European Social Forum vs. You-know-who

I’ve been trying to make some sense of the European Social Forum which drew tens of thousands of anti-globalizers to Paris last week for meetings, lectures and a demonstration featuring– yes, you guessed it– giant puppets.

Some of the most extensive coverage I’ve found has been by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on the one hand and on the other.

The JTA report focuses on the role of Swiss Muslim theologian Tariq Ramadan at the ESF after French Socialist delegates protested his recent remarks singling out French Jewish intellectuals for scorn.

As a result of the protests Ramadan become something of a star attraction at the conference.

Ramadan wrote last month that a list of French intellectuals “who have always been considered as universalist thinkers” are “increasingly affected by a community-based sectarianism which tends to relativize the defense of universal principles of equality and justice.”

The article went on to describe how the “political positioning” of “French Jewish intellectuals” was determined by their personal status as “Jews, nationalists and defenders of Israel.”

This, Ramadan claimed, had caused Andre Glucksman, Bernard-Henri Levy and Alain Finkielkraut to support the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq. Levy had decided to write his recent book on the assassination of American Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl as a way to support Israel’s pro-India policy and attack a Muslim state, Pakistan, Ramadan also wrote.

In fact, Levy also wrote a number of articles opposing the war. Both he and Finkielkraut have publicly criticized the policies of Israel’s current government and have endorsed the “Geneva accord,” an unofficial peace plan drafted by Israeli opposition figures and Palestinians close to the Palestinian Authority leadership.

Moreover, another of those accused by Ramadan as placing his Jewish ethnic background before his universalist principles — the author of “The New Judeophobia,” Pierre-Andre Taguieff — is not even Jewish.

A number of leading French newspapers refused to print Ramadan’s article, but the European Social Union printed it on its Web site and strongly resisted demands that Ramadan be excluded from the Social Forum.

Again according to the JTA:

Ramadan’s polemic also had the effect of splitting France’s opposition Socialist Party from the rest of the French left, with leading party figures calling on the forum to exclude Ramadan.

One of the strongest attacks on Ramadan came from three leaders on the left wing of the Socialist Party, who long have called for the party to build closer links to the anti-globalization movement.

By specifically pointing out Jewish intellectuals, Ramadan had joined “the classic tradition of the far-right,” the three wrote in Le Nouvel Observateur. “Fascists think and talk like that.”

Aljazeera reported that Iraq and Palestine were the focus of particular attention at the ESF:

“This forum is creating a space for the Palestinian narrative that is not available in the mainstream,” the Palestinian civil society spokesman Mustafa Barghouti told

“With the efforts of the ESF to re-energize it, the international solidarity movement will soon regain its momentum.”

The forum, which is fast becoming the global protest movement’s collective think tank, saw hundreds of delegates queuing in the road, unable to get into packed meetings on the Palestinian struggle.

Meanwhile two synagogues were bombed in Istanbul and a Jewish school was burned down not far from where the forum took place. I hope the delegates were able to manage at least a fraction of the outrage for these attacks which they routinely achieve for Israel and its supporters. And I hope the French Socialists did not stand alone.

Update: I received an email from a member of the UK affiliate of European Jews for a Just Peace, who attended the ESF and disputes the JTA’s characterization of his group as “anti-Zionist.” I looked at the group’s website and I didn’t find anything explicitly anti-Zionist there, so I’ll take his word for it.

The emailer says Tariq Ramadan denounced antisemitism in his speech to the ESF. But the objection of the French Socialists was not to what Tariq Ramadan said at the ESF, but rather that he was invited to speak after publishing his offensive (to put it benignly) article about French Jewish intellectuals.

Finally the emailer says that representatives of his organization sent a sharply worded condemnation of the Istanbul bombings to the final plenary of the ESF and “I understand from an EJJP representative who attended that it received strong support.”