Review by Yana Grinshpun
Judéophobie, la dernière vague. By Pierre-André Taguieff. Paris: Fayard, 2018. 293 pages. €19.00 (paper).
Published in May 2018, Pierre-André Taguieff’s book is currently the most comprehensive study of the contemporary manifestations of antisemitism and anti-Zionism observed in French society today. The author revisits his conception of Judeophobia, developed in his numerous books devoted to the subject. He defines Judeophobia as an ideologically organized hatred of Jews that relies on the reservoir of available stereotypes and views that define Jews as a threat. Judeophobiathus takes the form of an anti-Jewish worldview that can and does generate violent actions. The focus of the book is on what Taguieff calls “Islamo-leftism.” He traces the genealogy of Jew-hatred from 1967 on in the Arab Muslim world. The book demonstrates how this Islamo-leftist Judeophobic imagination took root in France and Europe during the Second Intifada of 2000 and is now widely disseminated on social media. The book has a substantial introduction, nine chapters, and a conclusion. It is written in an accessible manner for readers with no prior knowledge of the fields in which the author is a recognized specialist (politics, history, philosophy, discourse analysis, and sociology).
In his previous works, La Nouvelle Judéophobie, Les prêcheurs de la haine, La judéophobie des Modernes, and L’antisémitisme, Taguieff explained why he uses this term rather than the term antisemitism, which is often defined as racism directed against Jews. For him, this term de-historicizes the uses of the words « racism » as well as « antisemitism » and makes it impossible to consider all of the socio-discursive practices correlated with negative beliefs and representations of Jews.
The strength of this well-researched book is its thorough observation of the interaction and inter-penetration of new and old forms of Jew-hatred in today’s Europe and Middle East. The old anti-Jewish myths coming from Christian culture, as well as the political, social, and psychological stigmatization of European Jews over past centuries are recycled by both Islamist propaganda and far-left ideologies. To demonstrate this, Taguieff offers an interesting and nuanced analysis of the ideology of the Muslim Brothers who extensively exploit the idea, popular with the European far-right, of conspiratorial lying Jews. This is achieved, according to Taguieff, by identifying Jews as the oldest enemies of Islam, murderers of prophets and perverters of sacred texts. One finds here the reconfiguration of old European mythologies: Jews as the oldest enemies of Christ, a deicide people, a bloodthirsty people. These themes are used by the propaganda arm of the Palestinian Authority today, as well as by Iran and some Arab governments who are hostile to the existence of Israel. Some of these themes are also part of the Koranic tradition and that of the Hadith where the Jews are presented as enemies of the Prophet and of Muslims in general. The impact of these beliefs is illustrated by attitudinal surveys of migrants from Syria and Iraq who are living in Germany as well as by the alarming number of anti-Jewish acts committed by people self-identifying as Muslims living in other countries in Western Europe.
Taguieff describes what appears at first sight as an ideological paradox emerging in the early 1970s when Marxist and Trotskyist ideologies met with those forged by Arab nationalists to create the repulsive figure of the Zionist Jew. This figure became the “oppressor” of the Palestinians who replicated the role of the subjugated proletariat in European history.
Taguieff argues that these ideological movements invented a collectivity characterized by its national liberation struggle in an anti-imperialist framework known as the Palestinian people. Soviet Communist propaganda and Arab propaganda shared a similar objective, that is the elimination of the state of Israel. To say that the Palestinian people is an invention is not an intellectual conceit or some clever academic theory; neither is it an act of bad faith. Taguieff refers to the statements of Zuheir Mohsen, the leader of the pro-Syrian faction of Hamas, who told the Dutch newspaper Trow in 1977 that the entity “Palestinian people” does not exist. Mohsen also explained that « the creation of a Palestinian state is only a new way to continue our struggle against the state of Israel. » Taguieff contests the views of some historians and political scientists specializing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, who describe it as an « ordinary » nationalist conflict, strictly territorial or political. He argues that it is not a conflict between two competing people with national aspirations, but one based on the claims of Islamists who consider any land where Muslims are present to belong to them without concession or negotiation. The author recalls that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), created in 1964 with the help of the KGB, was dedicated to the elimination of the Jewish state. Hassan al-Banna and Yasser Arafat, and before them all the leaders of Hamas announced this intention, starting with Khaled Mechaal and continuing with Ismaël Haniyeh.
The same is true in the negationist theories that appeared in Europe after the Second World War by anti-Jewish ideologues from the Muslim world. These Holocaust denial theories, widespread on the far-right and in traditionalist Catholic and Protestant circles, were taken up by certain movements of the far-left at the beginning of the 1970s. In France, the main figures involved in anti-Zionist Holocaust denial are Roger Garaudy (who is an ex-communist and a convert to Islam), Jean Ziegler, and Abbé Pierre. Taguieff states that negationism (on the right) and radical anti-Zionism (on the left) overlap on the level of argumentation and both engage in victimization inversion.
Taguieff sheds light on of this perverse reasoning: if the Holocaust did not take place, the Jews are not victims of Nazism, while the Palestinians become the only real victims of Zionism, which is demonized and nazified. This is how the Israelis (the Zionists) are transformed into oppressors, imperialists, and racists. Based on this warped rationale, the existence of the state of Israel has no legitimacy and should be condemned in the name of international justice and morality by all world nations. This reasoning makes it easier to understand the logic underpinning all the UN resolutions condemning Israel since the existence of the state.
The author demonstrates throughout his very detailed study the way in which victimization is practiced by modern antisemites, whether they are ideologues from the post-communist extreme-left or followers of the Parti des Indigènes de la République (PIR, Party of the Indigenous of the Republic) often supported by leftist intellectuals. PIR is a racist, identitarian, antisemitic party founded in 2010 and composed principally of young Muslims born in France who claim to struggle against white power, white privilege, and Zionism. The practice of identifying victims and perpetrators is especially visible when jihadis are seen as victims and Jews seen as Nazis. Pierre-André Taguieff examines the beginnings of this inversion process. For him, it is a convergence of various factors. In the communist bloc, the key date that triggered the nazification of the Jews goes back to the Slánsky Trial of November 1952. This famous Prague trial was initiated by the Chairman of the Czechoslovak Communist Party against the Secretary General of the Party, Rudolf Slánsky. Being of Jewish origin, Slánsky was falsely accused of orchestrating a Zionist plot. Consequently, the campaign of nazifying Zionism, started by the Soviet Communist Party, penetrated the West and spread among French communists. This anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist attitude helps exonerate killers of Jews, in both Europe and in Israel, from all responsibility for their actions. Certain leftist intellectuals call the murderers victims of the social system, which has failed to integrate them. These intellectuals attribute the responsibility for Muslim terrorism to the victims of terrorism. According to the far-left consensus, young French terrorists who kill French citizens are oppressed by systemic racism. If they identify themselves with the Palestinians, it is because the latter embody absolute and universal oppression. By this logic, the Palestinians are in fact the Jews of today. Taguieff states ironically that the “Jewish Question” no longer exists. It has been replaced by the « Israeli Question. » If one spoke before about the Jewish genocide, today we are witnessing preparations and attempts (not always verbal) to commit an « Israelicide. »
Taguieff notes that the main driving force of contemporary Judeophobia in France is its unconditional commitment to the Palestinian cause in all its ambiguity. He describes how “redemptive pro-Palestinianism” now appears to be a politically correct form of antisemitism. In dismantling the mechanisms of anti-Zionist rhetoric, the author finds that radical anti-Zionism correlates with pro-Palestinianism, and works like a political religion that explains the great questions of history by making all the evils converge toward one national and geopolitical entity: Israel. By quoting the speeches of the « preachers » of this new religion, the author analyzes the way in which the old myths are used by both the extreme European left and by Muslim ideologues. The most representative of these figures in France is Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of Hassan Al Bana, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and an Islamic scholar and preacher who promotes political Islam in the West. Ramadan is a fervent defender of the Palestinian cause, an antisemite, and an anti-Zionist, who promotes Sharia (Islamic Law) in the name of a supposed universalism.
This book is also an excellent diagnosis of the identity-crisis, as well as the social and national crisis, of a whole part of French society, plagued as it is by dangerous ideological contamination. The new haters of the Jews identify them with the West or “white colonizers,” according to their terms. For many of them Judeophobia is inseparable from Hesperophobia, a hatred of the West. Taguieff explains that Hesperophobia is a neologism invented by the historian Robert Conquest and used by John Derbyshire in his 2001 article (See John Derbyshire, “Hesperophobia: On Blaming the Jews,” National Review Online [November 13, 2012]). This ideological configuration correlated with the victimization ideology of the far-left. It was based on the identification of the Jews and Israel with neoliberalism, capitalism, and imperialism. The Palestinian Arabs are correlated with the proletarian par excellence. Some of this echoes the antisemitism of the far-right and as such bodes ill not only to Jewish citizens, but to the citizens of Europe and, more broadly, of the world.
French leaders displays contradictory perspectives on antisemitism. On the one hand, young French people are told that antisemitism is not good. Even PIR (“Party of Indigenous of the Republic”) proclaim that they are not antisemites but are anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian. On the other hand, leftist intellectual circles exercise such a heavy level of criticism on Israel and define the Palestinians solely as victims that it completely cancels out the previous message. The fight against such forms of bias and hatred is not waged through outraged speeches by politicians or academics, but rather through the implementation of a policy of deterrence as well as firm measures against all forms of behavior contrary to the laws of the Republic.
Pierre-André Taguieff writes in a sober style without the distraction of academic jargon. The important merit of this work is the perspective of the author who seeks to understand extremely complex phenomena. He does this by taking into account the historical, discursive, theological, and political dimensions of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel discourse in French society, while not sparing a thought for public opinion, current dogmas, or whatever ideological pressures the author has been subjected to for too many years.
Université de Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris 3