Recently announced French presidential candidate Éric Zemmour is an ultranationalist, right-wing pundit, who is anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and pro-fascist. He is also Jewish.
Without that last fact we would quickly dismiss him as another political extremist. But the fact that Zemmour is an open, proud Jew — the son of immigrants from Algeria — makes it difficult to ignore him, since who he is and what he says are such embarrassments.
At the heart of Zemmour’s racist views is the adoption of assertions and accusations that have historically been used against Jews. He has simply repurposed them to attack different immigrants and minorities. And it is upsetting to see that his hatemongering is attracting voter attention.
France’s first round of presidential elections is scheduled for April. President Emanuel Macron, who has not yet announced his candidacy, is ahead in polls at around 24%. Zemmour registers at 14%, right behind far-right leader Marine Le Pen, at 19%. If both Zemmour and Le Pen stay in the race, chances are pretty good that they will split the far-right vote. Fear of that result might convince Zemmour to drop out of the race.
Zemmour’s ultranationalist and anti-immigrant ideology has led him into historical revisionism about France’s most shameful episodes of antisemitism. For example, he praised the Nazi collaborationist Vichy government and argued that it saved native-born French Jews from the gas chambers and only sacrificed foreign Jews. “Vichy protected French Jews,” he said on TV to a country that still has not dealt with its role in the murder of Jews in the Holocaust.
And he minimized another sore point between France and its Jews by casting doubt on the innocence of Alfred Dreyfus, the French Jewish army captain who was falsely accused and convicted of passing secrets to Germany. The Dreyfus Affair was denounced as antisemitism tainting the highest levels of the French government. But according to Zemmour, both sides in the affair had noble motives, and he claims Dreyfus’ accusers were driven less by the fact that Dreyfus was Jewish, and more by the fact that he was of German descent.
Zemmour has been twice convicted of inciting racial hatred and discrimination. His two favored targets are immigrants and Muslims. He claims that France is involved in a religious war with Islam and a race war with its Black and Arab populations, and that immigrants and Muslims are the root cause of all of France’s problems.
During a 2020 debate, he said of unaccompanied child migrants: “They’ve no reason being here, they are thieves, they are killers, they are rapists, that’s all they do, they should be sent back.” And he rails against Muslim immigrants as “an invasion,” while asserting that “they should be given a choice between Islam and France.”
Zemmour’s hateful words are deeply offensive and troubling and would be so no matter who they came from. But they are particularly shameful when they come from a Jew whose family immigrated to France from North Africa.