Islamophobia & gay Zionist nepotism in France

Islamophobia & gay Zionist nepotism in France
by Pauline Park

Gabriel Attal on the front page of “20 Minutes” (1.31.24)

France has the seventh largest economy in the world and is one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council; along with Germany, France is the leading member of the European Union and still exercises enormous power and influence throughout central and west Africa; it is also a nuclear power and controls large swathes of the South Pacific; so what happens in France is of not only European but potentially global significance.

It was therefore of interest to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community not only in France but abroad when Emmanuel Macron named Gabriel Nissim Attal de Couriss prime minister on 9 January 2024; at 34, Attal (born 16 March 1989) became the youngest prime minister in French history as well as the first openly gay man to be appointed to the position (Chantelle Billson, “Who is Gabriel Attal, France’s first ever gay prime minister?,” Pink News, 9 January 2024).

What raised more than a few eyebrows was Attal’s appointment of Stéphane Séjourné (born 26 March 1985) as foreign minister in the new government because the 38-year-old Séjourné is not only also the first openly gay foreign minister in French history but also Attal’s former partner; as Pink News reported; Attal and Séjourné had been in a civil union since at least as early as 2019 but were no longer a couple by 2023 (Sophie Perry, “Macron appoints gay French PM’s ex-partner as foreign minister,” Pink News, 12 January 2024).

In an interview with “Le Parisien” (20 January 2024), Séjourné divulged the termination of his civil union with Attal and noted that it had taken place long before either was named to their posts in the new government (Kevin Lheritier, “Stéphane Séjourné séparé de Gabriel Attal: les raisons qui l’ont poussé à annoncer sa rupture publiquement, deux ans après,” Femme Actuelle, 22 January 2024). If the two men had broken up significantly before the président de la république appointed Attal to form a new government, then technically, Attal’s appointment of Séjourné to head the ministère des affaires française étrangères — the most prestigious and powerful position in French government after the president and the prime minister — was not nepotism; yet one has to wonder whether either would have divulged the termination of their ‘pacs civil’ if they had not been compelled to by the circumstance of their new appointments; their close relationship nonetheless might appear to at least some outsiders to be a sort of ‘népotisme gai à la française.’

In Attal’s first address to the Assemblée Nationale, there was little in the speech that suggested a progressive agenda; au contraire — Attal’s speech was full of Macroniste lines such as Attal’s repeated declaration that France had to “affronter pour avancer” (confront to advance) (“Le discours de politique générale de Gabriel Attal en intégralité,” BFMTV, 1.31.24). The speech reminded me of demonstrations in Paris in January 2023 in which Emmanuel Macron was lambasted as ‘Margaret Macron’ — a French Margaret Thatcher (Benjamin Dodman, “‘Not just about pensions’: French protesters see threat to social justice in Macron’s reform,” France 24, 1 February 2023)

Macron as Thatcher: a placard carried in a demonstration in Paris (31 January 2023) (photo by Benjamin Dodman, France 24)

The fact that Attal and Séjourné are both of Jewish descent alone would signify nothing about their politics or their approach to the Middle East but both are on record as strong supporters of Israel and the Jewish establishment in France is strongly Zionist even if there are a few courageous voices within the community challenging both the Zionism of the Jewish establishment and of the French political class.

Perhaps the most politically significant act that Attal took as education minister before his ascension to the top spot in the new government was his ban on the wearing of the abaya in public schools, which prompted Nicolas Cadène to declare, “Attal wanted to look tough, and draw the political benefits, but this was cheap courage… Real courage would be to tackle the lack of social mingling in our schools, leading to segregated development and separate ethnic and religious identification” (Roger Cohen, “Muslim Students’ Robes Are Latest Fault Line for French Identity,” New York Times, 15 September 2023). Cadène is the co-founder of an organization that monitors ‘laïcité,’ which American news media tend to translate as either ‘secularism’ and/or ‘separation of church and state’ but which really goes beyond both — especially when applied to any expression of Islam in France — which has the largest Muslim population of any country in Europe.

Attal’s abaya ban appealed to Marine Le Pen and the far right in France but provoked anger and outrage among Muslims and at least some progressives, forcing the education minister to try to insist that his attack on the Muslim community was not in fact an attack at all but rather a defense of secular republican values, declaring, “Lorsque vous rentrez dans une salle de classe, vous ne devez pas être capable d’identifier la religion des élèves en les regardant” (Before you enter a classroom, you should be able to identify the religion of the students you’re looking at), citing a law enacted on 15 March 2004 as justifying the ban on abayas in public schools (Sylvie Lecherbonnier, “Le port de l’abaya interdit à l’école: gabriel Attal clarifie la situation,” Le Monde, 28 August 2023). épotisme gai à

Le port de l’abaya interdit à l’école : Gabriel Attal clarifie la situation

The hypocrisy of Attal’s ‘laïcité’ rationale for his abaya ban can be seen most clearly in relation to Macron’s invitation to France’s Chief Rabbi Haïm Korsia to hold a Hannukah ceremony at the Élysée in December 2023 — an unprecedented breach of laïcité that prompted David Lisnard — described by the BBC’s Hugh Schofiled as “a prominent right-wing opposition figure who is also mayor of Cannes” to declare, “As far as I know this is the first time this has ever happened. It is a breach of secularism” (Hugh Schofield, “France’s Emmanuel Macron buffeted from all sides in row over secularism,” BBC, 9 December 2023). Even the head Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (Crif) Yonathan Arfi declared, “This is something that shouldn’t be allowed to happen again.”

Stéphane Séjourné with India’s minister of external affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (1.26.24)

In February 2024, Stéphane Séjourné addressed the Gaza genocide, declaring that “nothing justifies the tragendy that now confronts the inhabitants of Palestinian territory” (rien ne [pouvait] justifier [la tragédie] à laquelle sont confronté les habitants du territoire palestinien) and that “the future of Gaza is inextricably linked with that of the West Bank” (l’avenir de Gaza est indissociable de celui de la Cisjordanie) (Le Parisien avec AFP, “Guerre Israël-Hamas: la France appelle les ‘colons’ à cesser leurs ‘violences’ en Cisjordanie,” le Parisien, 5 February 2024).

And yet, the new foreign minister then insisted that the moribund ‘two-state solution’ was the only possible resolution — arguably impossible even in at the time of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1996 and beyond impossible by the time of Séjourné’s installation as foreign minister — as confirmed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s January 2024 declaration of absolute opposition to any Palestinian state; either Séjourné is astonishingly ignorant of the real situation in Israel/Palestine or he is cynically engaging in the well-worn public discourse of a a two-state solution that is the official language in Washington, London and Tel Aviv as well as Berlin and Paris.

On February 5, progressives opposed to the Attal government’s anti-progressive agenda brought a motion of censure to the floor of the Assemblée Nationale; while the 124 votes in favor fell well short of the 289 votes necessary to bring down the new government, the fact that such a large number of députés in the Assemblée Nationale would vote no confidence in Attal demonstrated the weakness of his position — above all among progressive members of the National Assembly (J.W. avec AFP, “Gabriel Attal échappe à une première motion de censure de la gauche,” Le Point, 5 February 2024).

On March 6, Attal attacked members of the Parti Socialiste in the Assemblée Nationale after PS member Jérôme Guedj questioned the prime minister on the implementation and enforcement of the 2004 law banning religious signs and the wearing of religious garb in public schools, Attal calling the opposition parliamentarians ‘gravediggers’ of ‘laïcité,’ as reported by Le Figaro:

Le premier ministre Gabriel Attal a livré une charge contre les députés insoumis, accusés d’être des «fossoyeurs» de la laïcité mercredi à l’Assemblée nationale. Lors des questions au gouvernement, Gabriel Attal était interrogé par le socialiste Jérôme Guedj sur les 20 ans de la loi de 2004 contre le port de tenues ou de signes ostensiblement religieux à l’école. Le député PS plaide pour la mise en place d’un Défenseur de la laïcité, sur le modèle du Défenseur des droits. En guise de réponse, le premier ministre a salué ceux qui défendent la laïcité en «première ligne», chefs d’établissement, professeurs, responsables politiques. «La laïcité a ses défenseurs partout en France» et le groupe PS en «fait partie», a estimé Gabriel Attal. Mais «la laïcité a aussi ses fossoyeurs et je le dis, y compris dans cet hémicycle», a lancé le premier ministre. «Laïcité à la carte» «Il y a quelques jours, un proviseur a fait l’objet de menaces de mort parce qu’il a cherché à faire appliquer la loi de 2004 dans son établissement en demandant à une élève de retirer son voile. Il a fait l’objet de menaces de mort», a dénoncé Gabriel Attal à propos du lycée Ravel à Paris (XXe). «J’ai vu une députée de La France insoumise relayer les théories contre ce proviseur sur les réseaux sociaux», a-t-il accusé, en visant, selon son entourage, Danielle Simonnet, députée LFI du XXe arrondissement parisien. Sur le réseau social X, Danielle Simonnet avait commenté ainsi la situation au lycée Ravel: «si le proviseur du lycée Ravel a été menacé de mort sur les réseaux, les auteurs doivent être poursuivis. Aussi, une enquête doit être engagée. Le proviseur a-t-il frappé l’élève ? Le respect du non-port du voile ne justifie aucune violence physique». Revenant sur l’inscription de l’IVG dans la Constitution lundi au Congrès, Gabriel Attal a ensuite reproché à la cheffe des députés LFI Mathilde Panot de ne pas avoir cité parmi les pays qui «remettent en cause les droits des femmes, l’Iran, l’Afghanistan», les pays qui, en s’appuyant «sur un islamisme dévoyé, utilisent la religion pour faire reculer les droits des femmes». «Il ne peut pas y avoir de laïcité à la carte», a souligné le chef du gouvernement. Contacté, le groupe LFI n’a pas immédiatement réagi” (“‘Fossoyeurs’ de la laïcité: Gabriel Attal étrille les députés insoumis à l’Assemblée,” Le Figaro, 6 March 2024).

The government of Gabriel Attal is still in its very early days as of the writing of this blog post and what Attal and Séjourné do with their considerable power as prime minister and foreign minister remains to be seen; certainly, Séjourné’s comments moderating the willful Zionism of Emmanuel Macron are welcome, though the président de la république française himself had already started to trim his Zionist sails in the face of massive protests in Paris and throughout France at the mounting casualties of civilians in Gaza as Apartheid Israel pursued its deadly genocidal war against the indigenous people of Gaza.

Still, for all the careful qualifications of French support for Israel, it remains a central fact of French foreign policy that the administration of Emmanuel Macron as well as the new government of Gabriel Attal continue to offer broad overall support for the apartheid regime and really only nominal support of the Palestinian people through words not backed by any action — other than France’s willingness to very lightly criticize Israeli pursuit of genocide in Gaza.

There has not been any progressive intersectional analysis coming from the Hôtel Matignon since Attal was installed as prime minister nor from the Quai d’Orsay since Séjourné took over the bureaucracy of France’s external relations nor has there been any really significant change in domestic or foreign policy at all — though perhaps one might hope for greater attention to LGBT issues both within the hexagon and beyond with Attal and Séjourné in office. Above all, what the appointments of Gabriel Attal and Stéphane Séjourné prove is that the mere election or appointment of openly gay men alone will do nothing to change public policy or foreign policy— let alone transform them — a firm rebuttal to the central premise of what I would call the ‘ideology of representationalism’ which makes precisely such a claim for the election or appointment of LGBTQ people, women, people of color and members of other groups underrepresented in policymaking positions in government in France or anywhere else.

Pauline Park received her B.A. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1982, her M.Sc. in European studies from the London School of Economics & Political Science in 1983 and her Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1994; she wrote her master’s thesis on the politics of French economic policy under the administration of François Mitterrand and her doctoral dissertation on the Maastricht Treaty on European Union; she was the first student at any University of Illinois campus to win a Fulbirght fellowship for France.

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