Horrifying footage has emerged of anti-government demonstrators in Paris chanting “Juif, la France n’est pas pour toi” (“Jew, France is not for you”) on the eve on International Holocaust Memorial Day last Sunday.
The thousands of demonstrators, drawn from a variety of far-right and fascist movements, together with a number of Catholic opponents of gay marriage, Dieudonné supporters, and members of a modern day Pétainist movement.
They were taking part in a “Day of Anger” to demand the resignation of President François Hollande. Many carried French flags, and the sounds of the Marseillaise could be heard on the streets throughout the day, interspersed with chants including “Europe gay criminal Zionist”, and “Hollande or the Crif, who is leading who?”
Journalists were another target of the furious crowd, who chanted “Nazi state, collaborationist media” and chased television crews away.
Organisers claimed that 160,000 took part, with the police estimate a rather more modest 17,000.
By the end of the day, 250 people had been arrested and 19 police officers injured. None of the French mainstream newspapers, including Le Monde and Libération, appeared by Monday night to have reported the antisemitic slogans, preferring to focus on other elements of the demonstration.
Some have suggested that they were just too ashamed. As Ivan Rioufol, journalist for Le Figaro, said on Monday: “The day of anger has revealed the hideous face of fascist France.”
The challenge for both the government and the French people is how to deal with this nightmare as they grapple with the ongoing economic crisis.
…as the leader of French Jewry fluffs, bluffs and recants his way through Anelka storm
PROFILE: ROGER CUKIERMAN
When members of Crif— the umbrella body representing 72 French Jewish institutions, and by extension the half-million Jews who live in France — elected 76-year-old Roger Cukierman as its president in 2013, they must have thought that they were opting for the safe candidate.
Mr Cukierman, who survived the war in hiding in southern France and later completed a doctorate in economics in Paris before beginning what would be a successful banking career, had already served as the body’s president, between 2001 and 2007. He has also held prominent positions in other major French and international Jewish institutions; he is currently vice-president of the World Jewish Congress.
After last year’s scandal when Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernhein was forced to resign in the wake of plagiarism revelations, France’s leadership was faced with the challenge of reinstating trust in Jewish institutions. Yet many say that Mr Cukierman’s re-election has merely underlined the extent of the crisis in the French Jewish community.
“People can’t feel represented by their institutions if these same institutions don’t make them want to get involved at the community level. We need to make Jewish associations more modern and appealing to young people,” Jonathan Hayoun, president of the French Jewish Students Association, told the Times of Israel last year.
After his re-election last year, Mr Cukierman told journalists that Crif would be taking a different stance, focusing more on domestic antisemitism and changing its public image as “an annexe to the Israeli embassy” in Paris.
He said that he wanted to put an end to the impression that Crif is “a closed institution of fascist Zionists, unconditional defenders of the state of Israel”. Unsurprisingly, some of those present found his wording strange, and considered his adoption of antisemitic language worrying.
Next came the uproar over West Bromwich Albion footballer Nicolas Anelka’s use of the Nazi-style quenelle gesture during a Premier League match. Interviewed by numerous news outlets, Mr Cukierman — who fiercely attacked antisemitic and anti-Zionist acts and rhetoric during his last mandate — seemed unable to decide what position to take.
Having told the BBC, among others, that the quenelle was antisemitic, he later told Le Figaro that unless it was performed in front of a shul or a Holocaust site, it was an acceptable anti-establishment gesture. Anelka immediately tweeted a link to the interview.
Responding to criticism of this soft stance, Mr Cukierman later issued a statement reinforcing his earlier claim that the quenelle is indeed a version of a Nazi salute and thus an antisemitic gesture, and denying his earlier statement that Anelka should not be censured.
Whatever Mr Cukierman intends to achieve with this strategy, if that is what it is, he is failing to convince. More worryingly, his flip-flopping seems to be making some of his arch enemies, including Anelka, very happy indeed.
Natasha Lehrer is a journalist and author