The television pundit widely tipped to be the far right’s candidate in next year’s presidential election in France on Thursday attacked one of the country’s most prominent Jewish intellectuals as a “traitor.”
Eric Zemmour, a 63-year-old outspoken commentator and TV presenter, has yet to declare his candidacy, but the possibility of a presidential run has electrified France in recent weeks.
A household name for his hardline anti-immigrant and anti-feminist views, laced with nostalgia for the Vichy collaborationist regime set up after the German invasion of France in 1940, Zemmour has attracted plenty of trenchant criticism, including an article in this week’s edition of the magazine Le Point by the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy — the target of Zemmour’s ire on Thursday.
In his article, Lévy highlighted Zemmour’s Jewish origins, charging him with the “renunciation of Jewish generosity, vulnerability, humanism, and sense of otherness.”
Zemmour was born in a Paris suburb to a Jewish family from Algeria that arrived in France during the 1954-62 Algerian War. His father Roger was a paramedic, while his mother Lucette was a home-maker.
Zemmour’s positions were “an insult to the Jewish name that all Jews carry within them, unless and until they explicitly throw it overboard,” Lévy argued.
Asked for his response to Lévy during a Thursday morning interview on the CNEWS network, Zemmour called the philosopher a “cosmopolitan” and a “traitor par excellence” — provoking outrage among those who accused him of dredging up the language of pre-World War II antisemitism in France.
Manuel Valls, a former prime minister of France, tweeted that “according to Zemmour on CNEWS, BHL (Lévy) is a ‘traitor’ and a ‘cosmopolitan’ — a fine example of the rhetoric of the far right, as has always been the case.”
Lévy told The Algemeiner on Thursday that Zemmour’s verbal assault had exposed his anti-democratic instincts.
“Honestly, I have more questions than replies,” Lévy said. “What is a ‘traitor par excellence?’ What might a candidate for the presidency mean when he describes one of his fellow citizens as a ‘traitor par excellence?’ And if he were to be elected, how would he treat someone he considers as a ‘traitor par excellence‘?”
Lévy added: “A democrat is someone who debates, who expresses disagreement, but who does not exclude his adversary from the nation by calling him a ‘traitor par excellence.’”
Over the last decade, Zemmour has written several bestsellers bemoaning the immigration of Muslims from the Middle East and Africa to France, pushing the far right’s “great replacement” conspiracy theory that immigrants of color are displacing native white people in Europe and the US.
On Jewish issues, Zemmour has frequently been at odds with the Jewish community. He has claimed with scant evidence that the Vichy regime of Marshal Philippe Pétain acted to save French-born Jews from the clutches of the Nazis by prioritizing Jews holding foreign citizenship for deportation. While foreign Jews were the initial targets of the antisemitic campaign, by 1942, most historians agree, the entire Jewish population in France was in the frame. During the infamous Vel D’Hiv round-up in Paris in 1942, 80 percent of the 4,000 Jewish children deported to the Nazi-built Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland were French-born.
Last year, Zemmour questioned whether Alfred Dreyfus — the French-Jewish army captain falsely convicted of espionage in 1894 during a wave of violent antisemitism in France — was truly innocent, opining that “we will never know.” He also outraged French Jews by claiming in September of this year that the burial in Israel of the victims of the massacre by an Islamist gunman at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 proved that they were not properly French.
The victims — Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his two sons, six-year-old Arieh and three-year-old Gabriel, and another little girl, eight-year-old Miriam Monsonégo — were buried in Israel because “they were foreigners above all and wanted to stay that way even beyond death,” Zemmour said.
This week, Zemmour was also in open conflict with the head of the French Jewish community, accusing him of feeding antisemitic conspiracy theories about a Jewish takeover of France.
In response, Francis Kalifat — president of Crif, the umbrella organization representing French Jews — called Zemmour “the useful idiot of the last remaining antisemites in France.”
Speculation over whether Zemmour will run for president in April 2022 has reached new heights in the wake of a poll of French voters last week that showed him in second place.
A Zemmour run would put him in direct competition with Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally (RN) — a successor party to the neo-fascist National Front (FN) founded by her now estranged father, Jean-Marie Le Pen — who was roundly defeated by current incumbent Emmanuel Macron in the second round of the 2017 presidential election.
On Thursday, Marine Le Pen told the newspaper Le Figaro, “I can and will win this presidential election.” Asked about a Zemmour candidacy, she responded that “he would make a good prime minister, but it seems obvious to me that he wouldn’t want to be.”