European Social Forum: 'Anti-semitism' smear flops

Bernard-Henri Lévy has accused Tariq Ramadan of antisemitism. Not so, writes Alan Fox

In the months leading up to the ESF there was very little coverage of the event in the mainstream French press. But suddenly all that changed at the beginning of October, with the publication of a number of articles alleging that the forum was providing a platform for a confirmed ‘anti-semite’ in the shape of Tariq Ramadan, an influential islamic militant who had been encouraging muslim organisations to participate in the ESF.

According to Bernard-Henri Lévy, a document written by Ramadan, which had been posted on the ESF internet discussion list a few days earlier, was nothing short of a latter-day version of “the Protocol of the elders of Zion”: Ramadan’s piece, entitled ‘Critique of the (new) communitarian intellectuals’, “under cover of a legitimate attack on the communitarian spirit, only serves to revive the old theme of the Jewish plot” (Le Point October 8). Lévy advised anti-globalists to “keep their distance” from Ramadan, with the implication that the ESF should be boycotted unless he was removed from the speakers list.

In similar vein Claude Askolovitch wanted to know, “Can you be anti-globalist and anti-semitic?” (Le Nouvel Observateur October 9). Writing in the same paper, André Glucksmann described Ramadan as “an able intellectual, brought up in the school of the Muslim Brotherhood”, while the Zionist website Communauté online claimed that his grandfather was Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Apparently such detail was considered sufficient to persuade readers that Ramadan, a Geneva-based professor of philosophy and ‘islamology’, was indeed a fully-fledged anti-semite. It was not thought necessary to reproduce extracts from his document to substantiate the allegations in any of the newspapers carrying such articles.

It seems that the offending passage in ‘Critique of the (new) communitarian intellectuals’ was one which criticised “French Jewish intellectuals who up to now have been considered universalists” for having begun to “develop analyses more and more oriented towards communitarian concerns”. Some of these “Jewish intellectuals” were identified by Ramadan (they included Lévy and Glucksmann), but it was far from clear how the claim that named Jews were “communitarian” could be considered anti-semitic.

In a subsequent interview, Ramadan explained what he meant: “Certain pro-Israeli intellectuals, fearing the emergence of public support for the Palestinians (mixed perhaps with some expressions of anti-semitism), hold up the spectre of a ‘new Judeophobia’ … they are pushing the Jews of France to develop reflexes of fear and are feeding in them the feeling of belonging first and foremost to the ‘Jewish community’” (Le Monde October 28).

As for the allegations of anti-semitism, Ramadan was adamant: “I refute absolutely the charges … levelled against me … I have unceasingly fought every anti-semitic tendency amongst muslims, refuting one by one every legitimisation of it based on so-called theology”. The main thrust of his document, he said, was to “denounce those who, from a communitarian or pro-Israeli point of view, propose a biased reading of national and international issues”.

But that did not stop the anti-ESF bandwagon, with several minor Gaullist and even Socialist Party politicians joining in the chorus of condemnation. Extreme rightwinger Alexandre del Valle condemned the ESF for providing a forum for the “intellectual proceedings of communism and the totalitarian ideologies of the far left” - forces that had united with “anti-western islamists” in their “hatred of Israel, America, Jews and the liberal west and capitalism in general” (Le Figaro November 8-9). Note how “Jews” is slipped in amongst the list.

Communauté online ranted on at great length against not only Ramadan, but also Pierre Khalfa, member of Attac’s administrative council and the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, who had dismissed those who seek to “wave the red flag of anti-semitism on every occasion”. But the best the website could come up with in regard to the ESF ‘altermondialists’ was the claim that they refuse to speak of anti-semitism unless islamophobia is condemned too.

Not true, of course. I attended the November 14 seminar at Ivry on ‘Religions, social struggles and alterglobalisation’ - addressed by, amongst others, Brazilian Jewish Marxist Michael Löwy and Tariq Ramadan himself - and heard a rather different dual denunciation: of anti-semitism and of those who had attempted to use it as a weapon to smear the ESF.