The UK Labor party’s descent into anti-Israelism and outright anti-Semitism has gained significant attention in the English-language Jewish press. But parallel developments in French politics have garnered less attention, even as they take place in an atmosphere of growing anti-Jewish violence unparalleled in Great Britain. Paul Berman, in a detailed consideration of the left and the Jewish question, explains:
Jean-Luc Mélenchon . . . is the leader of the Unsubmissive France party—which, at least for the moment, has replaced the left wing of the Socialist party and the old Communist party as the main political organization of the French left. And Mélenchon’s relations with mainstream Jews have likewise resembled [those of his British counterpart, Jeremy Corbyn], with variations. . . . Mélenchon is a more sophisticated man than Corbyn, more experienced, better educated, a better orator—a more attractive figure, all in all. Nobody takes him to be a man of hidden bigotries. [Nonetheless], Unsubmissive France has ended up as anti-Zionism’s principal home on the French left. Mélenchon himself has ended up as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement’s leading champion in France.
Anti-Zionist street protests got under way in the summer of 2014, at the time of the most recent of the full-scale Israel-versus-Hamas wars in Gaza, proclaiming solidarity with Hamas. At a demonstration in Paris—called by one of the smaller Trotskyist parties, not under Mélenchon’s leadership, but drawing on the public that is his—a street full of marchers broke into a cry of “Death to the Jews!” And “Jew: Shut up, France is not yours!” together with “Allahu Akbar!” and “Jihad! Jihad! Jihad!,” which are not normally Trotskyist slogans. Such has been the cultural degeneration in nether regions of the extreme left.
Mobs set out to attack synagogues in Paris and in the suburban town of Sarcelles [and] attacked Jewish stores. And, just as Corbyn has systematically failed to notice the nature and meaning of anti-Zionism on the British left, Mélenchon managed not to notice what was going on among a significant portion of his own social base. Instead of rebuking the rioters, he congratulated them. It was the [leading Franco-Jewish organization] CRIF that issued an angry denunciation. Mélenchon responded by inveighing against the “aggressive communities that lecture the rest of the country,” by which he meant CRIF, and not the people who were staging pogroms. . . .
[T]he political significance of these French events is hard to miss, if you stop to consider that, in the first round of the 2017 presidential election in France, Marine Le Pen [of the far-right National Front] and Jean-Luc Mélenchon attracted, between them, some 40 percent of the vote—which becomes still more striking when you recall that Corbyn’s odds of becoming prime minister someday soon are pretty good.