Over the last decade, at least 400 antisemitic attacks per year have occurred in France.1 Incidents include the brutal murder of Ilan Halimi in 2006 and, more recently in 2012, the attack on the Ozar HaTorah schoolhouse in Toulouse, when a lone gunman murdered one adult and three children under the age of ten, and critically wounded one teenage boy.2 In the summer of 2014 there were violent demonstrations against Israel, during which Jews were attacked, Jewish businesses were vandalized, and synagogues were targeted.3 Perhaps more insidious than these eruptions of violence is the increased prevalence of antisemitism in French culture and politics. The results of a November 2014 Fondapol survey on the growing presence of antisemitism in France are dire. One quarter of French people believe that Jews have too much power in the economy and finance, and twenty-two percent think Jews have too much power in the media. Thirty-five percent feel that Jews use their status as victims of the Holocaust as leverage for their own interests, sixteen percent believe there is a global Zionist conspiracy, and fourteen percent of France thinks that the anti-Zionist attacks against Jewish communities in 2014 were understandable.4 The 2014 Fondapol results also found that antisemitic attitudes tend to be more prevalent in “three specific subgroups of the French population: the extreme right, the radical left, and the Muslim community—itself an object of considerable animosity in France.”5 One illustration of this phenomenon is the increasing popularity of stand-up comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, whose viciously antisemitic content has resulted in his arrest for violating hate-speech laws—thirty-eight times. He has also been fined for defaming public figures, although he has failed to pay those fines thus far.6 It is worth noting that Dieudonné also ran for Parliament—as a leftist pro-Palestinian candidate, and then as the head of an anti-Zionist party—multiple times.7 Dieudonné is far from alone in his obsession with the “Jewish Question,” as is evidenced by his growing popularity on social media. How are we to understand the source of this increasingly venomous presence of antisemitism in French radicalism? Èric Marty’s collection of essays, Radical French Thought and the Return of the “Jewish Question,” is a powerfully lucid and timely response to this pressing concern. Translated for the first time into English by Alan Astro, the book consists of essays written between 2003 and 2013. In Marty’s preface, “To My American Readers,” that opens the volume, he makes his intent clear: The question of whether the Jews form a people or whether their state has a right to exist no longer finds its source in mere hatred, blood thirst … . or the deliria of fringe groups that call… for an end to all history. Nowadays, such questioning of Israel and the Jews cloaks itself in the mantle of the Good as opposed to Evil. It speaks the language of human rights, of antiracism, because the words “Jew” and “Israel” have emerged as synonyms of “racist” and “exclusion.”8 To understand this phenomenon, Marty “started a long term examination of the radical reversal taking place” among many his progressive colleagues, all of whom were deeply indebted to the work of thinkers like Jacques Lacan, Maurice Blanchot, Louis Althusser, Michel Foucault, and Roland Bartes. From this cohort specifically emerges what Marty argues is “this new misunderstanding and rejection of Jewish identity.” Especially troubling to Marty is the fact that modern and post-modern French theory is “deeply related not only to Jewish thought but also to the notion of a specifically Jewish condition.” Here, Marty notes the prominence of elements readily traced back to Jewish textual tradition: “So how could an entire school of thought,” he contends, “whose bywords were “writing,” “the symbolic,” “differ(ance),” “minor literature,” “the Law,” [and] “the Book,” … . suddenly declare itself alien to what in large measure had dictated the preference for these terms?”9 Marty’s essays about the work of Gene Genet, Alain Badiou, and Giorgio Agamben are rich and engaging analyses that convincingly answer this important question with poignant clarity, and reveal distinctive connections between radical European thought and the kind of pro-Palestinian ideology that villainizes and conflates Jews and Zionism with racism and imperialism. Part of the appeal of this radical leftist thought is its propensity to take on metaphysical dimensions. Marty points to what has surely been an influential example of this in his thorough and exacting analysis of Gene Genet’s work on Sabra and Shatila, and more generally, on the question of Israel. Marty writes that, “Genet loves the Palestinians [as he understands them], but for him … they are no babes in the woods.”10 And in Genet’s metaphysics, Jews irrevocably represent the Good—an anxiety producing state of affairs for Genet, who, according to his own work, “aspires to Evil.”11 Marty pays special attention to the often-intoxicating nature of Genet’s prose, and asserts with precision that readers of Genet’s prose must “break away” from his “powerful writing, that we extract ourselves from it and not fear doing violence to it and raining blows upon it lest it remain with us intact once we close the book.”12 Especially useful is Marty’s demonstration of the many ways in which Genet’s treatment of the massacres at Sabra and Shatila violates the historical record and misrepresents—for his own purposes—the lives of the very people he fetishizes. “Genet invokes Israel,” Marty surmises, “… as a metaphysical entity. This is not simply the banal anti-Semitism that has it that Jews are all-powerful, but something more profound, since he wishes language to yield to his desire that, the word “assassin” should fade into its opposite and disappear from language.”13 In fact, Marty demands a meticulous adherence to fact that is—we must admit it—sadly lacking in, and certainly a marker of, some streams of European intellectual and political discourse. Marty is a master of language, as is duly noted in the volume’s Foreword by Bruno Chaouat, who asserts that “genuine literary scholarship demands that one pay heed to the signifier, that is, to the materiality and the ambiguity of language and the figurative nature of words. Careful consideration of language is key to the understanding of antisemitism.”14 Yet Marty, a former student of Althusser, shows mastery not only of literary criticism but also of philosophy, history, and social theory as well, making his work especially rewarding. Marty’s expose—for truthfully it can be called nothing else—on Alain Badiou’s 2006 book, Uses of the Word “Jew,” is consummate literary criticism because it focuses on Badiou’s reliance on false equivalents between words like “chosenness” and “extermination,” the creation of which Badiou attributes to Jews themselves. As he delineates Badiou’s rhetorical strategies, Marty insists, “It is essential not only to consider carefully how this sleight-of-hand functions, but also to note that … .[Badiou] puts into [his] adversary’s mouth the obfuscating things he wishes to say.”15 Central to Marty’s critique of Badiou is Badiou’s insistence that the Holocaust does not give “the colonial State of Israel—set up in the Middle East (and not in Bavaria … .)—some special status” with respect to some other colonial states.16 Marty highlights the connection between these kinds of claims about post-Holocaust Jewish “privilege” with Badiou's other bafflingly illogical proclamations: that Israel is an “archaic” state, just like France “under Pétain and the German occupation;” that the “true lesson of Nazism is that one must not accord a privileged place to ‘identity predicates’;” that the best way to abolish antisemitism would be for Israel to stop calling itself a “Jewish state.”17 Marty writes at length about the fallacies inherent in Badiou’s thought because, “He has been and still is an important actor of French intellectual life”18 whose ideas have impact, and are widely disseminated. Marty takes care to mention that Badiou’s earlier works contain an intelligence and philosophical sensibility belied by the later work Marty criticizes here. If Marty is disappointed in Badiou, he attributes no prior state of intellectual acumen to Giorgio Agamben, whose work is examined in another—albeit brief—chapter of this collection. “It is clear,” Marty points out, “that Agamben deploys outrageous statements that convince no one, not even himself. His sole concern is to fit his ideas into a radical analytical grid that seems to have become indispensible to a European intellectual wishing to gain influence … . He offers rudimentary, massive analogies superimposed on erudition worthy of a would-be authoritative thinker, a rhetoric displaying formal hallmarks of intellectual rigor … and engages in all the instinctual reflexes of the latest theoretical hobbyhorses.”19 Yet, in many ways, “Badiou’s analogizing is of a piece with Agamben’s. Each draws purely formal parallels, devoid of actual relationship to the world except insofar as they obscure the reality of the extermination of six million Jews.”20 Marty further supports his assertions about the nature of radical left-wing antisemitism by offering up examples of the kind of thinking that he feels utilizes the careful use of facts and scrupulously avoids committing violence to connections between signifiers and the people, places, and ideas they signify in real life. A chapter on Foucault (whom he contrasts with Gilles Delueze, author of such articles as “The Indians of Palestine”) and, interestingly enough, a chapter on Paul of Tarsus—both of whom Marty avers have been willfully misread by contemporary antisemitic thinkers on the radical left—offer welcome digressions from the abysmally smug and willfully contrived musings of Genet, Badiou, and Agamben. Marty’s work is executed with great care, and he never appears to underestimate the effectiveness of the “new” antisemitism in recruiting adherents, precisely because he understands how much of its power lies in the violence it does to language, especially in its ability to erase or conflate the facts for ideological convenience. The final word’s of Marty’s preface are worth closing with here, as well: Genet, Badiou, Agamben, Deleuze, and others represent one reaction of Europe to the continued existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Their writings are symptomatic on a local level as well as on a global one. That is why I take the risk of sharing my analyses with American readers. Unfortunately, I believe that certain phenomena I explore in the French context will ring all too familiar to them.21 Notes 1. Dominique Reynié and Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, “Anti-Semitism in France: Facing Reality,” Huffington Post, translated from le Huffington Post, November 18, 2014.https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dominique-reynie/antisemitism-in-france-fa_b_6178804.html. 2. Fiona Govan, “Toulouse shooting: little girl cornered in school and shot in head,” The Telegraph, April 18, 2012 (accessed on November 19, 2017). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9154350/Toulouse-shooting-little-girl-cornered-in-school-and-shot-in-head.html. 3. Michelle Mazel, “French Jewry and the Dieudonné Affair,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, April 1, 2015 (accessed on November 19, 2017). http://jcpa.org/article/french-jewry-dieudonne-affair/. 4. Dominique Reynié, Anti-Semitic Attitudes in France: New Insights, trans. Shani Benoualid (AJC). Fondapol, Foundation Pour L’Innovation Politique, November 2014 (accessed on November 19, 2017). http://www.fondapol.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Anti-Semitic-Attitudes-in-France-New-Insights-20151.pdf. 5. Ibid. 6. Laurence Dodds, “Who is Dieudonne, the French comedian on trial for condoning the Charlie Hebdo attacks?” The Telegraph, November 25, 2015 (accessed on November 19 2017). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11387219/Who-is-Dieudonne-the-French-comedian-on-trial-for-condoning-the-Charlie-Hebdo-attacks.html. 7. M. Mazel, “French Jewry and the Dieudonné Affair.” 8. Èric Marty, “To My American Readers,” Radical French Thought and the Return of the “Jewish Question,” trans Alan Astro. (Bloomington, 2015), p. xxii. 9. Ibid. 10. Ibid., p. 16. 11. Ibid., p. 43. 12. Ibid., p. 44. 13. Ibid., p. 27. 14. Bruno Chaouat, “Foreword,” p. xii. 15. Marty, To My American Readers (above note 8), p. 59. 16. Ibid., pp. 53–54. 17. Ibid., p. 54, 18. Ibid., p. 72. 19. Ibid., p. 205. 20. Ibid., p. 107. 21. Ibid., p. xxiv. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Modern Judaism: A Journal of Jewish Ideas and Experience – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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