French ruling class stepping up its Islamophobic crusade

By Philipp Chmel, Left Socialist Party (our sister organisation in Belgium)

The Israeli regime has been waging a brutal revenge war against the people in Gaza. An invasion which, after a 7-day-truce, was resumed with renewed horrors on 1 December. By 9 December, the Israeli army had already killed more than 17.700 people, one child is killed every 10 minutes, with thousands still under the rubble.

This violence is rooted in the deep and decades-long oppression of the Palestinian people by the Israeli regime. Following the terrorist attack by Hamas on 7 October, Macron positioned himself and France at the beginning in complete alliance with the US, Germany and other western imperialist powers, unconditionally supporting the Israeli state. For domestic politics this meant that the ruling class did everything in its power from the outset to prohibit all demonstrations in solidarity with Palestine. Repression against Muslim people and people from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA region) was put in overdrive.

Tactical course correction in the interest of French imperialism

The pressure from the movement against the ongoing slaughter and the need to safeguard the interests of French imperialism in the MENA region has forced the government to slightly adapt its positions over time. On the first day of his Middle-East trip, Macron called for “the international coalition against Daesh [“Islamic State”] in which we [France] are taking part to also fight against Hamas”. Just one day later, he had to do a rhetoric u-turn then calling for a “fight against terrorism in general, humanitarian aid and the resumption of political talks, with a view to relaunching the “two-state solution“.

This course correction was a response to the backlash from states in Northern Africa and the Middle East against Macron’s anti-Daesh coalition proposal and unconditional support for Israel. France’s diplomatic staff in the North Africa and Middle East department were frankly “not amused” with Macron’s initial position, which they called “a break with our traditionally balanced position between Israelis and Palestinians“. After weeks of raging violence against Gaza, Macron felt the pressure to hold a symbolic humanitarian conference on Gaza on 9 November without Israeli participation, and it was only the following week that he called for a ceasefire for the first time.

Neither the diplomatic personnel who disagreed with Macron nor the president himself have acted for charitable reasons. Their mild call for a ceasefire is purely tactical, as they fear for the influence, assets and security of French imperialism in the region, especially after the humiliating ouster of French troops from Burkina Faso, Mali and most recently Niger. While it is wrong to claim that the French state has traditionally had a “balanced” stance on the subject, it must be said that, unlike his predecessors, Macron has just adopted a more unilaterally favorable approach to the Israeli regime, following in the footsteps of the US position. But the concerns of French ambassadors in the region have more to do with the defense of imperialist interests than with the defense of the brutalized Palestinian population in distress: their fears are a reflection of the angry masses in the region, and linked to this is the risk of the French capitalist class losing influence there.

The main line in France is still essentially one of strong support for the Israeli regime, while critique against it and support for the Palestinians is quickly portrayed as anti-semitism and an apology for terrorism, which is linked with racist attacks and harsh repression.

Racism and repression to prevent resistance

On 20 October, two trade unionists — the general secretary and administrative secretary of the CGT Nord departmental union — were arrested for “apologising for terrorism” because of a leaflet in support of the Palestinians. Samira [not her real name], a Palestinian-French mother living in Paris, said her “son was beaten and accused of being a “terrorism apologist” at school for speaking about the Palestinian death toll and the Israeli blockade of Gaza”.

The blanket ban on all pro-Palestinian demonstrations was overturned on October 18 by the Conseil d’Etat, after almost 3500 people had been killed in Gaza by Israel’s state terrorism. However, this decision of course did not mean that the repression would end. On 28 October, 1,487 people were fined and 21 arrested at a pro-Palestine demonstration in Paris. In another incident, the presidency of the Mirail university in Toulouse tried on 7 November to prevent a Palestine solidarity committee using vigipirate (security) legislation.

All the while, the political establishment and the leading media have been relentlessly attacking La France Insoumise (LFI), Jean-Luc Mélenchon as well as the radical left as a whole, accusing them of antisemitism and complicity with Hamas terrorism.

The level of mental acrobatics that some resort to in order to insinuate that those who support solidarity with people in Gaza and Palestinians are generally supporting terrorism was well portrayed by the tweet of Caroline Yadan, an MP from Macron’s party Rénaissance. On 9 November, she posted a picture of graffiti that read “Fuck anti-semitism — Free Palestine — Fuck Apartheid” on twitter and claimed that the post was…. in fact antisemitic. In this context, racist tropes like “imported anti-semitism” and “islamo-gauchism” (Islamo-leftism) are also very popular among the ranks of the right and far right, as well as in the mainstream media.

All this is used by the ruling class to portray Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) as the “reasonable opposition” and LFI as radical, dangerous and close to terrorism, which they have done on numerous occasions, notably during the movement against pension reform. This approach is part of the ruling class’s divide and rule tactic.

In the context of increasing poverty and precarity, they whip up more racism to divert attention and to prevent a general united resistance against misery, oppression and the massacre against Gaza to form. This is especially important for the bosses and their political representatives as the working class, although not winning a concrete victory, has been significantly strengthened through their fight against the pension reform.

The racist and sexist ban of the abaya is part of the same playbook. It served to nip the discussion on investment in the public education sector that is desperately needed (buildings need renovation, there are not enough teachers and personnel, which inevitably creates bad working and learning conditions) in the bud by diverting attention and sowing division. With the same intention the government and right-wing forces cynically exploited the devastating terrorist attack against Dominic Bernard. Darmanin called for the “systematic expulsion of any foreigner considered dangerous by the intelligence services“. Within one month, deportations of convicted foreigners increased by 30%.

Moreover, happily following proposals by LR the government strongly hardened the already before fundamentally racist law on immigration even further. If the law, which was passed by the Senate on November 14, was to come into effect, it would probably constitute the most severe racist attack in terms of impact in years. It includes the abolition of state medical aid to people without papers; tougher conditions for family reunification; reinstatement of the offence of illegal residence and the facilitation to deport people without papers.

While racism, especially against Muslims and people from Northern Africa and the Middle East, is cranked up yet again to new disgusting heights, the government and ruling class handles racist violence and the far-right with kid gloves. The police officer who executed 17-year-old Nahel on June 27 in Nanterre has recently been released from custody under judicial supervision; according to Le Monde “it is unclear whether or when the case will go to trial”. The mother of Nahel led a protest against this injustice on 19 November. In the meantime, the policeman who murdered Nahel and his family will be able to benefit from the money raised by the fund-raising campaign launched by far-right elements, which has raised 1.6 million euros — 630,000 after expenses and taxes.

The weapon of racism leads to a normalization of the far right

The French ruling class are closing ranks from the right to the far-right against Muslim people, people from Northern Africa and the Middle East, and the left to sow division and prepare for coming economic attacks on the working class and oppressed as a whole. They hypocritically misuse people’s genuine wish to stand up against anti-semitism to organize reactionary pro-Israeli government marches alongside the far-right formations of Le Pen and Zemmour.

Antisemitism has to be opposed in all its forms. There is clearly an increase in antisemitic acts in France. However, anti-semitism and all forms of oppression can only be fought by opposing the extreme-right and the ruling class, not with them. Already on 9 October, members of the far-right Rassemblement National were able to take part in a march in Paris in support of Israel called by the CRIF (Conseil représentatif des institutions juives de France), known for its pro-Israel stance, without being kicked out. The far-right have used their support for the Israel regime and its state terror to hide their antisemitism and push islamophobia and racism.

Whether with or without the weak excuse of a “republican cordon”, the march in Paris on 12 November marks another water-shed moment in normalizing the extreme right and their racist, antisemitic, sexist and completely anti-worker politics. This clearly emboldens and leads to more violence from far-right groups.

Following the killing of 16-year-old Thomas in south-eastern France, 80 far-right activists armed with iron bars marched through Romans-sur-Isère on 25 November, near the banlieue (economically deprived neighbourhoods) district of La Monnaie, chanting “The street, France, belongs to us”. On the evening of 11 November, a mob of 40–60 from the group “Guignol Squad” attacked a Palestine-themed conference in Lyon with iron bars and mortars injuring 3 people. During the march against antisemitism in Paris, a protestor who denounced the far-right — “Marine Le Pen, get out! You’re a bunch of fascists.” — was violently attacked by around twenty militants of the far-right Jewish Defense League (JDL) who also beat up a person chanting “Free Palestine” along the march route, and shouted “Mélenchon, bastard, the Jews will have your skin”.

Protesters with placards that in addition to opposing antisemitism, dared to denounce the far-right and racism more broadly were insulted and chased out of the demonstration. Placards that read “RN/Reconquête = anti-Semites” were confiscated by the police. In Germany the approach is the same: On November 22, police in Cologne confiscated a banner of SAV (ISA in Germany) for “incitement to hatred”. The banner reads: “Gaza: Stop the Massacre. For the unity of the working class against occupation, poverty & capitalism”

How to fight back against all oppression, exploitation and the far-right?

It was correct of La France Insoumise (LFI) to refuse to demonstrate alongside the far-right and to call their own action “against anti-Semitism, racism and the far right” instead. All other forces of the NUPES however, participated in the march in Paris, which reflects an acceleration and consolidation of the disintegration dynamic of the NUPES; a union of the parliamentary left that the forces to the left of Macron and to the right of LFI never had any intention of building, and were only forced to do so because of the balance of power in favor of LFI.

More importantly however, this shows why the struggle against anti-semitism, racism and the far-right cannot be successfully waged together with the ruling class, but only against them. We need a broad united front of workers, youth and oppressed, trade unions, left parties as well as feminist, queer, anti-racist and climate organizations to fight collectively against all forms of oppression and exploitation.

The statement of the education union “CGT Educ’Action” after the Arras terror attack is a very positive example in this context. They declared their refusal “to allow this tragedy to be recuperated for political ends and used to stigmatize a part of the population or to impose a reactionary, authoritarian and security-oriented policy on education“. It is extremely important that unions like the CGT and SUD Solidaires have supported the movement in solidarity with the people in Gaza and that committees are set up across French universities. In many other countries, workers and youth have also taken actions against the massacre in Gaza and the shipment of arms to Israel.

In Belgium, for example, transport unions called for a halt to the loading and unloading of military equipment destined for Israel at the country’s airports. Dockers in Catalonia and Genoa (Italy) have done the same. They are responding to a major international appeal by Palestinian trade unions to refuse to manufacture or transport weapons destined for Israel. And on Thursday 30 November, dockworkers and port workers in France and in several other European countries stopped work for an hour in response to a call by the European Dockworkers Council (EDC) for actions in all EDC ports for peace and against oppression and inequality. These actions by the organized working class against the massacre in Gaza were urgent and necessary, and must be generalized and intensified, also in other sectors, in France and internationally!

Democratic committees in schools, universities, workplaces and neighborhoods will be key to draw in more layers as well as to discuss program, strategy and actions. On this basis, we can also develop the struggle against our own governments to stop funding the war and end all military and financial support to the Israeli regime as well as to stop the militarization. The billions of dollars must be invested in public services instead.

We need combative unions of struggle that fight against all forms of oppression everyday and actively strengthen and build the mutual links with struggles for higher wages and better working conditions. This is crucial if we are to build a powerful resistance movement against the massacre in Gaza, oppression and exploitation, the potential for which has been shown by the millions who have fought against the pension reform, the willingness of young people, particularly of immigrant origin, to fight against systemic racism and police violence, and now the workers and youth who stand in solidarity with the people in Palestine.

Whether it is the gruesome slaughter in Gaza, oppression of women and LGBTQIA+ people or the fight against the climate crisis, inequality and exploitation: We need to build a united mass movement of workers, youth and oppressed people that links the struggle for the most urgent and concrete improvements today with the fight against the violent and oppressive capitalist system as a whole.

With solidarity and collective action based on democratic discussion and a clear program we can change the world.

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