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Analysis: Who is to blame in France's anti-Semitic political cartoon scandal?

Caricature Macron
Capture d'écran
The cartoon fed the far-right machine that has never been so close to reaching the uppermost echelons of power

"The truth in the Macron galaxy." The title alone evokes the idea of sort of a conspiracy. The image it describes offers no reassurance, since it is drawn straight from anti-Semitic imagination: a banker with a hooked nose around which "satellites" from other political parties orbit.

We are not in the 1930's, but in 2017, in the midst of a French presidential campaign just 40 days from election deadline. This caricature was not published on some dubious site of the extreme right, but by the official Twitter account of French presidential candidate François Fillon's Republican party.

Fillon quickly denounced the "anti-Semitic drawing" and called for internal sanctions against its creator, but the bomb had already dropped.

Though it seems obvious that the presidential candidate had nothing to do with the drawing's publication, it does not absolve his party from any responsibility.

Despite the explanations and the removal of the image, the sharing of such ignominy over social media, already polluted by hateful publications of all kinds, is a serious error in communications – especially during a time marked by the rise of populism and proliferation of conspiracy theories.

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The drawing also gives credit to obscure theories that were thought to have been forever banished the French political sphere.

The Republicans revived, if only for a few moments, the darkest hours of history during which such anti-Semitic caricatures were widely carried by the press.

"The image not only accompanied anti-Semitic discourse – it synthesized it, simplified it, concentrated it, standardized it, and facilitated the memorization of stereotypes," writes historian Marie-Anne Marard Bonucci, in her research article entitled "The Caricature: a major figure of anti-Semitic discourse?"

Such "standardization" can prove all the more dangerous today in a society in which it is not what you read that is most important, but what you see.

More worryingly, the drawing feeds the far-right machine which has never been so close to climbing to the uppermost echelons of power, playing on its own ground and embracing its favorite rhetoric: the idea that finance, as represented by the Jewish banker, controls the political "galaxy."


Former Prime Minister Manuel Valls himself was once the target of an anonymous anti-Semitic cartoon last January during the Socialist party's primaries. The drawing, posted on a polling station door, depicted him with the Star of David painted on his buttocks, accompanied with the words "under Jewish influence," in reference to his wife.

These cartoons, which draw directly from the classic clichés of anti-Semitism, are unfortunately not new. But the fact that they are now, intentionally or not, being portrayed by one of France's top three political parties in the year 2017 is worrying, as it is the replication of allusions to the conspiracies propagated by the so-called "anti-establishment" campaign.

The idea that the people will be manipulated by elites, whether in politics or media, has never been so present in the collective imagination. The fact that political discourse echoes such theories, and adding here a touch of anti-Semitism, is more than dangerous.

The election of Donald Trump in the United States, which adopted an anti-media and "fake news" line, has led politicians from all over the world to believe it is fashionable to hit back at the media in order to appear more credible in the eyes of the people.

It remains to be seen whether such a scenario will apply in French elections in May, or in The Netherlands later this week.

Marion Bernard is a journalist and chief editor of the i24NEWS website in French.


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