In France, ex­am­in­ing an­tisemitism is part of mod­ern cul­ture — un­like here

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMUNITY NEWS - BY DE­NIS MACSHANE De­nis MacShane was a Labour MP for 18 years and chaired the House of Com­mons All-Party Com­mit­tee on In­quiry into An­tisemitism in 2008.

LIKE MANY who have spent their lives in Labour, I de­spair at the dis­as­trous Jeremy Cor­byn and the lead­er­ship’s han­dling of an­tisemitism. The Euro­pean and Amer­i­can left can­not be­lieve Labour has let it­self be en­gulfed in this row. French, Ger­man, Amer­i­can and other news me­dia have all re­ported Cor­byn’s stub­born re­fusal to adopt what was orig­i­nally an EU def­i­ni­tion of an­tisemitism.

The IHRA is not a Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tion but an NGO set up by Swe­den’s So­cial Demo­cratic prime min­is­ter in 1998. It, and the EU’s 2005 def­i­ni­tion of an­tisemitism, has been bit­terly at­tacked by Is­lamist out­fits and sup­port­ers of Ha­mas with its Char­ter de­mand for the elim­i­na­tion of Is­rael.

How­ever, no party or par­lia­ment in Europe that has signed up to the IHRA def­i­ni­tion has seen any drop in sus­tained at­tacks on the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment, the Is­raeli prime min­is­ter and the poli­cies Is­rael adopts to­wards Pales­tini­ans and their rights.

The Labour lead­er­ship’s idea that adopt­ing the IHRA def­i­ni­tion some­fa­ther,

how stops crit­i­cism of Is­rael is be­yond lu­di­crous as the briefest glance across the Chan­nel at press and on­line ar­ti­cles or any num­ber of books at­tack­ing Is­rael demon­strates.

So why this re­luc­tance — and why is the rest of the demo­cratic left in Europe in a dif­fer­ent space from English Labour?

France has far worse ex­am­ples of an­tisemitism than Bri­tain, with French Jews be­ing killed.

So while French pa­pers carry stri­dent

de­nun­ci­a­tions of Is­rael that would de­light ev­ery BDS sup­porter in Bri­tain, no main­stream party other than the re­badged Na­tional Front (now called the Na­tional Rally) re­jects the IHRA def­i­ni­tion.

A key rea­son is that the roots of an­tisemitism are reg­u­larly dis­cussed in pop­u­lar cul­ture in France. Three books on the long-list for the Euro­pean Book Prize are about an­tisemitism.

Géral­dine Sch­warz, a Ber­lin jour­nal­ist with a French mother and Ger­man has writ­ten Les Am­nésiques about her pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther who took over a Jewish busi­ness in Mannheim in 1938.

She uses what hap­pened to ex­plore how an­tisemitism took over Chris­tian Germans who had lived peace­fully with Ger­man Jews for many years. She segues into how French of­fi­cials and po­lice sent 79,000 French Jews to the gas cham­bers.

Her fa­ther was born in 1943 and lived with his French wife in Ger­many work­ing as a gov­ern­ment econ­o­mist. But it took decades be­fore Ger­many was able to ac­cept what it did to its Jewish cit­i­zens.

Lionel Duroy’s Eugenia is a clas­sic story of love and sur­vival in Ro­ma­nia of the late 1930s and through the war. The hero­ine is not Jewish but loves a Jewish play­wright.

The book is like a Robert Har­ris page-turner but evokes just how eas­ily Jew-hate can take off with the slight­est po­lit­i­cal en­cour­age­ment.

Alexis Ragougneau’s Niels is about a young Dane who works in the Paris theatre with a play­wright in the 1930s, goes home to be­come an anti-Nazi hero and re­turns to France in 1945 to find his co­pain has come to be­lieve Jews are dis­loyal to France, ob­sessed with money, and con­trol the cre­ative and me­dia world.

These books are well-writ­ten, up for a ma­jor book prize and on sale in French book­shops. They al­low to­day’s France to un­der­stand how an­tisemitism can arise so fast un­less taken se­ri­ously.

Bri­tain’s 1930s Bri­tish press, notably the Daily Mail, was an­tisemitic and nov­el­ists de­picted Jews in var­i­ous neg­a­tive lights.

I can­not think of any re­cent work that ex­plores this an­tisemitism since Kazuo Ishig­uro’s Re­mains of the Day, writ­ten 30 years ago. A TV se­ries of the Right Club, a fas­cist sym­pa­this­ing net­work in the 1930s, whose motto was PJ (Per­ish Ju­dah), might make grip­ping watch­ing.

Or the sto­ries of Bri­tish cit­i­zens who died in the ex­ter­mi­na­tion camps the Germans built in re­mote cor­ners of oc­cu­pied Poland.

But it is not part of our is­land his­tory. We have a blind spot on an­tisemitism which can now be seen most di­rectly in el­e­ments of Labour lead­er­ship. When the next Mann Booker prize win­ner or Sun­day se­ries deals with an­tisemitism in Bri­tain per­haps they will be­gin to get it.


Sol­diers stand guard in front a syn­a­gogue in Lille, north­ern France

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