What are we to make of Eric Zemmour, the Algerian-Jewish pundit who has burst the French political scene wide open? He has been called a Jewish antisemite. Because he considers himself first and foremost a French patriot, his Jewish identity has to take a back seat. Profile in the Tablet by Mitchell Abidor and Miguel Lago:
Eric Zemmour’s Jewishness is a weapon he uses in disconcerting ways. Though he doesn’t hide his ancestry, it is not something that he foregrounds. He has defined his vision of Jewishness as that expressed in 1789 in the Comte de Clermont-Tonerre’s speech on religious minorities (“Nothing for the Jews as a nation, everything for the Jews as individuals”) and by Napoleon: “Henceforth you should consider Paris to be your Jerusalem.” And yet Zemmour’s Jewishness is always at his disposal, granting him license to make statements it would not be possible for a non-Jew to make
But Zemmour goes further than Le Pen père. He is opposed to any memorialization of the murder of the Jews during the Second World War, and of laws protecting the memory of the Holocaust. He rejects the legitimacy of the apologies offered for France’s role in the massacre of its Jews, claiming this was part of an enterprise to make the French feel guilty for crimes perpetrated by Germans alone. In his latest book, which sold 200,000 before it was even published, Zemmour cited the work of “anthropologists” when he labeled the four Jews killed by a terrorist at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 as “above all foreigners,” because their bones were eventually buried not in French soil but in Israel. (According to Zemmour’s anthropologists, it is the final resting place of one’s remains that determines nationality.) Not even Captain Dreyfus escapes Zemmour’s scorn, as he insists that the French general staff had good reason to suspect him of espionage since he was “German.” Alfred Dreyfus was, in reality, Alsatian, and his family chose France after Germany conquered Alsace in the Franco-Prussian War. It is not surprising that the monarchist and antisemitic organization L’Action Française, which led the charge against Dreyfus in the 1890s, posts videos of Zemmour on its YouTube channel.
It is easy to condemn Zemmour’s statements as those of an antisemite, and there are some Jews, like political kingmaker Jacques Attali, who are comfortable defining him as a “Jewish antisemite.” But Zemmour’s inflammatory remarks are not the product of Jew-hatred; they are just one expression of what truly lays at the heart of his ideology, which also includes hatred of Muslims and immigrants. For Zemmour there is only one France and one French history, one of eternal grandeur and glory. He thus despises any form of ethnic particularism and any claims to victimhood at the hands of the French nation. He hates particularism because it denies the oneness of France; he detests claims to victimhood because they put into question the unerring nature of France, of the mythic France he wants to restore—one that is white, Christian, and free of dissent from the dominant discourse.
Because France’s actions are unimpeachable, demands for justice for Jews are an implicit criticism of all Zemmour considers essential. His Jewishness serves here as a vehicle for expressing a vision of France that was weakened by demographic and geopolitical changes and died at the hands of critical scholars, a vision that once led colonial Africans, like every schoolchild in France or living under French rule, to speak of “our ancestors the Gauls.” France did not mistreat its Jews because, in Zemmour’s eyes, it could not mistreat its Jews—France being the essential, almost angelic nation of history. To say otherwise is treasonous.