Anti-Semitism: New Scarlet Letter

Macron's actions might enable a far-right victory in France by targeting the left with anti-Semitism accusations. Polls indicate potential chaos and institutional paralysis.
Macron's targeting of the left with anti-Semitism claims may boost Le Pen's far-right.

Macron has thrown open the doors of power to Le Pen’s right-wing faction, fiercely accusing Mélenchon’s radical left of anti-Semitism for criticizing Israel. This “Scarlet Letter” brands anyone who denounces Israel’s actions, turning accusations into a political tool. Macron dissolved Parliament, and now Le Pen’s far-right could triumph, aided by the covert support of the Israeli government. The left, also accused of Putinism, finds itself in a difficult position, with Macron preferring to cohabit with the far-right rather than resign. Polls indicate a future of chaos and institutional paralysis for France.

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by Barbara Spinelli

If the far-right wins the legislative elections in France, in the rounds of June 30 and July 7, it will be because President Macron opened the gates of power to them, focusing all his attacks on the two opposing extremes, but reserving special venom and the most incendiary invectives for Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s radical left, allied with Socialists and Ecologists in the New Popular Front.

At the heart of the presidential indictment is the accusation/insinuation that can destroy political careers, freeze civil conversations, and corner you into becoming a pariah: the accusation of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is the Scarlet Letter stuck onto anyone today who denounces the war against civilians conducted by Israel and traces Hamas‘s murderous fury of October 7, 2023, to the long subjugation of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Macron could not have been unaware, when he recklessly dissolved Parliament right after the European elections, that Marine Le Pen’s far-right candidates and aspiring Premier Jordan Bardella would seize upon the accusation, making anti-Semitism the cornerstone of their campaign. He could not have been unaware that nearly all mainstream newspapers, and practically all television channels, would minimize the ethnic cleansing the Israeli government is conducting in Gaza and join the chorus: there’s something rotten on the left in the Popular Front – this is the recurring insinuation – there’s hatred of Jews in Mélenchon’s France Insoumise, which for months has been protesting against the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza and the violence of settlers in the West Bank. It’s never suspected that the rise of anti-Semitism in France might have some connection to Israeli policies.

France Insoumise is also accused of Putinism regarding Ukraine, but this second sin suddenly seems minor, perhaps because it is shared with Le Pen. Both accusations are unfounded, but lies always run faster.

The phenomenon extends beyond French borders and is not new. A similar campaign is underway in the United States, on the eve of the presidential elections, with Trump’s candidates supported against Democrats by massive financial aid from the powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC: more than $14 million in the New York primaries alone, to defeat the left-wing Democratic candidate. The anti-Semitism label sank Jeremy Corbyn years ago, elected leader of the British Labour Party in 2015, expelled from the party following a smear campaign led by the party’s conservative wing, now represented by Keir Starmer. Like Mélenchon’s France Insoumise, Corbyn had ended Tony Blair’s Third Way by opposing Western wars in Syria, the new cold war with Moscow, and NATO’s eastward expansion, which provoked Moscow’s violent reaction. The Third Way embodied by Keir Starmer celebrated its return by liquidating the left wing. What Starmer forgets is that if he is poised to win against the Conservatives, it is because Corbyn saved Labour from collapse in 2015.

Among the hidden sponsors of Marine Le Pen and Bardella’s Rassemblement National is the Israeli government, and this is no surprise. Netanyahu has long woven a vast network of friendships and complicities with Islamophobic, illiberal, and pro-Israel right-wingers, in the US and Europe (especially Central Europe, where he even courts neo-Nazi formations). The defeat of the left in France is hoped for in Tel Aviv.

In the immediate term, the Scarlet Letter branding a segment of the Popular Front is a boon for the far-right, which shrewdly mixes caution on the economy with fiery pro-Israel and anti-“Islamo-leftism” rhetoric. This boon may not be total, however, as the determination with which the leftists have united has positively surprised many French people and caught Macron off guard. The President’s centrist coalition warns against the two “opposite extremes,” but is more lenient toward Le Pen’s party on immigration, internal security, and defense. The Popular Front’s economic promises would cost 300 billion euros compared to the 100 billion of the right-wing parties: Macron concludes that their agenda is “worse” than Bardella’s.

On immigration, Macron has long aligned with the far-right: on June 16, he came out openly, calling the leftists’ program “completely immigrationist.” The adjective “immigrationist” has been part of Marine Le Pen’s vocabulary since the 1990s. The President even accuses the left of supporting “completely delusional things (ubuesques – from Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry, ed.), like going to the city hall to change sex.” It is clear that the President prefers to cohabit with the far-right, without resigning. He rushed the legislative elections, giving the contenders only three weeks to decide on programs and allies. He may have done this out of whim or calculation: by betting on Le Pen’s forces, he perhaps aims to wear them down before the 2027 presidential elections. Bardella immediately responded by announcing that he would govern only if he obtained an absolute majority.

For the Socialist Party that created the Popular Front with Mélenchon to prevent the rise of the far-right, the anti-Semitism debate is a curse in the short term. However, it is not in the long term for all the socialists who, starting in October 2023 and during the European election campaign, targeted the radical left. The leader of this line is Raphael Glucksmann, a non-socialist top candidate for the socialists in the European elections, advocating a war economy to defeat Putin, aid to Ukraine with all frozen Russian funds in Europe (not just the proceeds), and the eviction of universities occupied by pro-Palestinians.

Immediately after the European elections, Glucksmann was taken aback by the immediate reconciliation of the leftists and, after trying to prevent it, joined them, fearing marginalization. However, he does not stop reminding what divides him from Mélenchon, and attacking anti-Semitism from both right and left. In the next three years, if the united left is defeated, it will appear as a recourse for the socialists who passively lived through the Scarlet Letter of anti-Semitism with embarrassed shame. His battle against Mélenchon bore fruit in the European elections. It might also bear fruit in the 2027 presidential elections.

Polls currently predict that neither the far-right nor the left will achieve an absolute majority. They also note the further weakening of the center, so widespread is the President’s vilification even among centrists. In such a case, Macron will have opened the gates of power not to this or that party, but to chaos and the most severe institutional paralysis in the history of the Fifth Republic.

Il Fatto Quotidiano, June 23, 2024


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