On April 16, Alain Soral, a well-known French anti-Semite, was sentenced to one year in prison by a French court for “negationisme”, Holocaust denial. For those of us familiar with Soral’s eclectic political life, seeing him condemned is satisfying, and also instructive. Alain Soral’s career demonstrates how modern society—and even many Jews—misunderstand anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism used to be the big Jewish unifier. Jews were always fractious and quarrelsome, but when it came to anti-Semitism, everybody agreed. Anti-Semites hated us without distinction, so in the face of a common threat, we would recognize the danger and unite.
Today, many Jews are willing to overlook and even excuse anti-Semitism when the bigots hate a certain type of Jews. Folks on the right tend to overlook or minimize the threat of far-right anti-Semitism and white supremacy. Folks on the left tend to relativize the anti-Semitism of the far left and minimize the link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
Both, of course, are wrong. Anti-Semitism on the right can’t be minimized, especially after a white supremacist committed the biggest massacre of Jews in American history last fall in Pittsburgh. But on college campuses and in other left-leaning social frameworks, there are now many environments that are openly hostile to Jews. Right-wing anti-Semitism is killing people today; left-wing anti-Semitism is poisoning the minds of the next generations.
Then, of course, there’s the type of anti-Semitism that has murdered the most Jews in the last decade: Islamic fundamentalism, which is not only fascistic but outright genocidal.
Yet the big fallacy is to consider these different types of anti-Semitism as different or even ideologically opposed. In fact, there’s just one type of anti-Semitism that simply dresses its ugly persona in different ideological garments.
The notion that “the extremes touch” isn’t new. After all, the Hitler-Stalin pact took place 80 years ago. But the career of Alain Soral makes this truth so clear and obvious that whoever had any doubts can put them to rest.
Soral started his journey in the 1980s and ‘90s on the fringes of the French Communist Party (PCF). By then, the PCF had broken with Moscow and it was closer to the Social Democrats than to the Bolsheviks. Regarding Jews and Israel, the PCF had moderated and abandoned Moscow’s anti-Zionist line. Soral, however, was a hardliner, and in the 1990s he realized that his ideas were better represented by the Front National (FN), the party at the extreme right of the French political spectrum. It was an easy jump for him, a seamless transition. At the FN of Jean Marie Le Pen — himself convicted of “negationisme” and anti-Semitism— Soral found a new home and even became a member of their central committee.
Soral wrote several pseudo-sociological books and became a celebrity of sorts, ranting against “political correctness” and “loss of national values”. Following a petty argument, Soral left the FN and created the “Anti-Zionist” party together with “comedian” Dieudonne, who had also been convicted of anti-Semitism and whose shows are routinely banned for “incitement to racial hatred.” Their party was a mishmash of extreme right and extreme left ideas. Here’s the kicker: that anti-Zionist party was fully funded by Iran. Luckily, the party was short-lived: it struggled to reach one percent of the vote and the Ayatollahs redirected their investments.
Soral’s eclectic career of hate, in which he represented left-wing, right-wing, and (by accepting the Iranian regime’s support) Islamic fundamentalist antisemitism, shows that the differences between these types of antisemitism are purely cosmetic. They are one and the same.
We should take note. Excusing the antisemitism of Hungary’s Victor Orban because he’s “pro-Israel” and “only” hates liberal Jews is at best myopic and at worst suicidal. Excusing the antisemitism of Ilhan Omar because she’s “only” against right-wing Jews while embracing the liberals is equally self-defeating. Relativizing the antisemitism of Jeremy Corbyn is not only naïve but incredibly dangerous.
Soral’s twisted mind has something important to teach us: there’s no such a thing as a “good anti-Semite.” Anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism and can’t be excused because we happen to agree on certain policies with the anti-Semites. Moreover, Soral’s story shows that in the case of anti-Semites, hatred trumps ideology. Those who hate us will find any ideological justification, on the left, on the right, in Islam, in Christianity — and Jews will find excuses for them even in Judaism itself.
As Bari Weiss of the New York Times accurately noted, anti-Semitism is, at its core, a conspiracy theory. Remarkably, the three stripes of anti-Semitism believe in the same basic elements of that conspiracy theory. They disagree about government policies but agree that Jews control the government. They all either deny the Holocaust or use it as a weapon to further victimize Jews (“Israelis are the new Nazis”). They exaggerate the role that Jews have in world affairs; either a single Jewish financier is creating a refugee crisis in Hungary, or a secret cabal of Jews dictates American policy through “the Benjamins.”
The three branches of the monstrous tree of anti-Semitism share the same root stories: Jews are too powerful; Jews manipulate the world; Jews are not loyal; Jews are the obstacle between us and our goals. That’s why it was so easy for Soral to move from left to right to being supported by Islamic fundamentalism.
Before his trial, Soral had started an online platform that showed the spuriousness of the differences between extremes. It’s cynically called “Egalite et Reconciliation” and it tries to prove to extreme rightists, leftists and Islamists that their ideas are not so different. He aims, he says, to reconcile “the left of the workers with the right of values”. Unsurprisingly, radicals of all stripes flocked to his site.
Soral will have a tough time managing this Kumbaya of hatred from a prison cell. But he’ll be out soon enough. And we in the Jewish community need to believe him. We need to stop participating in the divide-and-conquer game of those who hate us.
Andres Spokoiny is president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network.