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Philosemitism is too good a thing to be left to the Jews
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“The anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.
We want to emigrate as acceptable people.” Theodor Herzl, Diaries.
Birgit called from Vienna the other day. Birgit calls from time to time, whenever she’s feeling disgusted. She’s an Austrian scholar who can’t fit in, and in Austria, not to fit in means death for life. Life in Austria is a tight little jigsaw puzzle where every human piece must fit, and Birgit’s life is full of jagged edges.
For starters, Birgit’s not an anti-Semite, which makes her the only one among our Austrian friends who’s not. After a while in Vienna, you realize your friends aren’t friends because you get along, they’re friends only as long as you help them to persuade themselves they’re not anti-Semitic. Eventually you’re called upon to explain to your friends they’re not anti-Semitic, and that’s when the friendship ends. If you explain how they’re anti-Semitic they drop you because you’ve disrespected them, and if you say they’re not they drop you because they don’t need you any more, that was the point of their friendship. Call Birgit an anti-Semite some day when you’re disgusted with Austrians' behavior and she’ll ask you why are you dumping on her, what did she say?
And that’s why Birgit called. A Kristallnacht commemoration had been planned in Vienna. A Palestinian had been asked to speak. Then they dumped the Palestinian and a friend of Birgit jumped in, happy to be counted as a Friend of the Jews. Birgit couldn’t bear to go, but she was worried they’d think she was an anti-Semite for not going.
Like last Sunday in Paris, at the march against anti-Semitism. Darling, everyone was there, I mean, those who count. A lineup of former presidents; most all of the political parties; plus the heads-and-tail of the Rassemblement National, a neo-fascist party some might say, old-fashioned fascists, as others might counter. The mass-media weekly Der Spiegel ran a headline, Der Tag, an dem Marine Le Pen für Juden wählbar wurde, “The day Marine Le Pen became someone Jews could vote for,” which the French media tellingly mistranslated as Le jour où le RN est devenu fréquentable pour les juifs, “The day Marine Le Pen became socially acceptable to Jews.” Which begs the question: If Marine is acceptable to the Jews, are the Jew acceptable to Marine? The answer’s clear: as one participant put it, “she's not here for the Jews, she doesn't give a hoot about them in my opinion,” « elle n'est pas là pour les juifs, elle n'en a rien à faire à mon avis ».1 Le Pen fits in a third category of anti-Semites, the most common one by far in France as in Austria: those who, when challenged, tell you, yes I’m an anti-Semite. Is there a problem? In France today, as in Austria Germany, England and so on, being an anti-Semite (or a philosemite, for that matter) is not a norm, it’s a privilege. When La France Insoumise, the only major party to refuse to participate in the March, tried to hold their own rally, they were banned. Being philosemitic is an honor reserved for anti-Semites only.
All of this aligns with what Étienne Balibar calls “Differential racism:”
“Differentialism displaces discrimination by transferring it from the immediate appearance of classified groups toward the criteria for classification.”2
Calling a Jew a Jew is so passé. Instead, we classify the Jews according to how French they are (or Austrian, German, or Israeli), placing them on our own scale of values, a “hierarchy of Others in relation to the Same.”3 This explains why the Ligue pour la défense juive, the Jewish Defense League, classified in the US as a terrorist organization, marched beside Le Pen, five steps behind, rather.
Differential racism (which, says Balibar, is merely a generalized form of anti-Semitism), goes back to the first days of the French Revolution, when the concept of universal Rights of Man was swiftly displaced by a policy of “conditional citizenship:” rights and freedoms were reserved for those who proved themselves worthy, the “natural citizens.” It’s the same system applied under Vichy, the one now on debate in the German Parliament, where, it’s been proposed, being a Zionist will from now on be a condition for German citizenship.4
I’ bestimm wer is a Jud! “I decide who is a Jew:” The words of Karl Lueger, the mayor of Vienna who first inspired Hitler. Just as the State reserves itself the monopoly on violence, so, too, the State reserves the right to decide who’s the good Jew, and as in the Middle Ages the good Jews are those who serve the interests of their masters. Under the Third Reich; under Vichy; in the Hapsburg Empire and in revolutionary France, anti-Semitism and philosemitism alike are classificatory categories, the privilege of those in power. Marine Le Pen’s presence at the November 11 March had nothing to do with the Jews themselves, and everything to do with confirming her political legitimacy, her God-given right to be an anti-Semite or a philosemite at will, the leader so many wish her to become. New cast, same theater.
November 19, 2023
Hélène Frade, « Marche contre l'antisémitisme : "Le jour où le RN est devenu fréquentable pour les juifs," » France 24, 11 novembre 2023 https://www.france24.com/fr/%C3%A9missions/dans-la-presse/20231113-marche-contre-l-antis%C3%A9mitisme-le-jour-o%C3%B9-le-rn-est-devenu-fr%C3%A9quentable-pour-les-juifs; consulté le 15 novembre 2023; the word Juif should be capitalized. The omission seems to be deliberate.
Étienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein, Race, nation, classe. Les identités ambiguës, 2e éd. (Paris : la Découverte, 1997), p. 37.
Paul Werner, "Nuremberg-on-the-Seine,” Academia.edu (2015), p. 9. https://www.academia.edu/21656613/Nuremberg_on_the_Seine
Tessie P. Liu, A Frail Liberty: Probationary Citizens in the French and Haitian Revolutions, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2022) ; Anne Simonin, Le Déshonneur dans la République. Une histoire de l’indignité 1791-1958 (Paris : Grasset, 2015).