The French media are feasting on this week’s revelation that the fading star Gérard Depardieu, who brought to the screen such icons of French patriotism as Astérix and Cyrano de Bergerac, is settling in Belgium. The move, it appears, is dictated less by the scenery (there is none) than the lower tax bracket, an issue of sharpened interest now that the Socialist government has introduced a new marginal rate on the nation’s wealthiest citizens.
Amidst this distraction, the press has scanted the most recent triumph of a rising star: the Socialist Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls. This week the country’s parliament overwhelmingly voted in favor of an anti-terrorism bill that Valls had championed since he took office in May. The legislation reinforces an already impressive array of police powers, allowing the state to arrest anyone who has attended terrorist training camps abroad even if they have not yet committed a crime on French soil.
The law was a direct consequence of Mohammad Merah’s horrific murder spree earlier this year in Toulouse. Merah had trained at such a camp in Pakistan — a fact apparently know to France’s intelligence service, yet not acted upon. The government of Nicolas Sarkozy, in power at the time, had proposed a similar law, but it was shelved then abandoned during the elections that brought the Socialists to power.
Though many French Jews worried at first if the Socialists would act with the same vigor as the Gaullists, they were quickly reassured. In part, this was the work of François Hollande, who has repeatedly reassured French Jewry that his government will do everything in its power to repel the growing tide of anti-Semitic activities and rhetoric. His recent speech at Drancy, marking the 1942 round-up of French Jews under Vichy, was one notable instance of this commitment.
Standing by Hollande’s side at Drancy was Valls.
The announcement, made by Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister, that his government will support the Palestinian Authority’s bid for “non-member observer status” at the United Nations next week is hardly news, but nevertheless newsworthy.
The news, of course, has been in the offing for quite some time. France’s Socialist Party, which has historically enjoyed closer ties with Israel than have the nation’s Gaullist and conservative parties, has long been an advocate for Palestinian statehood. In 1982, shortly after becoming president, François Mitterrand spoke to this very issue in a speech he gave before the Knesset. When he began his own run for the presidency last year, Mitterrand’s disciple François Hollande announced sixty campaign promises: the next to last was that he would support international recognition of a Palestinian state.
There was little surprise, as a result, when Fabius, during an exchange in the National Assembly, affirmed that France, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, would “with coherence and lucidity” vote “oui” at the U.N. This desire for coherence applies not just to past commitments made by Hollande and the Socialists, but also public opinion: according to a recent poll published in the newspaper Le Figaro, nearly 80% of the French believe that Palestinians should have their own nation. As for lucidity, the bloodshed in Gaza, which tragically has burnished Hamas’ image while tarnishing Fatah’s, deeply concerns the Quai d’Orsay (France’s equivalent of our own Foggy Bottom). Mahmoud Abbas is the best hope for peace, they believe, but they fear this frail hope will collapse under the weight of recent events.
The Guardian cites a new report from Price Waterhouse Cooper Consulting saying the world is on track for an average global temperature increase of 6 degrees C (10.8 F) by the end of the century at current rates of carbon emission, with catastrophic implications for human life.
New research by consultancy giant PwC finds an unprecedented 5.1 per cent annual cut in global emissions per unit of GDP, known as carbon intensity, is needed through to 2050 if the world is to avoid the worst effects of climate change and meet an internationally agreed target of limiting average temperature increases to just two degrees above pre-industrial levels.
Such deep reductions in carbon intensity would be over six times greater than the 0.8 per cent average annual cuts achieved since 2000.
The report also confirms that greatest rises in greenhouse gas emissions came from the emerging E7 economies of China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Indonesia and Turkey, whose cumulative 7.4 per cent annual increase in emissions swamped record levels of reductions in the UK, France, and Germany.
PwC warns sustained economic growth in these countries could “lock in” high carbon assets that will make it significantly harder for them to decarbonise over the coming decades, a point likely to be raised at the UN-backed Doha Climate Summit when it kicks off later this month.
It also warns that industrialised countries must accelerate their partially successful efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
Aside from the latent anti-Semitism that motivates the European political fringe, there are two possible explanations for why Marine Le Pen felt it necessary to explain that if France is to proscribe the hijab or chador in the public square as she favours, “it is obvious that we must ban the kippa.” She added that both kosher and halal meat must be outlawed together, since the greater good of the republic must be placed above the wants and needs of any one community.
The first was unwittingly alluded to by Le Pen herself, in an interview given to French television.
“Jewish skullcaps are obviously not a problem in our country,” she said, but France has to “ban them in the name of equality.” Tellingly, she concluded, “What would people say if I’d only asked to ban Muslim clothing? They’d burn me as a Muslim hater.” French Jewry is innocent of any offence against the republic, but Le Pen has to offer up the kippa ban, lest she be suspected of only hating Muslims.
The other is that Le Pen made another outrageous and inflammatory statement in a sad bid to sustain her already overly-augmented national profile. Le Pen managed to finish third in the first round of the presidential election in April, and missed out on a seat in the National Assembly by only 118 votes in June by exploiting fears of rising crime and socio-cultural change amongst white working class voters. It is not coincidental, then, that this interview was given just before the start of the Front National’s summer conference, and at a time of cultural conflict between secularism and Islam regarding the cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad that were published in a French satire magazine.
We all know politics makes for odd bedfellows. Just how odd, though, was revealed in this morning’s news. The presidential candidacy of Marine Le Pen, leader of the extreme right wing Front National, has just been made possible by a French Israeli citizen.
In order to run for president in France, an individual must secure five hundred signatures from elected officials serving in local or national office. This constitutional requirement was, in principle designed to prevent “frivolous” candidacies from making a mockery of the deadly serious business of electing a president. Given that this year’s candidates include Madame Cindy Lee, the scantily-clad nominee for the Party of Pleasure, and Dédé de l’Abeillevaud, the bee-costumed representative for a bio-diversity movement, the law has not quite had its desired effect.
Unless, that is, you are Madame Le Pen.
For several weeks, the FN candidate had been scrambling to find five hundred officials willing to sign her petition before Friday’s deadline. Le Pen’s mad dash has made great copy for the media. There was, after all, the striking disparity between Le Pen’s solid ranking in national opinion polls — shifting between 16% and 20% — and her difficulty in convincing a mere 500 officials, out of a pool of 42,000, to endorse her candidacy. Were officials reluctant to be identified with Le Pen? (By law, the names of those who sign are a matter of public information.) Was President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party, the UMP, twisting arms to prevent officials from signing? (The hemorrhage of traditional UMP voters turning to the FN has become an acute concern for Sarkozy.) Or was Le Pen simply gaming the system and waiting until the last moment in order to depict her candidacy as one the traditional parties wanted to suffocate before the voters could have their say?
The questions are now of a different order: Why did Sylvain Semhoun, who represents Israel as a deputy in the Assembly of French Citizens Living Abroad, elect to be the official to push Le Pen’s campaign over the bar of 500 signatures? According to Semhoun, the reason is simple: “Civic duty.” As he told a journalist from the magazine Le Point, “It would have been intolerable to see millions of voters deprived of their preferred candidate.” Semhoun added that political battles are best fought at the ballot box, not in the street.
This is the week that wasn’t — at least if you planned on attending the colloquium “New sociological, historical and legal approaches to the call for an international boycott: Is Israel an apartheid state?” Scheduled to take place on February 27 and 28 at the University of Paris VIII, the colloquium was quashed last week by Pascal Binczak, the university rector. Needless to say, Binczak’s decision, no less than the colloquium itself, have spurred tremendous controversy.
From the outset, the colloquium was less than colloquial. The conference poster depicts an Arab wearing a keffiyeh, walking along the wall dividing Israel from the West Bank. Superimposed on the wall is the colloquium’s title — the sort of framing that transformed the question “Is Israel an apartheid state?” into a rhetorical exercise. One need only imagine a poster with the title “Is Hamas a reliable interlocutor for Israel?” superimposed on the image of a terror-filled, blood-stained and body-strewn street in Tel Aviv, to understand that in neither case is a true exchange of views sought.
Moreover, the titles for the colloquium’s various panels — ranging from “Spatial Apartheid in the Occupied Zones” to “State of Discrimination in Israel” and “The Civil Administration of Apartheid” — seemed to promise declamation rather than dialogue. The same applies to the participants, most of whom are active participants in the boycott campaign or pro-Palestinian movements in France or other European countries, some of whom viewed the colloquium as a platform to demand the exclusion of Israelis from academic conferences held in Europe.
Charles de Gaulle famously observed that France had “la droite la plus bête au monde” [“the dumbest right-wing in the world”]. Events over the last couple of days reveal that the French Right continues to work hard for bragging rights to that dubious moniker.
At the start of the week Christian Vanneste, a deputy of the ruling UMP (Union for a Popular Movement), dismissed as a “legend” the deportation of homosexuals from occupied France. This was not the first time that Vanneste, who represents a district in northern France, proffered his views on homosexuality. In 2005, for example, he declared: “Homosexuality is a threat to the survival of humankind.” The difference, of course, is Vanneste was then holding forth as a moral philosopher, whereas he now pretends to speak as an historian.
Yet professional historians immediately gave the lie to Vanneste’s version of the “dark years” of the Occupation. Both the Foundation for the Memory of the Deportation, as well as the historian Mikael Bertrand, who published last year a scholarly work on gays under the Occupation, declared that the archives tell a very different story. The Nazis arrested and deported several dozen men accused of homosexuality from both Alsace-Lorraine (which had been annexed by Germany) and other regions during their occupation of France. In an interview, Bertrand added that since archival research continues, the numbers are not final.
The timing could not have been worse for the UMP. This week was to have been devoted to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s declaration that he was running for a second term of office. What had been, at worst, a non-event — Sarkozy started running for his second term the day after he won his first election—or at best a much-needed jolt for Sarkozy’s hopes — he trails by dramatic margins the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande — was suddenly overshadowed by Vanneste’s remarks. The party’s leader, Jean-François Copé (who happens to be Jewish), denounced Vanneste’s remarks, as did every other leading member of the party, including Sarkozy. Copé also announced that the party would not sponsor Vanneste in his re-election campaign for his seat in the National Assembly.