France Between Elections: Beware Of Logos


France has finished two rounds of voting for President, with Jacques Chirac elected to another term (five years this time). In the second round on May 5, his opponent, neo-fascist candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, garnered 18 percent of the vote–probably less than a comparable candidate would have received in a comparable run-off round in the United States.

On June 9 and June 16, there will be two more rounds, to elect a new legislative assembly. The outcome is in doubt. The left was splintered by the first round of the presidential election on April 21, but the right may actually have lost more votes to Le Pen’s National Front than the left did.

With mutually arranged withdrawals in the second round, to maximize votes for a single left-wing or right-wing candidate, the “législatives” could go either way. Chirac and company warn that they will not accept another “cohabitation”–a right wing president and a left wing prime minister and government.

A left victory in the législatives could trigger a constitutional crisis, and possibly a move toward a Sixth French Republic to replace the Fifth (now 44 years old), which created a division of power between the executive and legislative like that in the United States but retained the prime ministerial role for formulating and executing national policies.

Charles de Gaulle, architect of the Fifth Republic, never thought that elections would produce a right-left (or left-right) split between the presidency and the legislative assembly; “it will be us or the Communists,” he assured his nation.

Whatever the results in 2002, France will not have lurched sharply to the right, despite the alarms coming from some left-wing quarters. Doug Ireland, in The Nation (May 13 and May 27) and In These Times (May 27) described the Le Pen phenomenon as an example of “mushrooming growth of xenophobic, ultranationalist parties of the extreme right… [which] continues with a vengeance.”

Ireland supports his view by claiming that in the first round of the presidential election, “Le Pen won nearly a million votes more than his score in the [first round of the] 1995 contest for chief of state.”

Wrong. Le Pen had 234,000 more votes than seven years ago, and he increased his share of the total vote from 15.1 to 16.9 percent–not exactly a landslide. Add the votes of the other extreme-right candidate–Bruno Megret, who split from Le Pen three years ago–and the far right’s total on April 21 was 901,000 greater than it was in 1995, but in 1995 the Megret vote was zero.

Far more of Le Pen’s total was a protest vote, rather than a committed, ideological one (Ireland himself acknowledges that much of it came from “legions of the disaffected among . . . the left-identified electorate”). That’s significant for political purposes; it makes it no prettier, but does indicate that Ireland’s feverish exaggerations, and his hyper-inflation of Le Pen’s vote total, punch some big holes in his political analysis.

It should be noted that Le Pen’s first-round showing also benefited from a record-high abstention rate (28.4 percent), and, as Diana Johnstone points out in her ZNet Commentary “The Irony of French Elections” (April 30), a survey for a French periodical shows that only 3 percent of voters who abstained would have chosen Le Pen while 22 percent would have voted for Chirac and 20 percent for Jospin. In other words, the truly angry people voted more heavily–shades of the “angry white male” elections here in November 1994.

Naomi Klein’s treatment of the Le Pen vote raises issues of a different dimension. In her ZNet Commentary of April 24, “Old Hates Fueled by Fear,” which has appeared thrice in the printed media (Toronto Globe and Mail, The Guardian, and In These Times ), the theme seems to be that anti-semitism is on the rise, that it propelled Le Pen into the run-off round in France, and that it’s now infecting the left–which needs to “deal with the reality of anti-semitism head-on” and should realize that “hatred of Jews is a potent political tool in the hands of both the right in Europe and in Israel.”

Then this remark: “The globalization movement isn’t anti-Semitic, it just hasn’t fully confronted the implications of diving into the Middle East conflict.” Does Klein mean to accuse the left of harboring, or nurturing, anti-semitism? It wouldn’t seem to be her style, but the comment has undertones, and appears to charge the “globalization movement,” of which Klein herself is a part, with something that needs to be clarified.

Klein says that for Le Pen, “anti-semitism is a windfall, helping to spike his support from 10 percent to 17 percent in a week.” Nothing like that flashed across the horizon of this writer, who followed the French election closely. It may have come from some poll or other, but all polls, including those that must have shown different gyrations in the unstable voting climate that produced the results of April 21, were unreliable.

And if one poll did show something like a 7 point change in one week, did it reveal “anti-semitism” on the march? Klein knows, or should know, that Le Pen strictly avoided anything hinting of (his own long-time) anti-semitism, for obvious reasons: the attacks on Jewish synagogues and cemeteries in France were the work of “immigrants”–Le Pen’s major “insecurity” target in the election.

He even went out of his way to soften his notorious comments about Nazi gas chambers being a “detail” of history. Central to his campaign in 2002 was the theme of “keeping France for the French”–which for the vast majority conjures up images of Arabs and Muslims, not Jews. As public opinion surveys have shown, Jews are as integrated into French life as they are in the United States and Canada (see, for example, “La France n’est pas anti-sémite,” Le Monde, 3 avril 2002, by political scientist Nonna Mayer).

In a report on “Anti-Semitism in Europe,” the right-of-center and pro-Israel Economist (May 3) adds that “opinion polls in France suggest that personal hostility to Jews, as opposed to the Israeli government, is neither widespread nor increasing . . . Few analysts put Le Pen’s success down even partly to anti-Semitism . . . Indeed, a French Jew laments that quite a few of his co-religionists voted last month for Le Pen.”

It should be noted–as Klein fails to do–that all representatives of the Arab and Islamic communities in France have denounced these attacks on Jewish sites, which have come from disaffected kids in the poverty-ridden equivalent of inner-cities in the United States (in France, they are mainly suburban belts). The criticisms have been echoed by the Palestinian chargé d’affaires in France, who insists that “we have no argument with Jews or their religion; our fight is with the state of Israel.”

Klein continues: “every time I log onto activist news sites like indymedia.org, which practice ‘open publishing,’ I’m confronted with a string of Jewish conspiracy theories about September 11 and excerpts from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

Why “open publishing” is in quotes is not clear: what is elevated to prime visibility on news sites is what shows the preferences of those maintaining the sites, and considerable time spent searching indymedia.org and various of the 80 indy sites turned up no instances of highlighting anti-semitic contributions as praiseworthy. If Klein has such evidence, she needs to present–she should want to present–exactly what she has found by way of left anti-semitism on this site or elsewhere.

On Klein’s own web site, the first comment on her article says: “Well I’ve gone through the archives [] and looked. So far I’ve seen mentions of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion only mentioned in comments which were talking about the need to distinguish between denouncing the actions of the state of Israel and anti-semitism.”

“The mentions of the Protocols are all in the context of denouncing the latter. All in all I found 55 mentions of the Protocols across the indymedia network. Given that there are a huge number of posts and there are more than a hundred thousand people visiting indymedia a day, I think 55 total is actually not very many.”

A reply from Klein would be welcome–keeping in mind that the “55 total” may include some from people who are not in any way leftist in orientation.

Nobody can be faulted for vigilance against “anti” viruses of all strains. But calling attention to something that is not readily apparent, or may be lurking in some obscure recess, must be avoided, especially when that attention draws energies away from dangers that are clear and present.

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