Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Antisemitism Pollutes The Streets In Paris

Not that it came as a total surprise. Since demonstrations against the covid certificate and what is perceived as an obligation to vaccinate began in mid-July across France, anti-Semitic signs and messages have been visible at Saturday protests. But on August 7, at the convocation in the city of Metz, near the German border, a red line was crossed. The press spread the banner carried by a woman with a list of names of French politicians and personalities of Jewish descent with a clear accusation of “traitors”, and a more cryptic question: “But who?”. The experts immediately associated it with the new formula used for some weeks now in France by the anti-Semitic and conspiratorial movement which, since practically the beginning of the pandemic, has wanted to link and blame the Jews for the new evil of humanity. Again.

This time, justice acted quickly and the woman, a former candidate of the ultra-right National Front, will have to answer to a judge in September. Still, similar banners reappeared at last Saturday’s demonstrations as the president, Emmanuel Macron, denounced the repeated anti-Semitic degradation of a plaque dedicated to the former minister and Auschwitz survivor Simone Veil. The unease and concern about an anti-Semitism that continues to surface in France and in Europe remains difficult to tackle.

“Antisemitism is a bit like a tumor, it resurfaces according to situations and issues and, for some time now, we have had a particular phenomenon: the emergence of an antisemitism that is being instrumentalized with the covid”, explains by telephone the writer and essayist Marc Knobel, who has just published Cyberhaine, propagande et antisĂ©mitisme sur Internet (Cyberhate, propaganda and antisemitism on the Internet).

If the Metz case has been of particular concern, it is because it is yet another twist in the anti-Semitism detected among those who see a global plot behind the pandemic. Since the beginning of the protests against the covid certificate, the use of Nazi-era yellow stars and comparisons of the health measures with extermination camps have been denounced in the demonstrations. Some pharmacies performing coronavirus tests have been accused and even attacked as “collaborationists”.

The origin of the Metz banner with the “Who?”, in which the capital Q – a letter that has become the great symbol of conspiracy theories in the wake of the QAnon movement in the USA – was adorned with two devil’s horns, is a controversial interview. On June 18, the CNews network interviewed former General Dominique Delawarde, one of the signatories of the controversial tribune of retired military officers who last spring warned of the alleged “crumbling” of France because of “anti-racists”, “Islamists and the hordes of the peripheries”. In the conversation, the former military man tells the journalist, “You know well who controls the media pack (…), who controls the Washington Post, The New York Times or, here, BFM-TV [France’s main continuous information channel] and all the newspapers (…). Who are those people?”, asked, rhetorically, Delawarde. “Who?” the journalist wanted to know several times. “The community that you know well,” the former general ended up answering, before the journalist decided to interrupt the interview.

Since then, that seemingly simple “who” has become a “code”, as Le Monde explained this week, widely used among those who believe in France that the imposition of a covid certificate reveals a “sanitary dictatorship” ordered by dark powers – read, the Jews – but who avoid saying the word “Jew” even if they think it. “The anti-Semitism here is transparent,” Conspiracy Watch observatory director Rudy Reichstad told the newspaper. “You only have to be slightly familiar with this kind of discourse to realize that it’s about singling out Jews while awkwardly dodging the reproach of anti-Semitism.”

In Metz’s case it didn’t work. After the photograph of the poster went viral, the Minister of the Interior, GĂ©rald Darmanin, asked to denounce the bearer of the “abject” banner, identified as Cassandre Fristot, a teacher and former far-right candidate. Last Tuesday, the Prosecutor’s Office announced that Fristot will be tried on September 8 for “public provocation to racial hatred”. In addition, the teacher will be submitted to a national education disciplinary board.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic crisis in January-February 2020, I have noticed that accusations have increased [on the Internet], especially from the far right, against some Jewish personalities who had an important position in the management of the coronavirus,” Knobel says.

This is confirmed by the annual report of the Jewish Community Protection Service (JCPS), published in January, which warns that 2020 was “the year of the unleashing of anti-Semitic discourse on the Internet”, especially with the “proliferation of conspiracy theses pointing to Jews as the instigators of the global covid-19 crisis”.

“France is not an anti-Semitic country, but here live anti-Semites who want to instrumentalize the crises to turn them into political weapons,” points out Knobel, who recalls that the coronavirus conspiracists “have not invented anything”: the Jews were already accused – and punished – for the Black Death of the 14th century, beyond the anti-Semitic discourses of terrible consequences of the beginning of the last century. “When Jean-Marie Le Pen was president of the National Front, he launched non-stop anti-Semitic statements. And he did not do it randomly, he knew he could instrumentalize anti-Semitism and that it would work”, he adds.

Less than a year before the French presidential elections, “the people who do it today know that it can also work and that they will have someone to listen to them. And that is a risk, a danger accentuated by the social networks where people launch themselves protected by anonymity,” warns the historian.