We’ll always have Paris

While the French gave the world a lesson in hope, democracy and standing up to fascism, the Israeli government advanced a childish, nationalistic law that declares: we are Jews, they are Arabs, we’re good, they’re bad.

By Alon Mizrahi

Supporters of French president-elect Emmanuel Macron celebrate outside the Louvre in Paris, May 7, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Supporters of French president-elect Emmanuel Macron celebrate outside the Louvre in Paris, May 7, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Europe and the world expect us to defend the spirit of the Enlightenment, under threat in so many places. They expect us to defend freedom everywhere, to protect the oppressed… They expect us to be just who we are. They expect us to bring a new hope, a new humanism to the world … they expect us, finally, to be ourselves. (Emmanuel Macron in his victory speech, per CNN.)

France demonstrated how to defeat terrorism yesterday: you don’t change the national agenda and you don’t get bogged down in depression or mythologies of demon slaying. You don’t surrender to fear and despair. You defeat terrorism by doubling down on your basic, fundamental values. France also showed the world how to defeat nationalist demons in a functioning Western country: you look them in the eye without any hesitation or confusion, and you don’t let them take even the slightest foothold.

The drift toward isolationism, nationalism, and fascism began with the victory of the Brexit camp in the UK. It brought about the insane result in the election of Donald Trump. That drift was seriously slowed in the Dutch elections, and came to a grinding halt with Emmanuel Marcon’s resounding victory in France.

The liberal states and political movements of the world, first and foremost France and Germany, must now move from defense to offense. The primary enemy of the free world is operating out of the Kremlin, aided by an army of rented keyboards and useful idiots in the service of a violent, vitriolic, and crude nationalism, fragmenting the world into wary, suspicious, and hostile tribes eager for battle.

It is reasonable to assume the French president-elect understands the picture quite well: the antics pulled just a day before the election, the same antics that were pulled on the Democratic Party in the United States, were met with a wall of apathy on the part of the French people and resolve on the part of the Macron family. Nobody went through the trouble of blurring the conclusion that Wikileaks is working with Russian intelligence.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem

At the same time that France sent a decisive “no” to the messaging of its own local Likud Party, headed by Marine Le Pen, at the same time that the French president-elect was speaking of humanism, enlightenment and liberty, Israel’s coalition of fear-mongerers voted to advance the “Jewish Nation-State Law.”

What is the so-called nation-state law? Nothing in practice. Its importance is solely declarative. It harms Arabic-speakers and the status of the Arabic language, but that is an inseparable element of the Israeli Right’s political agenda. That’s the stuff the Israeli Right is made of. That’s how you get votes.

The nation-state law has no significance, except for its declaration of the obvious. But it appears that right-wing politicians in Israel, the adults acting like children, finding comfort in the three or four cliched mantras that comprise their world: we are the Jews, they are the Arabs, we are good, they are bad, this is us, that is them.

In order to understand why the Right encourages such an impermeable and violent discourse, one need only compare it to the words spoken by the French president-elect on Sunday. A childish, mythological, historical jibber jabber about monsters and swords, compared to: we, the liberals, speak in the name of freedom, democracy, fairness, safeguarding a place for everyone under the sun. And they think they can win with Le Pen and Donald Trump, or the national-religious fascism in Israel. Funny.

As if to drive the point home, this week we learned that Israel’s anti-culture Culture Minister Miri Regev decided to stop funding the annual Book Week in Israel’s marginalized and peripheral communities. There is a logic to the decision, of course: you don’t need to know how to read in order to get caught up in the superficial, harebrained, fear-mongering messages of the Likud, just like those of fanatic nationalist movements the world over. Maybe you don’t even need to know how to read.

Emanuel Marcon gave his victory speech at The Louvre. “Every Frenchman identifies with this place,” he said.

Until Israel regains its composure, we’ll always have Paris.

Alon Mizrahi is a writer and a blogger at Local Call, where this article was first published in Hebrew. Read it here.