Judging anti-Semitism and racism

Anti-racist legislation, from the Marchandeau decree-law in 1939 to the so-called Pleven law in 1972, illustrates the evolution of consciences and the fight of associations, but also the difficulties of legal action in the face of the actions of the extreme right. .

After a work devoted to the International League Against Anti-Semitism (LICA), Emmanuel Debono returns to the question of anti-racist struggles in the light of legal cases which stretched from the year 1939 to the year 1972, i.e. the adoption of the Marchandeau decree-laws on April 21, 1939, which amend the law on freedom of the press of July 29, 1881, with the adoption of the so-called Pleven law promulgated on July 1er July 1972.

Dare to follow the Marchandeau law

The adoption of what will be called the Marchandeau “law”, named after the Minister of Justice in 1939, responded to a climate of violent anti-Semitism, penetrating even the precincts of the National Assembly.

The government was playing a big role in listening to the lobbying actions of the LICA, he who had just dissolved the leagues by the law of January 10, 1936 and whom the extreme right accused of being “in the hands of the Jews”. Should a law be added limiting freedom of expression regarding racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, still largely considered opinions, in a society where racial “thought” dominated?

Two decree laws were finally adopted on April 21, 1939, which targeted racist hatred, but also “propaganda of foreign inspiration”, at the risk of reducing anti-Semitism to an import from Nazi Germany. The texts were both prudent and generous. Article 32 of the first decree targeted defamation against a group of people “who belong, by their origin, to a specific race or religion (…) when its aim is to incite hatred between citizens or inhabitants” (p. 57), thus including foreigners living on French soil. For the first time, the word “race” appeared in French legislation, at the risk of paradox for a law intended to be directed against racism.

The second decree-law targeted foreign propaganda and funding from the Reich more than the ideas conveyed, while the spirit of the law focused on the preservation of national cohesion in these uncertain times. The government therefore followed Bernard Lecache’s call: “Dare, Mr. Marchandeau, all of France will follow you! » (pp. 47-48).

The return of the anti-Semites

The Vichy regime hastened to repeal the decree-law on a proposal from Raphaël Alibert, new Minister of Justice, on August 27, 1940. It would not be reestablished until 1944, with the return of the law on the freedom of the press of 1881.

One might think that the post-war context would immediately satisfy anti-racist activists, who expected a lot from this law, especially since the fighting was announced quite early. However, what Debono shows are the difficulties of legal action encountered by those involved in the anti-racist struggle, sometimes caught themselves in their own difficulties.

If the approach is generally chronological, the author does not refrain from going back and forth, during the sixteen chapters which immerse us in as many cases submitted to justice, restored thanks to judicial, journalistic sources and the archives of the associations which led the fight – including the two main ones, the LICA and the MRAP.

In 1944, the ease with which the return of the Marchandeau law was enacted could suggest that the fate reserved for the Jews during the war had taken its toll, within a society where freedom of expression had disappeared. It must be said that the new Republic was lenient.

From 1945, far-right titles reappeared: French lyrics (founded in 1945), Aspects of France (1947), Rivarol (1951), etc. So many titles which, while rehabilitating the Vichy regime, did not hide their anti-Semitism and allowed former collaborationists, such as Lucien Rebatet, Marcel Jouhandeau, Alfred Fabre-Luce and Pierre-Antoine Cousteau, to propagate their anti-Semitic antiphons by developing a distinction that they wanted to know between Hitler’s “bad anti-Semitism” and “good French-style anti-Semitism” (p. 137). Charles Maurras, from the depths of his cell in Clairvaux, until August 10, 1951, continued to spread his logorrhea. Does this mean that nothing had changed after the war? Not really.

First, public opinion was less tolerant of anti-Semitic demonstrations. The projection of Jewish Süss at the Latin Quarter film club in 1950 (chapter 5), aroused reactions of hostility and legal questions about the motivations of those responsible for the screening, but also about freedom of artistic expression.

However, the press reaction was moderate. The New Mastersa play by Paul Nivoix performed in 1948, was even praised by the daily The world dated February 2, 1948, while, without mentioning the word “Jew”, it accumulated anti-Semitic clichés. It was its adaptation to the cinema which was the origin of a lawsuit against the MRAPaccused by the production company of being responsible for the fiasco that the film experienced and demanding damages.

The trial which opened on June 14, 1955, in a political context marked by Poujadism and the activism of Xavier Vallat or Maurice Bardèche, was going to be long and revealed the uncertainties of justice. Despite the charge of Tixier-Vignancour, the MRAP emerged victorious, but only on appeal.

The success was, however, the fruit of an anti-fascist front, more than of a mobilization against anti-Semitism which was the work of minority Jewish personalities and associations. More than once, when reading the book, one may remain perplexed by the contradictions of justice, the weakness of its legal tools and the variable mobilization of opinion. It must be said that the anti-Jewish attacks evolved on the far right where, Maurras dead and Pierre Boutang removed from the editorial staff ofAspects of France in 1954, we rectified the situation by abandoning state anti-Semitism a little, to move towards new forms, including anti-Zionism at the time of the Six Day War, in 1967.

Assaults and trials

This is also the moment when the break was consummated between the LICA and the MRAPthe former firmly supporting the State of Israel, while the MRAP positioned itself, like the Communist Party, in favor of Nasserist Egypt in the name of the fight against the oppressors. A split in the left that the nationalist right rejoiced in, while it itself was not spared, between those who applauded Israel in the name of nationalism and those who persisted in anti-Semitism (chapter 13).

However, anti-Arab and anti-Black racism, which developed in the context of decolonization, immigration from Africa and despite the economic prosperity of the 1960s, would have deserved that the forces of the anti-racist struggle unite.

From the end of the 1950s, a new generation of nationalists regained ground, through the Young Nation movement founded in 1949, dissolved after May 13, 1958 due to the participation of certain members in the coup d’état in Algiers, reformed on next day under the name of Nationalist Party. Ferdinand Oyono, future minister of Cameroon and author of decolonial novels, was attacked near the Odéon in Paris on 1er May 1959.

On May 29, 1959, four Martinican students were beaten by activists from the press organ Young Nation, among whom the presence of Dominique Venner, known to the police and convicted several times, was suspected. There LICA protested, as did the Federation of Black and French African Students (FEANF). Overseas MPs and many newspapers like L’Aurore, Le Figaro, Libération were indignant. The premises of Jeune Nation were searched and the newspapers seized, not for their content, but because of affiliation with the Nationalist Party dissolved in February.

The complaint of the Martinican students led to a double trial, opened on October 9, 1959 before the XVe Seine correctional chamber, one against Venner and the other behind closed doors for three minor attackers. The defense of the tireless Tixier-Vignancour was based on an argument which pointed to the responsibility of decolonial and anti-racist activists, accused of exploiting racism. Venner’s writings weighed in the verdict: he was convicted of racial insults and violence.

Hate through words

The appeal trial pushed the defense a little further in reversing the accusation, since it invoked “anti-White racism” as justification and thought of reducing the responsibility of the accused in the name of “defensive” racism. . And to summon Italian, Spanish and Polish immigration as models of success to better highlight the inability of black and Arab immigrants to adapt. Another element of the far right’s defense strategy was to minimize the impact of the writings by recognizing “excesses of language”, but little disseminated in view of the low circulation of the Rivarol, Charivari, Aspects of France and other Young Nationwhich could not be denied.

However, this was to forget the weight of words a little quickly, in a context where the equation between delinquency and immigration (Algerian in particular) was becoming widespread. The newspaper Minute, founded in 1962, multiplied the metaphors on the “Algerian gangrene”, the “Algerian invasion” (p. 449), with great reinforcement of photomontages and conspiracy theories targeting the Algerian power, suspected of spilling the dregs of his society on France, especially threatening its women and children.

This venomous rhetoric pushed the Association of North African Muslim Students in France (AEMNAF) to react, by means of a complaint filed by its president and two of its members. They lost their case, because the trial which began on May 12, 1967 and which continued on appeal on January 17, 1968 dismissed their case.

L’AEMNAF did not have legal personality to file a complaint and the Marchandeau law did not protect specific individuals. Who could therefore file a complaint? The public prosecutor could, without ever exercising this right.

Towards new legislation

However, reflection was progressing, particularly regarding discriminatory practices, which were rarely punished in the absence of adequate instruments, with the Marchandeau law being inapplicable in this area. The Convention ofUN of December 21, 1965 against racial discrimination accelerated a movement largely supported by overseas deputies and communists, such as Marcel Cachin and Aimé Césaire since the aftermath of the war.

In 1972, minds seemed ripe to adopt the law promulgated on 1er July, known as the Pleven Law. It was largely inspired by the text developed by the MRAP under the direction of Léon Lyon-Caen and specified the offenses of “racial discrimination”, “provocation to hatred or racist violence” (p. 588). It also allowed anti-racist associations to become civil parties. The consensus around the law left the far right to its obsessions, anti-White racism, threats to the identity of Christian civilization and the “Ghent replacement” theory. The state of mind had therefore changed.

By choosing a large number of case studies, Debono took the risk of losing the main points of his demonstration. The role of memories of the Resistance and the Shoah, their evolution within French society could have shown the links with the attention paid to racial issues and the way in which they were understood. The book, however, offers a broad panorama on a subject whose current resonances can only encourage reading serious and documented works.