semitic war taking place right now, insisting even more than our president and his secretary of state on Israel’s obligation to protect civilians and seek a ceasefire.

Israel’s fight for life against barbarism is its own, but citizens of nations not yet touched by such violence should watch how its supposed leaders react and take sides in this war. Equivocation may be better than outright support for mass killers, but it will not send the message to the enemies of the West that it is they, not their targets, who must change and cease their murderous ways. Self-evident as this may seem, it is the parties of the right, rather than the left and even the center, that, apparently, see this most clearly.