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How Zemmour exploits his Jewishness He uses my work to pour scorn on the Left

Zemmour flits easily from truth to untruth (Credit: Benjamin Girette/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Zemmour flits easily from truth to untruth (Credit: Benjamin Girette/Bloomberg via Getty Images)


November 29, 2021   5 mins

I have a problem with Éric Zemmour. He has the most astounding gall, like a character from a Balzac novel. The books which have made him famous are stuffed with sweeping judgements and cutting assertions. He has a knack for pithy one-liners and has mastered today’s art of being harsh and simplistic. He does not know nuance. He flits easily from truth to untruth, with a clear predisposition towards exaggeration and downright falsity. Ever-ready to illustrate what he is saying with examples, he is not, to put it mildly, meticulous in the way he uses them. You feel an urge to pastiche his writing, so peppered is it with historical references, some appropriate and some not.

He likes to quote from two of my books. One follows the unusual fate of Dreyfus supporters who lived long enough to experience the Second World War and the Nazi occupation of France. The second book attempts to understand why so many former “anti-racist” activists from the Left and the far-Left became collaborators and why so many former anti-Semites of the Right and the far-Right took part in the RĂ©sistance. Sometimes, Zemmour quotes me accurately. Often, he adds his own selective emphasis to my work and attributes interpretations to me which are his and not mine. On occasion, he will start a sentence with “as historian Simon Epstein says,” before wheeling out a misrepresentation of something I have written or, worse, something I have not written at all.

I haven’t registered my disapproval before. Firstly because I didn’t really care enough. Zemmour, who I didn’t think was such a bad egg, was not alone in using and abusing history for his own ends: this has been part and parcel of intellectual life, and especially of the polemic-obsessed media, for some time. I also used to find it funny — really funny — to see this old Gallo-Roman country, the Church’s eldest daughter, rely on a Jew to fulfil the threefold mission of eulogising France’s lost greatness, bemoaning  its besmirched identity, and proudly raising its old standard once more. At times, it felt Zemmour was the new Joan of Arc. It was he who was holding the sword others had dropped and rallying the troops for battle.

I do not know what mark the man will leave on France’s history. Will it be providential or tragic? Or — and this cannot be ruled out — fleeting and benign? Or perhaps even comical? But that is not why I am writing. What I am interested in here is the position he will occupy — and doubtless already does occupy — in the long and tormented history of the Jews of this country. France’s Jews, like the rest of the diaspora, know they are exposed to anti-Semitism, an intractable problem which alternates between phases of remission, sometimes short and sometimes long, phases of acceleration, flare-ups, and then further remission. Jews also know that some among them — a minority thankfully — cave under pressure and accept anti-Semitism. In some cases, they even help to propagate it.

It used to be the far-Left that best illustrated this problem. In the winter of 1953, Jewish communists in the Soviet Union competed with one another to lend credibility to dark conspiracy theories about Jewish doctors. More recently, Left-wing apologists of Islamism have included Jews, who profess a radical hatred for the State of Israel and the Jewish people. These anti-Zionist Jews try to make themselves useful by mildly scolding their fellow activists — who profess to be humanitarians — for chanting “Death to Jews!” at pro-Palestine demonstrations. They explain, gently, that some demands are best kept to oneself, and that these especially should not be uttered in public — for obvious tactical reasons.

 

What’s different with Zemmour is that he is on the far-Right and not on the far-Left. He is akin to Trump-supporting ideologues in the US and their Hungarian counterparts and is, in France, at the forefront of this new way of doing politics. His spin on Dreyfus (who, in his eyes, wasn’t really innocent) has a rotten smell. His apology for PĂ©tain (who, in his eyes, wasn’t guilty really) puts him firmly in the camp of the post-Vichy far-Right. It also positions him on the edge of the neo-Nazi, ultra-far-Right (only the edge, of course; as a Jew, he will never quite belong). The same goes for his opposition to the Pleven and Gayssot laws, without which racism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial would be permissible. And then there were his comments about the Jewish children who were buried in Israel after being brutally killed in Toulouse, which were truly despicable.

When Zemmour castigates women, immigrants, homosexuals, socialists, centrists, elites, or metropolitan liberals, he does it out of profound conviction, fascinated as he is with the rhetorical heritage of the far-Right — which he has himself expanded, copiously, with his rants.

Media savviness, too, motivates his skewering of Jews. His historical mission, as he sees it, is to reconcile the patriotic bourgeoisie and the working classes. In concrete terms, this means that he is betting simultaneously — and this is difficult — on both traditional Right-wing voters and supporters of the populist far-Right. The fact that he is Jewish reassures the former group (“he can’t be a fascist so we can vote for him!”) The fact that he maligns Jews despite being one himself entices the latter (“there’s no way he’ll be bought off, we can trust him!”).

The former bunch appreciate his harking back to author Charles PĂ©guy and his admiration for De Gaulle. The latter like his scorn for Zola and his rehabilitation of PĂ©tain. His unconcealed Jewish roots help him plot out a march on Paris which, in a complete ideological mish-mash, passes through both London and Vichy.

If the trend revealed by recent polls is confirmed — in other words, if he manages to definitively capture the two groups of voters he needs to remain a contender — and if he also manages to recruit non-voters by using his swagger to pull them out of their apathy, he will have a supply of votes perfectly sufficient to shake up the 2022 presidential election. Given certain conditions, and with a little luck, he would be in a position to do what both Le Pens failed to do, namely to seduce republican voters without alienating anti-republican voters, and vice-versa. He would be in a position to shatter — or at least crack — the “glass ceiling” which has kept the far-Right out of power for so long. He would achieve this thanks to his patter, his strategic know-how and his stubbornness. But it would also be in part thanks to his Jewishness, which makes it impossible to call him a Nazi or a fascist. It gives him more leeway on everything controversial.

Unlike Henry IV, the French Renaissance King who was born a Protestant, Zemmour won’t have to reason that “Paris is well worth a mass.” Historically, he is perhaps in the tradition of Arthur Meyer, the editor of the Gaulois newspaper, who converted to Catholicism in 1901. He also borrows from Edmond Bloch, who rubbed shoulders with the French far-Right in the 1930s and also ended up converting to Catholicism. But Zemmour, who aspires to lasting renown where these two predecessors enjoyed only passing notoriety, will not have to follow them to the font. Far from being a hindrance to his irresistible rise, his Jewishness is his trump card. Let’s be frank: this is both masterful and unprecedented. As a political observer, I find it fascinating. As a Jew, I must admit I find it disgusting.

 

This essay appears with the permission of DDV, the journal of the International League against Anti-Semitism, where it was originally published. 


Simon Epstein is an economist and historian.


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Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago

To me this article is highly problematic. It appears to be written in reasoned tones, but then throws in nonsense such as :”What’s different with Zemmour is that he is on the far-Right and not on the far-Left. He is akin to Trump-supporting ideologues in the US and their Hungarian counterparts and is, in France, at the forefront of this new way of doing politics.” i.e. The author is basically stating that 78 million Americans who voted for Trump are fascists. And he is also saying that Zemmour is getting away with being a fascist because he’s jewish. The problem is that the Trump administration was as far from fascist as one can get, despite the endless name calling in the MSM; rather the previous administration was non-ideological and really a proponent of the DW^2 philosophy, i.e. Do What Works. Sure Trump with his Queens’ accent and somewhat uncouth statements, not couched in the pseudo-intellectualism of the left, the MSM and the costal elites, might have been annoying to some. By way of contrast, the current Biden administration, so admired and protected by the MSM and the elites, is truly totalitarian: examples include endless executive orders whose sole purpose is to negate successful policies from the previous administration just for the sake of reversal, failure to comply with court orders and stays, and institution of distinctly unconstitutional mandates (e.g. the vaccine mandates) is far more worrysome.
So back to Zemmour. I didn’t know anything about him until I listened to Freddy’s interview. (And since I speak fluent French, having gone to the Lycee Francais de Londres from K through 12, in the English numbering scheme, I didn’t need to read the subtitles). Quite frankly much of what he said is not unreasonable. It is evident that France has a real problem with unassimilated migrants who have made entire “burroughs” in and around various large cities complete no-go zones where the police dare not enter, and where French law no longer applies. Clearly something drastic has to be done to restore some sense of order and decency. When immigrants come to a country legally, generally they want to adopt the ways of their new adopted country. That’s how it should be. And that’s certainly how I feel. I was born and educated in the UK, but have lived and worked for the last 30 years in the US (in the greater Washington DC Metropolitan area no less, and within the beltway). I feel proud of being British and the UK’s history, and similarly I feel equally proud to be an American and of America’s history and culture. That’s how it should be for any legal immigrant.

Last edited 2 years ago by Johann Strauss
Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Noticed that right away. I suspect the author has never met a Trump supporter and that his opinion is based on nothing other than the media’s caricature of them.

Robert Pound
Robert Pound
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Not all Trump voters or Trump supporters are “Trump-supporting ideologues”, surely.
And the Biden administration “truly totalitarian”? Nazi Germany was totalitarian. Stalin’s Soviet Union was totalitarian. There have been plenty of authoritarian and dictatorial regimes before and since that haven’t been totalitarian. There has been plenty of censorship and sharp practice in democratic countries too, under governments of various colours. But to call it totalitarian is to abuse language.

JP Martin
JP Martin
2 years ago

I tried to read this article with an open mind (and can concede that it makes some valid points), but it abused my good will at two points. First, it drips with the condescension and derision that ‘real academics’ reserve for ‘popular academics’. This is just professional jealousy and quite boring. But the last line was the final nail in the coffin. Do we really need to hear these identitarian statements all the time? Many French people, like me, are tired of particular identities that want to override the national identity. Everyone is sick of hearing what people think “as a [insert racial/sexual/religious identity]”. Basta. Zemmour understands this better than the author.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  JP Martin

Be fair. This was published in “the journal of the International League against Anti-Semitism”. You can hardly blame an article there for speaking ‘as a Jew’, any more than you could blame an article in ‘The Gleaner’,The Afro-American Citizen‘ or ‘America Oggi’ for speaking as British Caribbean, an Afro-American, or an Italo-American. If you think this is too parochial to be worth reading, the blame falls on Unherd, not on the author

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
JP Martin
JP Martin
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Too parochial? I don’t know where you get that idea. My criticism is that claims of particular identity should not be taken as claims of general authority. For example, both Oprah Winfrey and Candace Owens can make a statement starting “As a black woman, I 
.” I suspect they will have very different takes – this preface to the statement doesn’t really change anything about the claim being made. Now, I am sure that the author has special feelings about this subject and I am not insensitive to that. But these feelings, justified or not, should not settle the matter so I find it a bad way to close the article.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago

The article is supposedly about Zemmour, but spends a significant amount of emotional energy waxing lyrical about the awfulness of France’s ‘Far Right’. Unfortunately Mr Epstein does not seem to be able to afford even a few words of his polemic, to mention the true scourge of Jews in modern day France. Which is no longer anti-Dreyfusards, Royalists, the Church or Right wing Republicans, but political and often terrorist Islamism. This evil which so many bien pensant figures, moored in their historical political arguments, however valid they may once have been, do not seem to wish to recognise. Who is murdering Jews TODAY, M Epstein?

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

The rise of antisemitism in the West is, I believe, directly correlated with the increase in the Muslim population.

Robert Pound
Robert Pound
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

I don’t think there is any presidential candidate representing political Islam (or any kind of Islam) and there is certainly not one in with a chance of winning. Zemmour is third or fourth (he’s been slipping lately) in many polls.
Of course, even without electoral power, terrorist groups can do harm. The author makes clear he is no fan of Islamism. But that doesn’t negate the harm that can be done by those who win political power.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago

Mon Dieu! Such a long piece, and almost nothing about Zemmour’s Frenchness! Quel dommage!
Is Messr. Zemmour “only” a Jew, or is he French too? Isn’t it fair play for Messr. Zemmour to call out the Islamization of his country?
What’s wrong with being French?

john.r.gardner
john.r.gardner
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

#myPedantry It’s M. Zemmour.

john_h_eve
john_h_eve
2 years ago

Any article about Zemmour which does not address his views on Islam and what needs to be done to halt the Islamisation of France is pretty much beside the point. Is Zemmour right or wrong on that subject? That’s what matters.

William Cameron
William Cameron
2 years ago

This is a very academic (small a) piece. It drips with bitterness and envy.
Mr Z is many things but he is hardly right wing. His whole position is to protect and and enhance the state of France.
It reads like a man afraid not to conform with the mob’s views.

john.r.gardner
john.r.gardner
2 years ago

“Mr Z. is many things…..” Yes, French, Gaullist, conservative, anti-immigrationist, intellectual, PSG supporter (FAIK), author, provocateur.
“(B)ut is hardly right wing.” Really? I would not be alone in challenging you for a definition of “right wing.” #defineYourTerms

Joy Bailey
Joy Bailey
2 years ago

Having listened to Freddie’s interview I found myself agreeing with Zemmour. Sounds very sensible.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

After reading I had to scroll back to the top picture and see if Zemmour actually had horns, or if it only seemed that he must.ï»ż

JP Martin
JP Martin
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

As a person with horns, I must admit I find it disgusting. Did I do it right?

Charles Mimoun
Charles Mimoun
2 years ago

In this title: “How Zemmour exploits his Jewishness” lays the idea according to which Jewishness should inspire you politically. I don’t agree at all for two reasons : a. I’m not sure nor Zemmour neither Epstein are great experts of Jewish holy books b. Religions can not inspire you politically, only the reverse is true. Your political orientation leads you to understand it in your particular way. And in this case, it is not stupid to say that Judaism is the biggest inspiration of nationalism as “The Hebrew Republic – Jewish Sources and the Transformation of European Political Thought” shows it masterfully. In short the good Jewish here is rather Zemmour. It’s probably not politically correct to say that, and so what …

Last edited 2 years ago by Charles Mimoun
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Mimoun

You are obviously better read than I am, but this is not convincing. Religion is not just a matter of faith, but also of group membership and identity – particularly in the case of Jews. If you identify, and are identified, as part of a distinct minority that has suffered regular persecution over centuries, one would expect that this had some influence on your politics. Besides, how can you say both that ‘Religions can not inspire you politically‘ and also that ‘Judaism is the biggest inspiration of nationalism‘?

Charles Mimoun
Charles Mimoun
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Because you can find people, for example Bernard Henri Levy that will explain you that Judaism is exactly the reverse of nationalism and that it’s the very source of their universal and liberal view of the world. What’s the difference between them? Their political orientation. (It’s true that I haven’t expressed myself clearly.)

Last edited 2 years ago by Charles Mimoun
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Mimoun

I disagree. Religions do inspire people politically, as can be seen by the non-conformist Christians and their relationship with the early Labour and Cooperative movements.

Charles Mimoun
Charles Mimoun
2 years ago

It’s true in a religious world not in our secular one.

Matt B
Matt B
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Mimoun

If religions had not inspired people politically – e.g. the religious vote in the US – the case for separation of church and state would have been very weak. And Lebanon…

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt B
Lee C
Lee C
2 years ago

So a Jew who wants to protect himself from people who hate him is bad. Because he’s not of the left. Crimes against Jews rise in direct proportion to the number of Muslims residing in a country. At least in Europe. That’s why Hungary’s Jews are the safest in Europe. They’re not beaten to death & thrown out of windows as they are in France, which allowed the Muslim perpetrator of such a crime to go free because he’d smoked some pot.
Frankly, it’s refreshing to see a Jew who upholds traditional Jewish values such as self-defense. Preserving one’s life is an imperative in our religion.

Last edited 2 years ago by Lee C
Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

Before the Dreyfus Affair in the late 1890s/early 1900s, would not Captain Dreyfus himself have been in the business, as it were, of eulogising France’s greatness, bemoaning the besmirching of its values and its ideals, its identity, and of raising the old standard?

I may be ignorant of and not understand the details of the Dreyfus Affair or what France’s former greatness, its identity and what the ‘old standard’ all imply. But I get the feeling that France is seriously in glum mode – and has been for a while. I don’t even know for sure what La Belle Époque is. It was the joyously artistic era of a young Dreyfus’s time? For a new Belle Époque to occur, should France not learn to like itself?

Andrew Lale
Andrew Lale
2 years ago

Very interesting comment. Having travelled a great deal in France, I find the French mostly morose and gloomy. I don’t suppose they were always like that. My personal theory is that when the French murdered their aristocrats, the creme de la creme of their society, they never forgave themselves for such an atrocity.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Lale
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Lale

My Mother who lived in France frequently from 1947 onwards said the French never recovered the Revolution. I France had become extremely brittle and unbalanced before the Revolution. Claiming the Divine of Kings may work if you are Alexeander or Louis XIV but not Louis XVI, an absurd effete man. Also having a country where the aristocrats and clergy have massive powers, pay no taxes and are exempt from certain laws so that the taxation burdern falls disinfranchised merchant class and poor is a recipe for a Revolution.
What started as a revolution became mass murder. The slaughter during the Terror is very difficult to forget and forgive Consequently, the conflict between Catholic Conservatives and Atheistic Marxists is very difficult to reconcile.
There is also the domination of Paris and Northern France over the south which is a source of conflict.
The English Civil war was fought between soldiers and was largely lacking in the killing of unarmed people, especially the defeated and raping of women, especially nuns and confiscation of property. If was say the Civil War ended in 1660 with the arrival of Charles II, by 1700 many of the wounds were healed.
Someone has said the Spirit of France was broken at Verdun. I think people under estimate the trauma of WW1 on the French. It was said France came out of WW1 as a victor but with the spirit of the vanquished.In the 1930s, the political conflict between Catholic Conservatives and Atheistic Marxists brought the country close to civil war and weakened it prior to the Nazi invasion of 1940. The French Communists were supporting the USSR in supporting the Nazis from Sep 1939 to June 1941. How much of Petains leadership was influenced by the charnel house of Verdun, conflict of the 1930s and French Communist support of USSR who supported Germany from 1939 to June 1941?

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I think I read that at the Great War’s end, one in three Frenchmen under 40 had been either killed or maimed for life.

Matt B
Matt B
2 years ago

Agreed. France has been in a blue funk since Chirac.

Andrew Lale
Andrew Lale
2 years ago

Drinking game: take a shot every time he writes ‘far right’. It’s really the only way to get through this dreck.

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
2 years ago

The interview between Freddy Sayers and Zemmour is much better than that between Freddie Gray and Zemmour on Spectator TV. Freddy S repeatedly asks: what does this actually mean in practical policies? Zemmour had some answers, but not altogether persuasive. On the other hand, to do nothing seems inadequate as well.

Bruce Metzger
Bruce Metzger
2 years ago

As for Zemmour, to paraphrase from Clint Eastwood, sometimes we need a little craziness to get back to reality, a shift to cause the political systems to function better. I see Zemmour trying to do that exactly.

Lee C
Lee C
2 years ago

British Jews are “Jews with trembling knees” (Begin). I find this nauseating. Every time Jewish leaders condemn an antisemitic act, they have to mention Islamophobia. You’re pathetic.

Madeleine Jones
Madeleine Jones
2 years ago

I disliked this article – it was an attack on Zemmour’s positioning as a Jew, as opposed to his political principals. Hate to get all academic, but if I handed this in to my professor, I’d get a poor mark; there’s too much unfiltered emotion and vitrol as opposed to analysis. Unherd, I imagine, wants to seem balanced; but this article is not high-quality. There are no examples given for brazen statements ‘Zemmour castagizes Muslims, women, etc.’ The jab at Republicans and Trump was so brief and strange.
There’s nothing wrong with getting passionate. If anything, emotion can make writing more powerful and evocative. But the reverse is also true: intense feelings can weaken narrative and any argument presented. Others have commented on the content; yet the structure is quite disappointing.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

This weird insistence of equating people who like their country and culture, and want it to remain so instead of becoming an Islamic caliphate or 3rd world hellhole, as ‘far right’, is strange. I’m not sure why the left wing commentariat are so keen on mass immigration and cultural atomisation for no discernible benefit. I can’t wrap my head around it. It’s not anti anyone else to want to be pro preserving your own kin and heritage. Kin preference is hardwired into humans, including in those the open borders nuts love to champion.

Last edited 2 years ago by Cheryl Jones
LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
2 years ago

It seems that his Jewishness is irrelevant. But please, Simon, please do not refer to his Jewishness as a “trump” card. Rather, his Hebrew heritage is an “ace in the hole.”

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 years ago

As a Roman Catholic, I say.. Jesus Christ was a Jew, and my faith is hand in globe aligned with the Jewish faith, and as an English born Irish Italian I bear another belief and conviction that Jews are the ” chosen race” and are inherently superior in so many ways to every other on the planet… just look at their success in every single sphere of life.. culture, academe, business, finance, industry, commerce, media…. Indian Hindus are similar… this is not ” racism’ it is statistical and historical empirical fact…. my admiration and respect for this is vast.

Patrick Fox
Patrick Fox
2 years ago

Well it is official Zemmour is running for the presidential election. For those who are interested in french politics this is going to be very interesting and is giving Macron another chance unless the LR opposition party ( Les Republicains) follows Zemmour’s line which one of their internal candidates Eric Ciotti is already doing ( he said he would vote Zemmour should Mr Z pass the first round)

Matt B
Matt B
2 years ago
Reply to  Patrick Fox

Will it though? Or, more likely, Zemmour will enflame the discussion a bit, Le Pen will try to claw back his arguments as polls slide, Zemmour will crash in the first round, Le Pen in the second and, as the French hand-wringing goes on, Macron will March On, and on…until next time: A stasis ensuring that one-trick-pony firebrands will always get more attention than they deserve before collapsing. Does France need a new Republic to ensure a better debate and field of candidates?

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt B
Patrick Fox
Patrick Fox
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt B

Come on Matt be nice to me let me dream as I know I will have to put up with Jupiter for another five years

Matt B
Matt B
2 years ago
Reply to  Patrick Fox

Fair enough. Jupiter is a bit Uranus.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt B
Nicholas Taylor
Nicholas Taylor
2 years ago

Well, I don’t know; but it bothers me that Zemmour, who so far has not committed genocide or invaded another country, apparently can do nothing right.