Barbier, Beelzebuth, and anti-semitism: The French socialists' conundrum

The love for symmetry and the passion for polarization are powerful human characteristics. Still, it is very unlikely that French liberals, progressives, and liberal media are siding with the pro-Hamas demonstrators and the Muslim community, and getting entangled in anti-Semitic diatribes, just because the conservative media sides with the pro-Israel demonstrators and the Jewish community. Something else must be at play.

Call it the French socialists’ Muslim conundrum. Both President Hollande and Premier Valls are seen, rightly or not, as pro-Jewish and pro-Israel, and have managed to derive some benefit from that. On the other hand, the Muslim vote was overwhelmingly (86%) pro-socialist and pro-Left in the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections and thus instrumental in their otherwise narrow victory (less than two points over Sarkozy and the conservatives in global terms). Many socialists may think they just cannot afford to lose the Muslim vote in future elections.

One way to win back the Muslim vote is to reiterate the socialist administration’s commitment, as Hollande did on Bastille Day, to such revolutionary and possibly unconstitutional measures like granting electoral franchise in local elections to mostly Muslim foreign residents and thus increasing dramatically Muslim political leverage and patronage. Another way is to give the pro-Islamic socialist wing more visibility, as was done with the “authorized” July 23 pro-Hamas demonstration. Still, the wildest card is to pretend to be fighting extremism “on both sides,” which may imply, in practical terms, building from scratch a hitherto non-existent Jewish “extremist threat.”

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