The sleazy, easy anti-Semitism that blights French politics

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Mediapart: The terms all seem to come together in formation and make sense when they are all combined.

P.B.: I hope they won't be combined, that they will continue to belong to distinct registers of vocabulary. Combining them would be a regression that would once again point the finger at the ‘other' who is seen as unable to ever become completely integrated.

Mediapart: In any case being integrated would be an incriminating factor in the eyes of anti-Semites because the Jew becomes impossible to detect.

P.B.: The more they are on the inside, the more they look the same, the more dangerous they become: this is a constant component of anti-Semitism, this fear that the Jews are everywhere because they look the same as everyone else. No one knows how many of them there are. That leaves the door open to any fantasy.

Mediapart: So terroirs play the role of X-rays that allow us to detect what cannot be detected.

P.B.: You could say that. France for the French, Médoc for the people of Médoc, Normandy for the Normans, Berry for the folk of Berry. These are reactions that come up in every election campaign once a Jewish candidate stands. It is assumed he or she does not belong to the earth of an electoral constituency.

Mediapart: With reinforcement in the past from the French Communist Party, which espoused strong territorial allegiances to make everyone forget its allegiance to Moscow.

P.B.: The same opposing contrasts, the same myths and the same metaphors can unfortunately be found on the left or the far left, practically word for word, with less vehemence and in a less systematic way. This explains the alarming way the PCF [French Communist Party] in general and Maurice Thorez [PCF leader from 1930 to 1964] in particular talked about Léon Blum.

This goes across political currents, it is very deeply anchored and very specific to French society, which sees itself as homogenous and fights differences since the universalism of the French Revolution: religious, cultural and linguistic pluralism must be subsumed. In France the strong state gave rise to the state Jew, even to the point of making him a target, as opposed to the ‘court Jew' whose only legitimacy came from money.

Mediapart: But today we are seeing a weakening of the state, with no similar weakening in anti-Semitism.

P.B.: This observation relates to a time when the state in France is radically declining, which opens the door to a return to terroir. The more the state declines, the more the market becomes the single dominant value and the more the elite abandons public service. Mr. Jacob is, among other things, the author of a plan to introduce [shorter term] public service contracts, which is unthinkable for a society that is supposed to function with a strong state.

The fact that it has become impossible to claim an identity based on a strong state leads to invoking terroir, which is an attempt to forge a contrived reality in France, where 90% of the population lives, if not in Sarcelles, at least in urban areas.

Mediapart: So there is a return to a mythical Golden Age of the kind that characterises authoritarian regimes and those focused on identity?

P.B.: Such regimes are based on a return to the earth and involve a people bound up in the myths of their roots, religion and values in a crusade against roving capitalism, trans-nationalism, openness, the other, and differences.

This is why I believe that candidates and commentators should be careful of the vocabulary they use in the run-up to next year's presidential election, if they do not wish to open a Pandora's Box, or if not that, at worst, something that is at least a very frequent French failing.

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English version: Sue Landau

(Edited by Graham Tearse)

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Footnote number 3 on page 1 of this article was amended on March 9th. to make clear that French President Nicolas Sarkozy's Jewish roots are from his maternal grandfather.