He also has revised the story of the Dreyfus affair. Mr. Zemmour says that the French staff, where Dreyfus was assigned and from whom he was supposed to have stolen documents, was justified in suspecting Dreyfus of spying because he was German. It’s wrong. More scandalous, however, is his claim that both sides in the Dreyfus case had “noble” motives. It doesn’t matter that Dreyfus was exonerated. His accusers, Zemmour says, were motivated by their concern for “the nation”. The nobility of those who condemned Dreyfus has long been a marginal opinion. Not anymore.
In expressing these positions, Mr. Zemmour, an Algerian Jew, demonstrates a perverted version of Jewish assimilationism. The threat posed by French right-wing anti-Semitism is long dead. The attacks on French Jews in recent years have been the work of isolated individuals, crowds or terrorists. When the country’s Jews were really in danger, it was because the government was behind the threats. This is not the case today. In M. Zemmour, the Jew, once the outsider, is now an initiate, and the Jewish initiate defends France even when he has harmed its Jews.
The Jewish community, like all of France, is deeply divided over Mr. Zemmour. There are Jews on all sides of the countryside, from Mr. Zemmour and his closest aide, Sarah Knafo, to Mr. Zemmour’s main intellectual enemy, Bernard-Henri Lévy. Given this split, among the many things Zemmour’s campaign represents is the assimilation of French Jews.
While Mr. Zemmour presents himself as the voice of France, as its “savior”, his Jewishness serves him well as well as the far right. By defending Vichy, by defending Pétain, by defending French colonialism and even its massacre of “Arabs and certain Jews”, as he did recently, he, as a Jew, absolves the French right of its worst defilements and helps bring it back to life as it makes war on Muslims.
The Jew as the workhorse of anti-immigrant racism, as the voice of its normalization in public discourse, is a chilling new development. The results are unpredictable, but they do not bode well.
Mitchell Abidor is a translator, author of several books on French history, and contributing writer to Jewish Currents. Miguel Lago is Executive Director of the Institute for Health Policy Studies and teaches at Columbia University and Sciences Po Paris.
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