Rarely has a (potential) presidential candidate in France been so controversial. Not only within the general public but also in the Jewish community…
A columnist and polemicist, Eric Zemmour, the son of Jewish immigrants from Algeria, is shaking up the 2022 France’s presidential race before it’s even begun and is dominating media coverage since running second and ahead of Marine Le Pen, leader of the extreme-right National Rally Party, in some opinion polls. Even though he has yet to declare his candidacy. He is challenging Le Pen for leadership of the nationalist hard-right in France, with his positions against migrants and in favour of French identity and allegiance to France.
In the Jewish community, he has created uneasiness because of his controversial comments on several sensitive topics. He even shocked by drawing in his latest book ‘’ ‘’La France n’a pas dit son dernier mot’’ (France has not said its last word), a parallel between Mohamed Merah, the Islamist terrorist who killed three Jewish children and a teacher, Jonathan, Arie and Gabriel Sandler and Myriam Monsenego, who were murdered in an attack at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse in 2012, and his victims, who were all buried abroad, in Algeria and Israel, and not in France. ‘’They are no more French,’’ he said.
‘’My parents are buried in France, they are not buried in Israel. The French tragedy is that we no longer make French people. We don’t make them in school, we don’t make them on television, we don’t make them in the dominant culture… ‘’, wrote the 63-year-old Zemmour who is the descendent of Berber Jews who moved from Algeria to France during the French-Algerian war in the 1950s.
”I will spit on your graves is what Eric Zemmour does when he denies French Jewish children murdered in France by an Islamist terrorist,” reacted Patrick Klugman, a lawyer for the Sandler family. ”If he wants to continue to spit on the graves of the victims of terrorism, he will have to answer for it in court. Now we simply say enough is enough.”
When asked to explain his comments about the Sandler children, which shocked the Jewish community, Eric Zemmour first defended himself from having wanted to “denounce, condemn and even less insult the Sandlers.’’
“What happened to them is tragic and I understand the pain of this family,” he said, while explaining that his remarks were intended “to question what the fact of burying one’s loved ones outside of France said about defrancisation”.
A problem also highlighted according to him by the choice of foreign names to baptize French children, including Hebrew names common in the Jewish community.
Zemmour also claimed that French Jews were protected by the state during WWII while it is an historical fact that France’s wartime Vichy regime under Marshall Pétain sent thousands of French Jews as well as Jewish refugees to the Nazi death camps.
Since then, Zemmour has multiplied statements that offended many French Jews, on the Dreyfus affair, the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup and on the memorial laws that he wishes to abolish, including the Gayssot law, which punishes the crime of Holocaust denial.
‘’Eric Zemmour divides the Jewish community,’’ wrote Actualité Juive, the main weekly Jewish newspaper in France. ‘’While community leaders denounce outright Zemmour’s remarks and positions, many are those who, on the contrary, have decided to support his candidacy,’’ the paper noted. Because of his positions on Islam and on what he perceives as the refusal of many Muslims in France to integrate in the French society.
‘’An anti-Semite ?’’
France’s Chief Rabbi Haim Korsa has even called Zemmour an ‘’antisemite.’’ “Antisemite? Certainly. A racist? Definitely,” he said in an interview with France 2 television.
Ariel Goldmann, president of the Fonds Social Juif (Jewish Social Fund), expressed his “shame’’ to belong to the same religion as Zemmour.
What does Eric Zemmour think of the reactions of community leaders to him?
“The antifas call me a fascist and when I am in Drancy (the place of an internment camp where Jews were brought before being sent to Nazi extermination camps) I am called a dirty Jew. The chief rabbi of France says that I am not Jewish and that I am anti-Semitic. It’s grotesque,” Zemmour replied in a long interview on Tuesday on i24NEWS, before concluding: “I had respect for the chief rabbi of France, but I asked around and learned that he wanted to take my scalp to (President) Macron. He’s just a court Jew.”
Tribune Juive, a Jewish magazine, harshly criticized Korsia for labeling Zemmour an antisemite and rejected the charge as unfounded. That same op-ed, however, called some of Zemmour’s statements “disconcerting,” “abject,” “obsessive” and “pathologically nationalistic.”
‘’Many are those who, on social networks, take the defense of Eric Zemmour whom they consider to be the ultimate stronghold before the chaos that threatens,’’ wrote Actualité Juive.
Sammy Ghozlan, president of BCNVA, the Bureau for National Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, which records antisemitic attacks on the territory, often perpetrated in the suburbs of large cities where large Muslim communities live, said that he refuse to blame those who have decided to vote for Zemmour.
‘’No Jewish vote for Zemmour’’
This is in opposition to calls by Jewish leaders to the community that ‘’not a single Jewish voice should go to the potential candidate Éric Zemmour,” a call made by the president of the CRIF (Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France), the political representative body of the Jewish community.
The question of a Jewish vote for Eric Zemmour is a matter of debate. There was never a ‘’Jewish vote’’ in France but French Jews’ votes have in the past been divided between the left and the right while opposition of the extreme-right and extreme-left has been a constant tendency of previous presidential elections. It is a fact that French politics has shifted to the right in recent years.
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Asked in the same interview on i24NEWS, a Franco-Israeli channel, his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the two-state solution, Eric Zemmour said it was an obsolete vision and that ”there would never be a Palestinian state, because of the change in the balance of power in the Middle East.”
“I think the two-state solution is outdated logorrhea,” he said. “The Palestinians have lost the battle, they will never have a state.”
On this point, the polemicist strongly criticized France’s foreign policy towards Israel and the Palestinians, which, he said, has not evolved since the 1970s, in defiance of the new geopolitical realities in the Middle East.
Asked whether he was a Zionist, Zemmour replied that it all depended on how one defined the word.
“If Zionism is the will of every Jew to live in Israel and to gather within the Jewish people, then no, I am not a Zionist because I am ‘aggregated’ to the French people,” he said , taking up a formula of Napoleon addressing the Sanhedrin in 1807.
“But if being a Zionist means defending Israel and its right to exist, then it is not the same thing,” he said. “I am not anti-Zionist,” he added.