What French Intellectuals Refuse to Admit

Simone Rodan-Benzaquen
July 14, 2017


An op-ed published in Libération on July 4 warned against “the instrumentalization of the fight against anti-Semitism.”What disturbs its authors is that the European Parliament finally, after a too-long delay, voted to recognize that Israel’s legitimacy is being questioned, and that this demonization of Israel is intimately linked to anti-Semitism. The June 1 vote was on a resolution that accepted a “working definition” of anti-Semitism adopted in May 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), an organization of which France is a member.

The signatories should have been the first to agree with resolution precisely because, as they emphasize, the fight against anti-Semitism “must be part of the essential and universal struggle against all forms of racism and discrimination.” And yet, according to the signatories of this op-ed, the IHRA text "deviates from its objective by adding references to the State of Israel."

In fact, the fight against anti-Semitism does not impede the right to freely criticize the policies of the Israeli government. But is this really what this controversy is about? In reality, it is not anti-Semitism that is being instrumentalized, but the defense of the Palestinian right to a democratic state, the fight against occupation, which is all too often an instrument of anti-Jewish racism.

The IHRA resolution merely cites, among the forms of anti-Semitism, the demonization of Israel, the act of presenting this State as a “racist enterprise,” to accuse Jews of inventing or exaggerating the Shoah, or to question Israel’s existence as a “Jewish collective.” But who can seriously dispute that anti-Semitism today employs such rhetorical paths, and targets Israel to better target Jews?

In reality, the IHRA’s objective is to underscore this denial. The authors of the op-ed in fact agree on this, in part, when they cite the text: “A critique of Israel similar to that against any other country can be seen as anti-Semitism.”

Is the IHRA’s definition tendentious? After having been adopted by the 31 member countries, some of which, such as the United Kingdom, have transitioned it into domestic policy, the definition has also been validated by 56 out of 57 member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), with only Russia resisting. Recall that the OSCE member countries include almost all European and North American states, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan. Would the authors of the statement suspect these states of complaisance towards Israel’s government? As the heart of European democracy, the European Parliament is perfectly within its rights to define contemporary anti-Semitism to better combat it. As Elie Wiesel pointed out, the Shoah did not start with the gas chambers, but with words.

Finally, where is the instrumentalization? Certainly not in the text, based on serious research on the universal mechanisms of hate and dehumanization, that describes with discernment all forms of anti-Semitism. Both hate and dehumanization are still at work, used by the extreme right and also by those who, under cover of defending the Palestinian cause, call into question the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, endorse writings that negate this fact, and publicly welcome the attacks on civilians by describing them as “acts of resistance.”

This attack on the IHRA decision does a disservice to both the Palestinians and the peace supporters on the Israeli side. Once again, by publishing an op-ed which inaccurately, and with profound bias, describes the initiative of the European Parliament, “progressive” intellectuals have shown that they prefer the path of denial over reality.

Keren Ann, Artist

Aurore Bergé, member of Parliament from the parliamentary majority (En Marche).

Laurent Bouvet, political science professor

Pascal Bruckner, author

Gilles Clavreul, former interministerial delegate for the fight against anti-Semitism and racism

Benjamin Djiane, deputy mayor of the mayor of the 3rd arrondissement of Paris

Jean Paul Fitoussi, professor at Sciences Po and LUISS Rome

Emilie Frèche, writer, scriptwriter

Medhi Ghouigarte, professor at the University of Bordeaux III-Michel de Montaigne

Jerome Guedj, former Member of Parliament

François Heilbronn, associate professor at SciencesPo

Patrick Kessel, journalist

Patrick Klugman, deputy mayor of Paris

Marc Knobel, historian

Joël Kotek, political science professor at the Free University of Brussels (ULB)

Marceline Loridan-Ivens, movie director, Holocaust survivor

Sylvain Maillard, Member of Parliament from the governing party (En Marche)

Radu Mihaeleanu, movie director

Denis Peschanski, research director at CNRS

Rudy Reischstadt, political scientist

Simone Rodan, Director of AJC Paris and AJC Europe

Iannis Roder, history professor

Dominique Reynie, director of Fondapol (Foundation for political innovation) and professor at Sciences Po

Dominique Schnapper, sociologist, Honorary member for the constitutional council and president of the Museum of Arts and history of Judaism and the institute of studies of Paris

Brigitte Stora, sociologist and journalist

Manuel Valls, former Prime Minister, member of Parliament

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