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Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, and the bitter fruits of Philo-Semitism

“If you want to vote Democrat, you are being very disloyal to Jewish people and very disloyal to Israel" After this declaration by Donald Trump and the wave of international outrage it provoked, we publish here an extract from Houria Bouteldja’s book Whites, Jews and Us. Houria makes an interesting contribution to unravelling the relationship between Western nation-states and their Jewish populations since the end of the Second World War. She argues that not only has white antisemitism not disappeared (it is rather metamorphosing into consensual philosemitism) but it is also being imputed almost exclusively to France’s postcolonial subjects, black or Muslim. The book stirred up a fiery polemic in France, where the author is regularly and viciously attacked by the mass media, the guardians of “republican order” and white universalism.

Houria Bouteldja30 August 2019

Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, and the bitter fruits of Philo-Semitism

Who is Hitler?”
My cousin from the bled[1]

One day, an Israeli judge, Moshe Landau, famous for having presided over Adolf Eichmann’s trial, said: “I hate Arabs, they remind me so much of Sephardic [Jews].” Exquisite perfidy, isn’t it? It makes me want to paraphrase him: I hate Jews, they remind me so much of Arabs.

It’s true, you are very familiar to me. Not so much because we are both “People of the Book,” or because we supposedly have a common ancestor, the prophet Abraham. This genealogy doesn’t speak to me in a political way. What makes us real “cousins” is your relationship to white people. Your condition within the West’s geopolitical borders. When I look at you, I see us. Your existential contours are drawn. Like us, you are entrenched. You can recognize a Jew not because he calls himself one, but because of his willingness to meld into whiteness, to support his oppressor, and to want to embody the canons of modernity. Like us.

“If the Jew is fascinated by Christians it is not because of their virtues, which he values little, but because they represent anonymity, humanity without race.[2]

I could recognize you anywhere. Your zeal betrays you. Some of you even combat anti-white racism. And with such energy. For god’s sake. The more you do, the more you distinguish yourselves, and the more suspect you are. In comparison, consider the soft tranquility of those who have nothing to prove. The Innocents. You are not the real chosen people. You are being lied to. But you know this. None of your ideological choices completely protect you; you are safe nowhere. Like us, you spend your lives oscillating between self-disillusionment and self-affirmation. In the end, you know that France’s so-called Philo-Semitism is a mask. You are Jewish, so you doubt.

“I don’t exactly know what it means to be Jewish, what being Jewish means to me. This may be stating an obvious fact, but it’s a mediocre fact, a mark, but a mark that doesn’t tie me to anything in particular, to anything concrete: it is not a sign of belonging, it is not tied to a belief, a religion, a practice, a culture, a folklore, a history, a destiny, a language. Rather, it would be an absence, a question, a questioning, a hesitation, a worry: a worried certainty behind which the contours of another certainty are drawn, one that is abstract, heavy, unbearable: that of having been designated as Jewish…”[3]

So, you doubt. Can I even reproach you for this? I have to admit that your ideological choices, as disparate as they may be, are determined by your condition. It is this doubt that makes you internationalists. It is this doubt that makes you Zionists. It is this same doubt that makes you apologists of the republican myth.

In fact, it’s true, you were really chosen by the West. For three cardinal missions: to solve the white world’s moral legitimacy crisis, which resulted from the Nazi genocide, to outsource republican racism, and finally to be the weaponized wing of Western imperialism in the Arab world. Can I allow myself to think that in your heart, it is the part that loves the white world that pushed you to sign this deal with the devil? This is how, in the span of fifty years, you went from being pariahs, to being, on the one hand, dhimmis of the Republic to satisfy the internal needs of the nation state, and on the other, Senegalese riflemen to satisfy the needs of Western imperialism. 

Dhimmis of the Republic. Does it shock you? I understand. On Islamic land, the dhimmi was the Christian or Jewish subject of a Muslim leader who, in exchange for a toll, received the leader’s protection and hospitality. That’s right; the dhimmi’s status was inferior to that of the dominant group. He governed premodern societies. It would be anachronistic to judge him—as you are already tempted to do—through a contemporary lens. It’s useless to try to escape by that route. I am merely providing this little historical reminder so that we can observe together the strange similarities between this statutory inferiority and your condition, here, on Catholic-secular land. You heap insults on the dhimmi under Islamic law, while praising him under the republican regime. Ah! How horrible were those sultans, emirs, and khalifs back in the day! Yet how good and strong are your protectors today. You have given up on depriving white people of their throne and instead pledged allegiance to them. You have abandoned the “universalist” struggle by accepting the Republic’s racial pact: white people on top, as the legitimate body of the nation, us as pariahs at the bottom, and you, as buffer. But in an uncertain, uncomfortable, in-between. Of course, dhimmis are better than Untermenschen, but you remain at the mercy of the political climate. Luckily, you are rewarded. From now on, you are stakeholders in the “Judeo-Christian civilization.” Admit it. It’s sad that this rehabilitation has been conditioned by genocide, by your partial self-expulsion from Europe and the Arab world for Israel, and by your renunciation to fully reclaim a France which is, nevertheless, yours.

I don’t know if you realize to what extent you are precious? Being dhimmis isn’t so bad, but being infantrymen of Zionist imperialism is even better. They are strong, aren’t they? I will happily admit that I admire our oppressors. It is the privilege of the dominant class to know our weaknesses. To be part of the masters’ race. That’s what we all want. So, then, they gave you Israel. Two birds one stone: they got rid of you as pretenders to the nation and as historical revolutionaries, and made you into the most passionate defenders of the empire on Arab soil. What they did was even more vicious. They managed to make you trade your religion, your history, and your memories for a colonial ideology. You abandoned your Jewish, multi-secular identities; you despise Yiddish and Arabic and have entirely given yourselves over to the Zionist identity. In only fifty years. It is as if sorcerers had put a spell on you. Is Zionism not another name for your capitulation?

And yet, you resisted for a long time.

“The Wandering Jew is a clock. Listen to his limp, his slow, tired step; it never stops.”[4]

But you let yourself be won over, slowly, such that a tenacious bias was born: all Jews are Zionists. Now, if you aren’t a Zionist, you have to prove it. You, who dreamt of melding into the “universal,” have now become Jewish again in the Sartrian sense of the word. But for me, this isn’t the worst part. After all, your renunciations are your business, and yours alone. The worst part is my gaze, when in the street, I pass by a child wearing a kippah. That fleeting moment when I stop to look at him. The worst part is the disappearance of my indifference toward you, the possible prelude to my internal ruin.


The voice: “The belly is still fertile from which the foul beast sprang.”[5]

“But who is Hitler?” That’s Boujemaa, my Algerian cousin, speaking. I almost fell off my seat. My cousin doesn’t know who Hitler is. An idiot. I blame his ignorance on the Algerian educational system, which is obviously rotten, as are supposedly rotten the people from the bled. Hitler is someone I know intimately. I met him on the benches of the schools of the Republic. I also met Anne Frank there, whom I cried over greatly. Just as much as I abhorred the man of the final solution. The man of the Judeocide. School trained me well. When I heard an expression like: “Stop eating like a Jew!” I would cast a dirty look. I was the idiot. Thanks to Boujemaa, I learned something. For the South, the Shoah—if I dare say so—is nothing but a “detail.” It’s not even visible in the rear-view mirror. Truth be told, this history is not really mine and I will hold it at a distance so long as the history and the life of the wretched of the earth will also remain nothing but “a detail.” That’s why I say this as I look you straight in the eyes: I will not go to Auschwitz.

You must think that I am insulting you and that I am uneducated. That’s false. My cousin’s words are precious to me. And I think that they can be equally precious for you if you make the effort to listen. What is he saying? Things that cleanse. We need to repatriate anti-Semitism, identify its geopolitical territory, its original locus. Anti-Semitism is European. It is a product of modernity. The Dreyfus affair, the impetuous development of anti-Jewish movements in the interwar period, the rise of Nazism, and the Vichy regime, all demonstrate anti-Semitism’s deep-seated roots in Europe. It has confined you to the lower echelons of the hierarchy of honors, but it is not universal. It is circumscribed in space and time. No, the Inuit, the Dogon, and the Tibetans are not anti-Semitic. They aren’t Philo-Semitic either. They don’t care about you. I wouldn’t say the same about the Arab-Muslim world, since we’ve been involved for several centuries. But we aren’t anti-Semitic either. There may be many conflicts between us, but they aren’t Nazi in nature. They could be religious or theological. They might have to do with the political structuring of our original societies and of relative distributions of powers. More often than not they are colonial. But that’s it. And that is already a heavy burden to have to relieve ourselves of. You who are Sephardic, you can’t act as though the Crémieux Decree hadn’t existed. You can’t ignore the fact that France made you French to tear you away from us, from your land, from your Arab-Berber identity. If I dare say so, from your Islamic identity. Just as we have been dispossessed of you. If I dare say so, of our Jewish identity. Incidentally, I can’t think about North Africa without missing you. You left a void that we will never be able to fill, and for that I am inconsolable. Your alterity becomes more pronounced and your memory fades.

I really like my cousin. He’s like a clearing in the middle of the forest. When I think about all the crooks who burglarize our history, who break into it, for instance, to honor us on the grounds that we protected you against Vichy. We are raised to the rank of the JUST. A supreme honor! And yet, what an insult. What perversity. Like spitting in our face. Must we be spineless to accept such an honor? For, if the Just who have risked their lives to protect the Jews exist on European land, it is in large part because their fellow citizens were anti-Semites. But what does this distinction mean for us, who did not collaborate and who also lived under the yoke of the West? Because to make an indigenous person Just is to invent a contrast, to create an opposition from scratch between him and his blood brothers; it is to brand the indigenous mass with the seal of anti-Semitic infamy. If Mohamed V was Just, the Moroccans were not. Bastards! Stop sullying us. Manipulation has only one goal: to share the Shoah, to dilute it, to deracinate Hitler and move him to the colonized populations, and in the end, to exonerate white people. To universalize anti-Semitism, to make of it an a-temporal and stateless phenomenon, is to kill two birds with one stone: it is to justify the hold-up of Palestine as well as the repression of indigenous people in Europe. And in all decency, the only people who could really receive the medal of the Just are your white suitcase carriers. But were they expecting a reward? It’s in such poor taste to think so. Why offend their modesty with this kind of vulgar staging? I’m slow off the mark, but all this makes me think of Charlie Chaplin. Did you know that his whole life, he never denied a Jewishness of which he was strongly suspected, even though he wasn’t Jewish? For him, to refute this rumor would have been to play the anti-Semite’s game. Do you see what I’m saying?

I digress. I don’t yet feel like you are completely convinced by my cousin Boujemaa. And yet, the word of the oppressed is gold. Whether you want it or not, it will always rise before you to prevent you from sleeping in peace, because ever since modernity has taken a bite out of you, you have become, nolens volens, part of our oppressors. You are the “new Jews.”

I’ll give Césaire a try. Who knows, perhaps he will find the words to convince you. With his poet language, he invites us to attempt a decolonial reading of the Nazi genocide—the Shoah.

 “[T]hat they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples; that they have cultivated that Nazism, that they are responsible for it, and that before engulfing the whole of Western, Christian civilization in its reddened waters, it oozes, seeps, and trickles from every crack.”[6]

“And yet, through the mouths of the Sarrauts and the Bardes, the Mullers and the Renans, through the mouths of all those who considered—and consider—it lawful to apply to non-European peoples ‘a kind of expropriation for public purposes’ for the benefit of nations that were stronger and better equipped, it was already Hitler speaking!”[7]

Before mass crimes were tested in Europe, they were first tested in the Americas, in Africa, in Asia. To dehumanize a race, to destroy it, to make it disappear from the surface of the earth, is already inscribed in the colonial genes of National Socialism. Hitler was nothing if not a good student. If the techniques of mass massacre revealed all their efficiency in the concentration camps, it is because they had been tested on us, and thus made all the more efficient; and if white ferociousness came down on you with such savagery, it is because European populations closed their eyes to the “tropical genocides.”

The voice: There is a uniqueness to the Shoah.

The risk of removing its singularity from the Nazi genocide is real, and you would be right to point it out. The negationist tendency looms large with the anti-Semites. But to have let the commemoration of the Nazi genocide become a “European civil religion” makes one fear for the worst, because one either has or does not have faith in religion.[8]  In this context, atheism produces imitators, it reproduces itself. With all due respect to Claude Lanzmann, the time of blasphemy has come. Against his “Here, there is no why”[9] we must instead continue to question ourselves about the genealogy of this crime. If you really fear negationism, it is urgent to lay to rest these ideologies that glorify you as supreme victims and create hierarchies of horror. You must do justice to the Roma, the homosexuals, the Soviets, and the communists who died alongside your own people, and you must just as urgently recognize one of Nazism’s origins: the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism. We could then adopt this thought of Rosa Luxemburg’s: “I feel at home in the entire world, wherever there are clouds and birds and tears.”[10] Or, in other words, we will all together and more loudly proclaim that no, the Shoah, like all mass crimes, will never be a “detail.”

Abdelkebir Khatibi is not as famous as Césaire though he deserves to be. His vision acts as a deregulator of Zionist mechanisms. “Essence precedes existence,” he writes. “Arab essence precedes the existence of Israel,” he adds. And he pulverizes Sartre’s bad conscience, which he defines as: “The unhappy conscience secretes a very efficient machine of ignorance, ignorance of self and other, for the initial duality inherent to the unhappy conscience is reversed: by expropriating Palestinians, the Zionist relieves his conscience by offering it his sin and his misfortune.” He continues: “In a rush to give his point of view on the Israeli-Arab conflict, Sartre repeatedly answers that his position is dual (it is at once pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian) and that he experiences this question in the greatest state of devastation and embarrassment. A dual position that we might define as a fake neutrality and an alibi, which serve as an indictment of the Sartrian system. This system, as we all know, is founded on a responsible morality, which is able to surpass and harm itself. This indictment occurs at discrete points, it does not question the entirety of the system […]. What I am trying to demonstrate here is that Sartre, by becoming a conformist, ultimately has the attitude of a conditional Zionist, and that he finds himself cornered into not granting his devastation a positively revolutionary meaning. He experiences, in his own way, the terror of a unhappy consciousness.”[11]

And as if Khatibi wasn’t enough, there are also the words of the Palestinians. Listen to them: You are like a parachutist who, having landed in the middle of the night in an unknown place, wakes up in the morning and asks himself: “What are all these Arabs doing around me?” You, who are stateless? You, who lived in Poland, were you not Polish? You who lived in Yemen, were you not Yemenites? You, who lived on this Palestinian land, were you not Palestinians? You, Hebrews? Are you certain of it? Are we Muslims, Christians, and Jews of Palestine, not the real descendants of the Hebrews, who you claim to be your ancestors? Are you like those Frenchmen who mythologize their so-called Gaulic descent? Us, anti-Semites? You criticize us for cursing you as Jews, but is it not in this capacity that you colonized us? You reproach us for giving into the essentialism of the Jews, but your German oppressors, did you insult them in prose or in rhyme? Look at yourself in the mirror and you will see us. We will keep standing until the very last of us drops because the greatest offence that was done to us is the denial of history. We will resist in its name.

“Who will live in our house after us, father?

–It will stay just as we left it, my child.

He touched his keys as if he were touching his limbs and calmed down”[12] 

The words of the colonized are dense. They are powerful. They do not lie. But deep down inside of me, I know that they won’t satisfy you. They shake you up, they gnaw you, they upset your conscience, but what will make you sway definitively is self-love. First of all, the respect you owe your martyrs and the memory of their painful and haggard eyes. The memory of their scrawny bodies in front of the gates of the camps, which they latched onto with despair. But also, the intolerable instrumentalization of their plight toward ideological ends, which today makes up the backbone of Israeli nationalism. I rule entirely in your favor. It’s true, it is to your dead that you will have to answer to.

Second of all, your insecurity within the white world. Philo-Semitism gets old. Just like paternalism. Too slimy to be true. They are two forms of republican racism, which are in fact nothing but compromises between the extreme Right’s radical racism and the preservation of the white nation state. 

As I’ve already told you, you are both familiar and strange to me. Familiar because of your insoluble non-whiteness within anti-Semitic whiteness, but strange because you are whitened, integrated into a superior echelon of the racial hierarchy. To be honest, between us, everything is still possible. I might be optimistic, but that’s my own choice. We have a common destiny in the same way that we potentially have a common political future. This will depend on what part of your personality, fashioned by “modernity,” will win out: Zionism and the comfort of dhimmitude or the consciousness of your eternal deferment. Should you prefer the second option, we could walk some of the way together. All the conditions are in place. We are living in a transitional moment in our history. On the international chessboard, Israel disappoints the empire, Iran is imposing itself as a regional power, and the Zionist transplant never took hold in the Arab world, and never will, god willing. In Europe, nationalisms prosper in the shadow of the crisis of civilization, and take as their targets the Muslim “Semites.” How much longer do you expect to escape the worst by relying on the ability of the sycophants of the flag to distinguish between a Muslim “Semite” and a “Semitic Jew?”

Let’s put all our cards on the table. At this point, I could be satisfied with tormenting you and charting my course, because today you and I are not located on the same level on the ladder of oppressions. As a result, there is a conflict of interest between us. That much is true. But we have this in common that we do not make up the legitimate bodies of the nation. There is a common struggle that could be the deconstruction of the racial and republican pact that is at the foundation of the French nation. It benefits white Europeans and Christians and privileges European Jews within the Jewish world, at the expense of Eastern Jews. More and more of you are aware of this. The problem is that often your doubts comfort you in the idea that a national Jewish center is of vital necessity. I’ll tell you this too, I am not a moralist. You are free to make this choice. But because of this freedom you will be held accountable. You are condemned to the binary: West or Third World, whiteness or decolonization, Zionism or anti-Zionism. You have the choice to prolong your servitude within ethnically divided or racist nationalisms, or, on the contrary, to free yourselves from the hold of the French nation state and the Israeli nation state. In other words, to follow in the footsteps of the proud militants of the Bund[13] and to continue their dream of liberation.

Whether you like it or not, anti-Zionism will be, along with the indictment of the nation state, the primary site of this endgame. It will be the site of the historical confrontation between us, the opportunity for you to identify your real enemy. Because fundamentally, it’s not with us that you must be reconciled but with white people.[14] We stand before a fool’s game, in which we are the celebrities playing the main roles. Jews and Arabs, those terrible and turbulent children who exhaust themselves reconciling the good Christian souls. While the main actor is white: the West. Someone will retort that Herzl was a Jew. Sure, except that the question is not who had the idea of Zionism first but who realized it. Anti-Zionism will also be the site of the historical confrontation between you and white people, the opportunity for the latter to ask you three times for forgiveness: first, for the genocide, second, for not restoring, after 1945, your full and unconditional European citizenship, and finally, for gifting you an open-air prison: Israel. Anti-Zionism, finally, will be the site of the historical confrontation between us and white people, the opportunity for the latter to ask our forgiveness for the cynicism with which they have absolved themselves of their crimes carried out at our expense. Anti-Zionism is that territory in which the two primary victims of the Israeli project come to light: the Palestinians and the Jews. It is also where its primary beneficiary appears: the West. When white people break with blissful Philo-Semitism, they take the shortest route to end anti-Semitism. Not only the extreme Right’s anti-Semitism, the vulgar fascists’ anti-Semitism. The Republic’s anti-Semitism. The anti-Semitism at the heart of the democrats, the one that they have never managed to uproot and whose awakening they constantly fear, because they have never give up on whiteness. This is what condemns them to track anti-Semitism everywhere, even where it isn’t, and to wander along the precipice, at the bottom of which the “foul beast” awaits them, patient and eager. When you break with Zionism, you take the shortest route to put an end to the infernal cycle in which Zionism and anti-Semitism feed off each other endlessly, and in which you will always lose yourself. As for us, anti-Zionism is our country of asylum. Under its high patronage, we resist integration through anti-Semitism all the while pursuing the struggle for the liberation of the wretched of the earth.

On this matter—you are going to hate me—you owe us “toothless anti-Semites” a debt. When some of us, unpolished, invite themselves into a republican debate with their hiking boots on, they are useful to you, in a certain way. When, for instance, they challenge the memory of the genocide, they are touching on something that is far more sensitive than the memory of the Jews. They are challenging the temple of the sacred: white good conscience. The site where the West confiscates human ethics and turns it into its universal and exclusive monopoly. The home of white dignity. The bunker of abstract humanism. The benchmark according to which is measured subalterns’ level of civilization. In fact, indigenous people, impolite and rebellious against this rule, from the moment they contest it, reveal family secrets. If we are jealous of you, it is because we covet your place in the heart of white people. Our desire for legitimization will doom us, but by contesting your status as favorite, we lay bare the illegitimacy of white rule and, with the same movement, the existence of the white prince, the real authority.

I have said this before. I refuse the honors and prefer the discretion of anemones to the fanfare of bugles. And yet, it is a historical fact. Many Muslims, be they individuals or authorities, have saved Jews without ever boasting about it. I would like to invite you to meditate on these words by Dieudonné that trouble my conscience. In one of his shows he repeats the remarks of another French humorist who apparently said: “It is unworthy of France that a man like Dieudonné can still express himself.” Dieudonné replied: “As a Jew, he said that this reminded him of some of the darker times in history, this reminded him of the Thirties. Fuck! He said he was waiting for an official apology from me. So, I am taking advantage of this opportunity to tell him that he can shove my apology up his ass, and that I just want to let him know that if the wind blows a certain way and we end up in a climate like the Thirties, he better not come hide in my cave. In the case of a rematch, I’ll give him up to the authorities immediately.”[15]

I think he needs to be taken seriously. These are not the words of a mere jester, but the product of his time. This rotten system is turning you into monsters, just like it is turning us into villains. And yet, its task is not complete. I know the people of my race well. Though we may be battered and terribly damaged, we still have a big heart and a certain practice of human nobility; but for how much longer? I will take my leave of you now, but not without entrusting you with two of my certitudes first, and humbly, making you a “generous offer”:

            You are losing your historical friends.

            You are still in the ghetto.

            Why don’t we get out of there together?

Published with the kind permission of Semiotext(e)

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[1] Translator’s note: in the North African context, an isolated, usually rural region, where people live or come from (if they have immigrated). In French, it is used to describe a little village, usually pejoratively: the middle of nowhere.

[2] Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew, 70.

[3] George Perec, “Ellis Island: Description d’un projet,” in Je suis né (Paris: Édition du Seuil, 1990), 99. Translation mine.   

[4]Jules Renard, “October 29, 1897,” in Journal 1893-1898,

[5] Bertold Brecht, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, trans. Ralph Mannheim (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1981)

[6] Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism, 14.

[7] Ibid., 17.

[8] See Enzo Traverso, “Memory: The Civil Religion of the Holocaust,” The End of Jewish Modernity, trans. David Fernbach (London: Pluto Press, 2016), 113-127.

[9] Claude Lanzmann, preface to Carles Torner, Shoah, une pédagogie de la mémoire (Paris: Éditions de l’Atelier, 2001), 130. Translation mine.

[10] Rosa Luxembourg, The Letters of Rosa Luxembourg, eds. Georg Adler, Peter Hudis, and Annelies Laschitza, trans. George Shriver (London: Verso, 2011), 376. Quoted in Traverso, The End of Jewish Modernity, 32.

[11] Abdelkebir Khatibi, Vomito Blanco: le sionisme et la conscience malheureuse (Paris: Union générale d’édition, 1974), 7, 23, 47. Translation Mine.

[12] Mahmoud Darwich, Pourquoi as-tu laissé le cheval à sa solitude? (Paris, Actes Sud, 1996), 27-8. Translation mine.

[13] A Jewish socialist movement created at the end of the 19th century in Poland and which opposes Zionism. 

[14] See Youssef Boussoumah’s “Le sionisme expliqué à nos frères et à nos sœurs,” (in French).

[15]>Dieudonné, Foxtrot, 2012. 

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