Jeremy Corbyn in the media. Photo: Chatham House Jeremy Corbyn in the media. Photo: Chatham House

Unite the left and anti-racist movements in a fight back against cynical right-wing disruption, argues Kevin Ovenden

Not just in Britain, but also in France, austerity governments are attempting to confuse and disrupt general opposition and anti-racist sentiment.

This is an important article firmly rejecting the decision by the president of the French equivalent of the Board of Deputies in Britain, the CRIF, to ban Jean-Luc Melenchon and La France Insoumise from last night’s demonstration in memory of Mireille Knoll, an elderly Jewish Holocaust survivor murdered in an anti-semitic attack last Friday.

In so doing, he bracketed together the radical left and the fascists of the Front National.

CRIF president Francis Khalifat claimed: “Anti-Semites are over-represented in the far left and the far right, making those parties ones that you don’t want to be associated with.”

It is an outrageous lie about Melenchon and the radical left. As this piece makes clear it is to equate a man with an impeccable record of opposition to anti-semitism and an anti-racist with a party founded by a vicious racist who trivialises the Holocaust, referring to it as “a minor detail of history”.

Khalifat went further and spelled out that his objection is that Melenchon and the left are critical of Israel. So unquestioning support for the state of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians is to be the requirement for protesting against racism and an anti-semitic murder in France.

It’s difficult to imagine a more effective way to divide anti-racist feeling in France at the murder. Melenchon turned up. He was booed – but not by some spontaneous section of the crowd. It was by supporters of the ultra right and extremist “Jewish Defence League”, which has under the common banner of Islamophobia, anti-leftism and support for the Netanyahu government in Israel, established contacts and cooperation with the Front National.

After harassing Melenchon and La France Insoumise supporters, this group escorted Marine Le Pen onto the march.

She was rightly jeered by ordinary participants. But she got airtime for her argument that the “real problem” is “Muslim anti-semitism”. She has space for that lie because that is a false argument that has been put by some pro-system, pro-centre-right Jewish community leaders and by politicians of both the centre right and centre left who, unlike Melenchon, fail to name Le Pen and her party as fascist. They also suggest that racial antagonism in France is generated by poor immigrants.

Meanwhile, the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, who is upping the rate of deportations and strengthening Fortress Europe, was welcomed to the demonstration.

What we are seeing is a close parallel to the Tory and right wing efforts in Britain to maul anti-racism, divide the movement, try to make themselves the arbiters of opposing anti-semitism and racism, and to smear the radical left.

It shows that while there is a particular focus on Jeremy Corbyn, it is part of a wider trend. There is no mural from five years ago at issue in the smears on Melenchon – only that he is a radical left politician who rejects both racism and France’s Middle East policy.

In fact, he has gone out of his way – unlike Corbyn – to present his anti-racism in conventional terms, which in France mean support for a “colour-blind” Republic. All to no avail – he’s still smeared.

That’s because there is a political agenda here from the centre right and its allies to break the left and militant anti-racism.

An instrument in that is the false claim that to oppose anti-Jewish racism you must support the state of Israel. This is deeply embedded in German politics also, where it is used as a stick to beat the Turkish and Kurdish and Arab immigrant minorities.

In so doing, it actually boosts the real fascists of the AfD and their lie that the problem of racism in Germany is about the attitudes of recently arrived Arab refugees from Syria.

The AfD gets some space to do that as it claims to be a strong supporter of Israel, so ludicrously that can give it a claim to membership of the official family of “anti-racists”. That they do not get far in that is thanks to the rising and left-led anti-racist and anti-fascist movement in Germany.

genuine anti-racist movement is being built in Germany against the AfD and against the Merkel government with its deportation policy and hard right interior minister, Horst Seehofer, who says: “Islam has no place in Germany.” There has been an alarming increase in the firebombing of mosques in Germany over the last few months.

The AfD is not the same as the Merkel government. But the specific response to it is rightly also angled against the government and its mainstream racism that feeds the AfD.

In France, a gang of masked suspected fascists attacked the student occupation in Montpellier last Thursday night in apparent collaboration with the university authorities. It triggered widespread protests against the real threat of fascism and racism.

The radical left, including La France Insoumise, are at the centre of the protests.

The student occupations are part of a rising wave of protest and strikes against the government on a number of fronts – critically by the well organised rail workers who have called weekly two-day strikes over the coming months.

The protest wave is uniting working people of all backgrounds and ethnicities. It is a major potential force against racism and to break the influence of the Front National.

But Macron is seeking to smash the movement. And this abuse of the memory of a victim of a racist murder is about trying to undermine the left and the potential for a militant anti-racism that truly unites people.

This is a logic that goes beyond one country. The disgraceful smears against Corbyn in Britain are not unique.

This is built in to desperate – and reckless – attempts by mainstream governments in Europe to head off both social movements of opposition and the formation of militant, united anti-racist struggles.

Everywhere the left’s answer must be to deepen the movements of opposition, the strikes and protests; to construct the politically independent and militant anti-racism that targets the governments as well as the far right; and to give the political battle against this attempt to make the arbiter of anti-racism support for the racist exclusion of Palestinians from their own homes.

The forces of the centre are prepared to disfigure and destroy anti-racist sentiment in a false name of anti-racism.

They must be resisted. It is these cynical attempts at divide and rule – even through falsely claiming to champion one oppressed group at the expense of another – that right now are a serious threat to anti-racist and working class unity.

And the immediate target is to place further repressive burdens on the Muslim communities.

The beneficiaries – as history attests – if that is not stopped will be the actual fascists in Europe: Islamophobic, racist, and anti-semitic, and a threat to all working people.

In uniting against this, it means a fighting anti-racist unity led by the left, against the right – and prepared to take head on the divide and rule of Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel.

Kevin Ovenden

Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.

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