PARIS — The French far left is coming under increasing pressure over its refusal to condemn Hamas’ deadly attacks on Israel.
The indignation, which comes from across the political spectrum, has zeroed in on the leader of the France Unbowed party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who called for France to push for a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian territories. “All the violence unleashed against Israel and in the Gaza Strip only produces [more violence],” he wrote on social media in the midst of the attacks.
But neither Mélenchon nor his party condemned the attacks on Israeli territory in a statement that has been criticized widely and in which it refers to Hamas as “the Palestinian forces.” Hamas has been designated as a terror outfit by the European Union.
Across the world, leaders have expressed their support for Israel as it battles to regain control after Hamas militants stormed into Israel on Saturday and unleashed a deadly assault on civilians, leaving more than 700 Israelis dead and taking dozens of hostages into Gaza.
Mélenchon’s ‘both are guilty’ stance has attracted fierce criticism from French President Emmanuel Macron’s allies, and is causing turmoil within the leftwing coalition. Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, whose father survived Auschwitz-Birkenau but committed suicide when she was 11, slammed Mélenchon’s ambiguity as “revolting.”
“The position of France Unbowed is well known, and often marked by a lot of ambiguity, by anti-Zionism, and … it’s also a way of masking a form of anti-semitism,” she said on French television Sunday.
France Unbowed has also been condemned by other political parties, including the far-right National Rally, which accused the far left of being “the moral backers of Islamist terrorism.” Mélenchon and his allies have since dug in their heels, arguing that they are expressing France’s “non-aligned” position since the times of President Charles de Gaulle.
But the fiasco threatens to blow up the fragile Nupes coalition linking France Unbowed, the Socialists, the Communists and the Greens, which is leading in polls ahead of European elections next year. Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure said Monday that France Unbowed’s reluctance to condemn the loss of Israeli life would “leave its mark,” adding that “explanations” will “be needed.”
The Left’s antisemitism problem
The French far left has traditionally been pro-Palestinian, with Communists backing Palestinians against Israelis in what they saw as a global fight against colonialism. But France Unbowed’s reluctance to condemn Hamas despite the scale of the attack against Israel, and the brutality of the violence inflicted on civilians, is seen as crossing a red line for many in France.
The vice-president of the Jewish CRIF organization, Gil Taeib, said Monday that France Unbowed had “left planet Earth,” and was pandering “to an electorate they believe is stupid enough to support them out of anti-semitism.” Mélenchon’s words are “another ambiguous statement, but are not the first,” added Samuel Lejoyeux, president of the Union of Jewish Students in France.
The France Unbowed party has recently been dogged by accusations it is courting Muslim voters in poor “banlieue” neighborhoods who may buy into anti-Israel rhetoric that can also carry anti-semitic tropes.
In August, the party was caught up in a row over a French rapper’s alleged pun about the Holocaust. Last year, France Unbowed parliamentary group leader Mathilde Panot drew fire when she omitted to mention Jewish victims in a tweet about World War II deportations.
Meanwhile violence against Jews in France has risen steadily since a low point in the 1990s, reaching 400 to 800 verbal and physical attacks per year in recent years, according to figures from the ministry of the interior.
France ramped up security at Jewish sites following the Hamas attacks, while Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin is set to convene a meeting with leaders of Jewish institutions Monday afternoon.