Translated by Robert St. Clair
I. An Inter-Jewish Schism
Have Jews gone right-wing? Even as the question may seem simplistic or politically incorrect, it presupposes agreement concerning the meaning of “left” and “right” in our post-cold war world of ideological disorientation. The French political commentator Daniel Lindenberg, in his Le Rappel à l’ordre: Enquête sur les nouveaux réactionnaires (Call to Order: An Inquiry into the New Reactionaries) includes a chapter entitled in English “When Jews Turn Right.” His analysis of the situation is categorical. Preferring to err on the side of caution, I have turned his assertion into a question.
But why in a French text does Lindenberg announce his foregone conclusion in English? A preliminary response may be that to have said the same thing in French, in a work essentially critical in nature, would have been as unacceptable as calling the Jews, as de Gaulle did in an infamous 1967 press conference, “an elite, arrogant, and dominating people.” Indeed, in the past thirty years of French intellectual and literary life, and in its media culture, it has become almost unthinkable to label oneself as a partisan of the right. If in France today one speaks of a droite décomplexée—a right wing that has gotten rid of its complexes—it is precisely because all sectors of the right have long been identified, fairly or not, with Vichy and Pétain. Thus if you announced you were on the right, you were immediately suspected of harboring xenophobia, of tending toward fascism—or of simply being an outright fascist. As René Rémond put it in his massive study of the right in France, “identification with the tragic Vichy years has led to a long-term discrediting of the right wing in the eyes of public opinion—a discredit from which it has taken the right decades to recover.” Rémond adds that “Collaboration with the Nazis was far from being the sole prerogative of the political right. . . . One could find a great number of trade-union activists and socialists who rallied to the cause for a variety of reasons and motivations: pacifism, anticommunism, anticapitalism, etc.” And, on the other hand, “not everyone on the right was pro-Vichy” (232.).
The fact remains that in an ideological climate where that sector of the political spectrum has so long been associated with the wartime collaboration, claiming that Jews have shifted to the right comes down to insinuating they have accomplished their own conservative, “nationalist” revolution; it suggests that, after having been fervent partisans of internationalism and of universalism, they have turned away from the world and inward upon themselves, that they have immured themselves within a petty, fearful community. According to Jean Daniel, a progressive Jewish intellectual of the same stripe as Lindenberg, Jews have in the last decade descended into a “Jewish prison” (such is the title of this book)—a ghetto of their own construction.
This brings us to a second possible response to why Lindenberg resorts to English. Putting the sentence that way ties French Jews to the post-9/11 American neoconservatives who, before switching ideological sides, had been active in the 1960s New Left. In this scheme of things, not only did French Jews en masse allegedly support U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. To make matters worse, they have allowed themselves to be Americanized, that is, sectarian. Indeed, in Lindenberg’s view, which presupposed a French national unity that spurns community particularisms, the American social model is characterized by fragmentation, balkanization. Such so-called American “communitarianism” is inevitably condemned as reactionary when placed next to the French republic’s model of assimilation—a progressive concept in Lindenberg’s judgment. French Jews—unlike their American counterparts who stem from the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires—are divided half and half between those of Eastern European extraction and those whose forbears came from the Mediterranean basin. Thus Lindenberg, who is Ashkenazic, has a ready-made culprit on hand: Shmuel Trigano, a Sephardic intellectual whom he accuses of being guilty of no less than “Sephardist [sic] populism.”
But none of this should really come as a surprise. Beginning with their immigration to France when North Africa was decolonized in the 1950s, Sephardim have been perceived as the noisy, visible Jews, as opposed to the more discreet Ashkenazim already on French soil. Mutatis mutandis, they are the equivalent of the Ostjuden arriving in France starting in the 1880s: an embarrassing reminder of Jewishness that resisted dissolution into European modernity, civility, and plain old good taste à la française. In sum, they represented the disintegration of the identity elaborated by the native French Jew, who preferred the appellation “Israelite.”
However, when Lindenberg puts “Sephardist populism” (not to say separatism) on trial, the indictment is hardly limited to a denunciation of some terrifying “identity politics.” Indeed, it is not enough to accuse French Jews of “turning right,” of becoming sectarian, or of betraying the Republic, secularism, and traditionally muted Franco-Jewishness. Lindenberg suggests that French Jews have actually been exploiting a wave of antisemitism that first erupted around 2000-2001 (and largely attributable to Muslim youth). But that’s not all. Lindenberg’s charges are aggravated by the fact that this swell of antisemitism (and here his argument intersects with that of Guillaume Weill-Raynal, another Jewish polemicist) would in fact be nothing other than a more or less imaginary, ideological construction of Sephardic Jews, the ultimate aim of which is to justify baser, chauvinistic political penchants like those celebrated by the early 20th-century French nationalist writer Charles Maurras.
So how is one to make heads or tails out of such ideological hodgepodge? How do we resolve the paradoxes? After all, Maurras’s doctrine—calling for defense of Western, and French, cultural and racial purity—is explicitly shot through with antisemitism and xenophobia. And indeed, according to certain self-proclaimed “leftist” Jewish journalists and intellectuals, French Jews have somehow become fascinated by and attracted to a Jewish remake of the Maurrassian doctrine, a version in which Zionism figures as an “Occidentocentric” ideology that is vaguely fascist and frankly racist. Thus Jean Birnbaum also supports, in his cleverly-titled pamphlet Les Maoccidents, the hypothesis of a 180-degree turn among French Jews: from the extreme left to the extreme right; from the Red East to the West; from Maoist political activism in the ’60s to the Maurassian Action Française.
Here is Birnbaum’s argument in a nutshell: in the mindset of pre-World War II antisemites, the Jews embodied cosmopolitanism, a borderlessness that posed a threat to the integrity of the French nation. Jews—hard-line partisans of a doctrine of belonging everywhere and nowhere, of unaffiliation—represented transgression of boundaries and limits. They were fantasmatic figures of excess, of the inassimilable as such. Indeed, according to Birnbaum, present-day intellectuals—such as Jean-Claude Milner, a Chomskyan linguist and former Maoist who has disavowed his commitment to what he now sees as revolutionary “easy universalism”—have quite simply converted to a kind of philosemitic and Zionist ideology of the superiority of Western culture. According to Birnbaum, when Milner denounced shortly after September 11 the principle of borderlessness embodied in the post-World War II expansion of Europe, he was reactualizing the metaphysics of identity dear to the Action Française—minus the antisemitism, of course. Milner would thus have invented a kind of a Judeo-Maurrassianism.
For Milner, the Jews who in 1948 set up a political entity circumscribed within the boundaries of the traditional nation-state pose ipso facto an ideological challenge to the limitless expansion that is at the heart of the postnational European democracy, basking in the postwar Pax europea. This Europe without borders finds its dialectical counterpart in the limitlessness of jihad and the expansion of Islam. This expansionism is a detriment to the Jewish people, caught between the rock of European decline and the hard place of Muslim anti-Semitism.
Milner allows himself, then, to draw a paradoxical equivalence between peace and jihad. Pacifist and postnational ideologies would thus also find their counterpart in a terrorism that is every bit as transnational. Hence, for Milner, contemporary anti-Zionism in Europe and support for the Palestinians would somehow bear witness to the constitutive limitlessness of Enlightenment Europe—a limitlessness that is the direct heir to the genocidal expansionism of the Third Reich. In Milner’s hyperbolic vision, there’s no essential interruption between Nazi anti-Semitism and contemporary European anti-Zionism; no hiatus separating the exalted celebration of war by the Third Reich from the kratos without a demos of the seemingly unreal, polemophobic, anonymous bureaucracy that present-day Europe is, run by eurocrats in Brussels. As the abhorred conveyors of a biblical “difficult universalism” (as opposed to the “easy universalism” of Saint Paul, Marx, or Mao—the distinction is Milner’s), the Jews somehow constitute an obstacle to the spread of European Enlightenment, somehow obstruct the bulimic pacifism of democratic Europe.
Even if Milner’s argument has its limits, Birnbaum’s hypothesis, infinitely more superficial on a theoretical level, fails to convince. If he is to be believed, the defense of Israel articulated by certain current French philosemitic intellectuals must be understood as a direct continuation of the pro-Western ideologies of the past—formations that were also, of course, antisemitic! Pro-Israel Jews and non-Jews in Europe today (Shmuel Trigano, Daniel Sibony, Éric Marty, Jean-Claude Milner, Pierre-André Taguieff, and Alain Finkielkraut, to name a few) would be mere puppets moved by the strings of an antisemitic and racist Western unconscious, and their philosemitism nothing more than the ugly mask of Occidentocentric racism. And the “real” Jews—the underdogs—would be the Arabs, or, rather, the second and third-generation immigrant youths living in the suburbs of France. The inassimilable Other for these philosemites is apparently Islam itself. Here, Birnbaum singles out Benny Lévy as the very exemplification of his hypothesis. Lévy (a.k.a. Pierre Victor, the nom de guerre by which he was known during his involvement with the Proletarian Left—before his “return” to Jewish orthodoxy) declared at the end of his life in 2003 that in order to mobilize and revolutionize the immigrant lumpenproletariat back in the ’60s, one would have to settle the nationalist squabbles dividing the Algerians, Moroccans, and Tunisians (Birnbaum, 62). Lévy can thus—and not without a sense of humor—brag that he invented the Palestinians to this effect.
Are we supposed to understand, then, that the Palestinian cause was the brainchild of a Jewish Maoist seeking to channel the revolutionary potential of Arab immigrants? Would Pierre Victor be none other than a little-red-book-carrying progenitor of the Palestinians in the same way that Moses the Egyptian created the Jews, according to the historical romance contained in Moses and Monotheism? If this Freudian Witz were true, then it would be one of the many dirty tricks history has played on the Jews. The Judeo-Maoists—i.e., yesterday’s de-Judaized revolutionary Jews—would have thus created the very conditions of possibility of the ideological about-face that was awaiting them a couple of decades down the line. That is, of course, provided (a) that this about-face has in fact taken place, and (b) that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has indeed been the determining factor in this ideological shift. (All the same, it is difficult to see how Benny Lévy’s conversion to Orthodox Judaism has anything to do at all with pro-Westernism or Maurrassianism.)
All things being equal, that pro-Israel intellectuals have fundamentally become political reactionaries is also the hypothesis put forth by a young French Jewish philosopher, Ivan Segré. Contrary to Birnbaum or Lindenberg, Segré (who is close to Benny Lévy’s son, René Lévy) styles himself as a juif de l’Étude, “Jew of [Torah] study.” This inter-Jewish conflict—upon whose attendant Latin Quarter skirmishes I am merely attempting to cast some light—is thus complicated by overlapping biographical, personal, and indeed Oedipal dimensions. It’s a veritable family affair. Shmuel Trigano taught rudiments of Hebrew to none other than Benny Lévy. In 2000, the latter founded, along with Alain Finkielkraut and Bernard-Henri Lévy, the Institut d’Études Levinassiennes (Institute of Levinassian Studies) in Jerusalem. This is the very Finkielkraut whom Ivan Segré denounced as a pro-Western hack in his doctoral thesis—a thesis directed by Benny’s son René, the Marxist anti-Zionist philosopher Alain Badiou, and the late Trotskyite philosopher Daniel Bensaïd.
Indeed, as an acolyte of Badiou, who wrote a preface for one of the two volumes of his published dissertation, Segré represents the synthesis of Benny Lévy’s two lives: involvement in the Proletarian Left, and conversion to Orthodox Judaism. In The Philosemitic Reaction (La Réaction philosémite), Segré takes aim at Jewish and non-Jewish, French and other European intellectuals alike (he includes Oriana Fallaci on his list of offenders), for whom, in his view, Islamophobia and defense of Israel are two sides of the same coin. According to Segré, the intellectuals Lindenberg condemns as “communitarians” imprisoned in Jewish tradition are anything but that: on the contrary, they are traitors to an “authentic” Judaism insofar as they regard Western values as sacred, and to the extent that this very gesture of sanctifying Western values partakes of the history of anti-Semitism in France. It is thus in the name of this supposedly authentic Judaism that Segré lambasts these “communitarian” French intellectuals who, under the guise of denouncing anti-Semitism, revive Maurras’s nationalist doctrine.
We find ourselves, then, confronted with a constellation of texts and authors who all posit some kind of Judeo-Maurrassian conspiracy, or at the very least detect a Judeo-Maurrassian tropism among certain French and European intellectual defenders of Israel. As divergent as may be the textual and epistemological approaches of Lindenberg, Segré, Weill-Raynal, and Jean Daniel (one could add to this list the historian Esther Benbassa and the psychoanalyst Élisabeth Roudinesco), they all come, more or less, to the same conclusion: French Jews, taken in by Zionism, have veered right. They’ve been Westernized.
Yet little consensus exists concerning what the term “right” could possibly mean in this context. Does being on the right entail rejection of the European Enlightenment (following the counter-revolutionary, antimodern posture of the early 19th-century ideologue Joseph de Maistre)? Or on the contrary, does it mean rallying to the cause of Western modernity in order to defend it from “Oriental obscurantism”? (This latter alternative identifies the right wing with the European colonists’ supposedly civilizing mission, placing it on the side of the arrogance of the Enlightenment.) Does being on the right mean seeing in the values of the West (which here includes Israel) a rampart against obscurantism?
Among the authors discussed here favorable to Israel, two contradictory possibilities emerge. (1) European Enlightenment thinkers are in their very essence hostile to the Jews; this is the position of Milner, Benny Lévy, and Trigano. (2) Inversely, the Jews and Israel are the guardians protecting the West and its Enlightenment legacy from being overwhelmed by a new wave of totalitarian obscurantism; Finkielkraut, for example, sees in advocacy of Israel a defense of France in both real and ideal terms, as an ethnically indivisible republic. Indeed, in Finkielkraut’s estimation, neo-antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric are the corollaries of a new kind of Francophobia accompanying the rejection of Western civilization. Jean Birnbaum neatly sums up this division among those who defend Israel: “Some affirm that the West has built itself on the ruins of Israel; others assure us that Israel is the sentinel of the West” (Birnbaum, 84). The title of Segré’s text, The Philosemitic Reaction is disconcerting. Is he implying that love of Jews is reactionary? And if philosemitism is reactionary, would it not then follow that antisemitism is progressive? Or, simply, are we to hear in “reaction” the fact that certain intellectuals “react” (in a purely physical or mechanical, rather than ideological sense) to antisemitism by developing excessive fondness for Jews? The title is at the very least ambiguous. Reading Segré’s book, one gleans that “philosemitic” here means pro-Zionist, or pro-Israel. But we have to ask if the defense of Israel and of the Zionist project is in and of itself reactionary. Can such defense only be articulated from an anti-progressive stance? To put it bluntly: does being pro-Israel mean being on the right?
II. Israel, the Jews, & the Left: Primal Scene
Not content with analyzing current developments in this inter-Jewish conflict ravaging the cafés of the Latin Quarter, I’d like to trace our way back to the source of all these paradoxes and misunderstandings. For what is taking place today on the Parisian literary and intellectual scene is simply an acting-out, the manifestation of the turbulence gripping French Jewish consciousness ever since the creation of Israel.
We don’t have to start from the Six-Day War—and even less from the two Intifadas—to observe Israel’s being assigned to the reactionary camp. From its very inception, any defense of the Jewish state as a utopia-come-true aroused suspicion; and as soon as the left began identifying with anticolonial struggles in the 1950s, it distanced itself from Israel. Up until then, the new Jewish homeland had not only been perceived as the fruit born out of the struggle against the British Empire, it was also supposed to be the solution to the alienation of European Jewry. In other words, Israel could be seen as a manifestation of political progress within the terms of class warfare, or indeed along the lines of the various struggles for national liberation. Throughout the 1950s, however, the left construed Israel more and more as a henchman of political reaction. By 1965—two years before Israel’s territorial gains in the Six-Day War—Emmanuel Levinas had the following to say concerning the watershed events of 1948: “Founders of the state found themselves suddenly on the side of the colonizers. Israel’s independence was immediately called imperialism, oppression of the natives, racism. Reality didn’t measure up to utopia. . . . For perhaps the first time in their history, the Jews found themselves thrown in with all that was reactionary, and their hearts were torn between an instinctive sense of belonging and a progressivism just as unshakeable.”
Let us turn our attention, then, to the primal scene of this alienated French-Jewish either-or, this split between trueness to oneself and fidelity to an ideal of progress. The division is not so much between the Jewish community and the republic (rehashing that tired accusation of constituting a “nation within the nation,” of harboring dual loyalties), as it is between attachment to Israel and identification with the left; between attraction to the social (even somewhat socialist) democracy which the Jewish state was at its inception and sympathy for the anticolonialist Arab nationalism that became a touchstone of the French left during the struggles for independence in North Africa.
Claude Lanzmann, in a recent larger-than-life memoir entitled Le Lièvre de Patagonie (The Patagonian Hare), recalls: On the eve of the Six-Day War, Les Temps Modernes—the journal founded by Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir—launched an issue on the Arab-Israeli conflict that would ultimately clock in at some one thousand pages. Just before its appearance, Lanzmann, le Castor (i.e. “the Beaver,” Sartre’s hardly translatable nickname for de Beauvoir), and Sartre himself went to Egypt; they were invited there by Mohamed Hassanein Heykal, editor of Al-Ahram, an important national daily, as well as a personal friend of Nasser. We thus find our ambassadors of the Left Bank off on a mission to the Orient, visiting Cairo’s museums, the City of the Dead, Luxor, the Valley of the Kings. To top it all off, they took in the tantalizing spectacle of a belly-dance. The description of it treats us to an avatar of Flaubert’s courtesan Kuchuk Hanem—or perhaps a new Salomé. In any event, we are so privileged as to witness the death spasms of the French literary eroticization of the Orient, before the heavy hand of political correctness suffocated it altogether: “The most famous belly-dancer in all Egypt was whirling around the table. . . She took my hand and pulled me center stage, where I stood perfectly still, quite like a totem pole, under the eyes of Sartre, the Beaver, Ali. All the while, the gyration of her hips, the audacious thrusting and sudden withdrawing of her pubis, offered the latter to me and took it from me, unbearably.”
Despite these very official distractions, Sartre—strangely preoccupied, overwhelmed by his various commitments—drowned in alcohol worries that revealed themselves to be more political than existential. On one occasion, the great writer, having unwound a bit more than may have been advisable, let it all out. “During our Egyptian trip, Sartre was visibly prey to tensions pulling him in two contradictory directions. His schedule was frenetic. . . and he let himself go at night by drinking excessively. . . . More than once, Ali and I had to lead him staggering back to his hotel suite. . . . One night, drunker than usual, as we were holding him up, he began to insult us in slurring voice, calling us ‘faggots’ and insinuating that we were the best example of a solution to the conflict” (Lanzmann 400).
So Judeo-Arabic homoeroticism was the solution to a conflict already two decades old! Why hadn’t anyone else thought of that before? Some fifteen years earlier, in his 1952 Saint Genet, to Jean Genet’s avowal that he could never have sex with a Jew, Sartre amusingly quipped: “Israel can sleep in peace.” And yet, what comes out in the final analysis from these inebriated and sarcastic Sartrian ramblings is that if only the Jews and the Arabs would sleep together, everyone could sleep peacefully at night.
As demanded by the punctilious impartiality of an issue of the Temps Modernes, the Egyptian stay would be followed up with a trip to Israel, a country Lanzmann had already visited in 1952, four years after its independence. It was over the course of this first stay that Lanzmann, an assimilated Jew, had the following epiphany, which he later shared with Sartre and which led Sartre to revise the central argument of his Anti-Semite and Jew, which had it that Jewish existence itself was a dialectical response to their adversaries’ actions. Lanzmann realized “the Jews didn’t have to wait for antisemites to appear in order to exist” (248), thus discovering the particularity of being Jewish.
At this point in narrating their Egyptian epic, Lanzmann sketches the portrait of a Sartre flattered by Nasser’s invitation and drawn to the cause of Arab nationalism. But what about the “visible tensions pulling him in two contradictory directions” that he could calm only by emptying a bottle of booze every night? For Lanzmann, the problem was that Sartre was dragging his feet. He dreaded the idea of the trip to Israel: “Sartre was torn between his preference for the charming and splendid Egyptians who were our hosts, for the Arab cause in general, and unconscious anxiety at the idea of departure for Israel. I understood that for him I was a constant reminder of the impending journey, a kind of statue of the Commander for Don Giovanni, a guardian of Israel keeping watch lest we fail to maintain a minimum degree of impartiality. Thus I was preventing him from fully enjoying Arabic seductions” (Lanzmann 401).
Let us pause to consider the richness of these remarks that constitute, provided we pay sufficient attention to the actual signifiers, a political psychoanalysis of Sartre; perhaps even more forcefully, they adumbrate a metaphysical psychoanalysis of the ambiguities inherent in the left’s position vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Note the anxiety that attaches itself to Israel; the charm of Egypt and of the Arab cause; and the statue of the Commander. Lanzmann, or, as Milner would put it, “le nom juif” (the Jewish name or signifier), functions here as the incarnation of the Law, the “guardian of Israel,” the brake on, or obstacle to, the plenitude of jouissance, sexual enjoyment. Israel, in other words, figures as a super-ego reminding France, and Europe, of their guilt. We have already encountered these problematics in the marvelous, and now classic, study by Éric Marty of l’angoisse du bien [the anxiety of goodness] in Jean Genet’s oeuvre. However, though Sartre justified the recourse to terrorism (he condoned in particular the Munich attacks on Israeli athletes during the Olympics), unlike Genet he remained prey to an inner split with respect to what he termed—well before Jean-François Lyotard introduced the term into the philosophical lexicon—the “Judeo-Arabic différend.” Concerning Sartre’s pangs of conscience, Lanzmann’s testimony is invaluable: despite his support of Algerian, and then Palestinian terrorism, France of the 1970s owes Sartre “a debt for not having known violence perpetrated by small extremist cells ready to imitate their Italian or German counterparts” (Lanzmann 416). However, there is no better synthesis of the moral, or indeed metaphysical, dilemma confronting Sartre, and perhaps the left in its general posture towards Jews and Israel, than the following exhortation from his introduction to the special issue of Les Temps Modernes, articulated in the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict that had exploded in the region, and in the context of Israel’s abandonment by de Gaulle: “Let us not forget that these Israelis are also Jews” (Lanzmann 406).
Israel, a mere slit of earth and sand, indifferent to the lavish splendor of the Orient, where a great man, even if he is Jean-Paul Sartre, is only—to use Sartre’s own phrase from his autobiographical Les Mots—“a man made of the same stuff as all other men, equal to other men and to whom any one at all is equal” (Lanzmann 215). “Upon our arrival, we were welcomed,” Lanzmann writes, “in the midst of a jovial, genial, and democratic chaos. The Israelis who invited us had done their best, but their means couldn’t possibly rival those of the Egyptian head of state” (Lanzmann 403). These lines contain a bitter assessment: to the egalitarian disorder of the young Israeli social democracy, Sartre would have preferred the sumptuous order of Nasserian power. To the egalitarian Jewish demos, the French Communist Party’s fellow traveler would have preferred the pomp and circumstance of an Arab autocrat.
The stay in Israel was a fiasco, or at least that’s the impression one gets reading Lanzmann’s memoirs. Sartre refused to meet any Israelis wearing army uniforms (including women, laments Lanzmann, ever the ladies’ man, and who in this respect proves to be a bit more Don Juan than statue of the Commander), on the pretext that they were objective allies of American imperialism. Lanzmann retorted that to disavow the very raison d’être of the Israeli nation, i.e., “the reappropriation of power and violence by Jews,” amounted to willful misapprehension of Israel’s historical significance. In the end, the future director of the documentary Israel, Why returned to Paris, leaving Sartre and the Castor behind him.
To conclude, I would like to ruffle the feathers of these Jewish leftist intellectuals, pamphleteers and ideologues, who attribute to their pro-Israel homologues racist, “Occidentalist,” “communitarian,” or Maurassian tendencies. To do so, I shall call to my aid Caroline Fourest, a feminist commentator who can hardly be suspected of harboring right-wing sympathies; she is a critic of the alliance between the far left and Muslim fundamentalism, and author of a study, Brother Tariq, that prefigures Paul Berman’s Flight of the Intellectuals by carefully picking apart the double-speak practiced by the all-too-groovy Muslim cleric Tariq Ramadan, as well as delving into his links to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. In La Tentation obscurantiste (The Temptation of Obscurantism), in turn, Fourest identifies an obscurantist tendency presently operating at the very heart of the left, a tendency that had earlier produced the fellow travelers, the “useful idiots,” of communist totalitarianism. Fourest’s conclusion is that the left suffers from a structural split into an anti-totalitarian movement on the one hand, and on the other a “third-worldism” that is the legacy of the anti-colonial struggles of yesteryear and that today manifests itself as an antiracism, antiglobalism, multiculturalism. In her view, nothing suggests that the objectives of these two factions necessarily coincide. Anti-totalitarian leftists would logically take a dim view of their third-worldist fellows who flirt with totalitarian, autocratic, or theocratic regimes and ideologies—all in the name of defense against neo-colonialism and Western racism. The anti-totalitarian left Fourest claims as her own ought to be dismayed by the support the other left brings to fundamentalist ideologues, on the pretext of combating the arrogance of Western civilization. This support, for example, sacrifices feminist principles on the holy altar of multiculturalism, as one sees in the strange tolerance third-worldists lavish upon the veil or the burqa. Yet condemning the various regimes that trample on the rights of man and woman suffices to have one immediately branded a party to West’s essential racism or a dupe of its colonial unconscious. At base, what Fourest laments in her attack on the third-worldist left is simply the latest avatar of the “treason of the intellectuals”—of the elite’s dalliance with a new form of totalitarianism. Contrary to Ivan Segré’s hypothesis, the traitors here are not the so-called Judeo-Maurrassians, but the leftists accommodating Islamic fundamentalism, who write off the values of liberty and equality as collateral losses presumably made up for by advances towards a new equitable world order.
I’ll conclude, then, on a note that is only partially tongue in cheek. I began by asking if French Jews have veered off to the right. I described the assault by certain French Jewish polemicists on defenders and supporters of Israel. Then I interpreted the violence of these attacks as a symptom of the continuing shock undergone by Jewish consciousness starting in the 1960s, when Jews found themselves torn between faithfulness to Israel and loyalty to progressivism. Let us, then, consider the following: in his book, La gauche et l’égalité (The Left and Equality), Jean-Michel Salanskis defines the left as structured by a “critique of power taking the form of a critique of man’s humiliation at the hands of transcendence.” From this definition, Salanskis derives a paradoxical postulate: it is necessary “to eliminate entirely the communist episode from the left,” for this episode partakes of the crushing of the people by one man who can “become the keystone of the world, restoring the attributes and the aura of royalty” (Salanskis 37). If Salanskis is right, wouldn’t it be just as legitimate to ask our difficult question of the left—in its third-worldist, multicultural, antiglobalist and antiracist iteration, i.e, the left that has cast lovesick glances at Stalin, Mao, Castro, Guevara, Nasser, Arafat, Khomeini, and more recently at Chávez and Ramadan? Wouldn’t we be as justified in asking if it isn’t that left that has veered to the right?
The French version of this essay will appear in the French Jewish monthly L’Arche, 633, February 2011. Special thanks go to my friend Alan Astro for his invaluable suggestions and collaboration in making this essay easier to read for an English-speaking readership.
Daniel Lindenberg, Le Rappel à l’ordre: enquête sur les nouveaux réactionnaires (Paris: Le Seuil, 2002).
René Rémond, Les droites en France (Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1982) 231.
Jean Daniel, La Prison juive (Paris: Odile Jacob, 2003).
Jean Birnbaum, Les Maoccidents: un néoconservatisme à la française (Paris: Stock, 2009).
Jean-Claude Milner, Les penchants criminels de l’Europe démocratique (Paris: Verdier, 2003).
Pierre Manent, La Raison des nations: Réflexions sur la démocratie en Europe (Paris: Gallimard, 2006).
Ivan Segré, La Réaction philosémite, ou la trahison des clercs (Paris: Nouvelles Éditions Lignes), 2009.
Segré, op. cit.
On the singular path followed by Benny Lévy, see Milner, L’Arrogance du présent: Regard sur une décennie 1965-1975 (Paris: Grasset, 2009).
Esther Benbassa and Jean-Christophe Attias, Les Juifs ont-ils un avenir? (Paris: Hachette, 2002) (see in particular the postface); and Élisabeth Roudinesco, Retour sur la question juive (Paris: Albin Michel, 2009). See also Esther Benbassa, “How One Becomes a Traitor” in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in the Francophone World, ed. Nathalie Debrauwere-Miller (London: Routledge, 2009).
Amongst his many writings on this topic, see Finkielkraut’s Au nom de l’autre: Réflexions sur l’antisémitisme qui vient (Paris: Gallimard, 2003).
Emmanuel Levinas, Difficile liberté : Essais sur le judaïsme, 2d ed. (Paris: Albin Michel, 1976), 287.
Claude Lanzmann, Le Lièvre de Patagonie (Paris: Gallimard, 2009), 399.
Jean-Paul Sartre, Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr (London: Heinemann, 1988), 203. For a critique of Sartre’s reading of Genet and the Jews, see Éric Marty, Bref séjour à Jérusalem (Paris: Gallimard, 2003).
On Sartre and the Arab-Israeli conflict, see Jonathan Judaken, Jean-Paul Sartre and the Jewish Question: Anti-antisemitism and the Politics of the French Intellectual (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2006). One finds in this study some of the most elucidating and comprehensive analyses of Sartre’s and the French left’s ambivalences with respect to this conflict, torn as they are between commitment to anticolonial politics and a sense of historical responsibility to the Jewish people; consider the difficulty for them of construing Zionism and the creation of Israel as both a national liberation movement and a “colonialist” phenomenon.
The account Judaken offers of the stay in Israel is more positive. We should note that Lanzmann praises Sartre’s prudence with respect to terrorism and regrets his reticence vis-à-vis his time spent in Israel, whereas Judaken, who is a historian, paints a picture of Sartre as a supporter, unlike the revolutionary left, of Palestinian terrorism, but who is all the same rather enthusiastic during his trip to Israel.
Claude Lanzmann, dir., Pourquoi Israel (Israel, Why), Cinéart, 1973.
Caroline Fourest, Brother Tariq: The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan (New York: Encounter Books, 2010).
Caroline Fourest, La Tentation obscurantiste (Paris: Grasset, 2005).
Julien Benda, The Treason of the Intellectuals (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1928).
Jean-Michel Salanskis, La gauche et l’égalité (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2009).