Macron the Mensch
After all the understandable angst among Jews that the neo-fascist National Front leader, Marine Le Pen, would win the French presidency, our oldest ally has as its head of state a good and decent man, Emmanuel Macron, who with great clarity and courage, has owned up to French complicity in the Holocaust, and who has offered a spirited defense of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish homeland. As Henry Kissinger has noted, “The test of a leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.” Macron, a true leader, is bringing France to a painful but necessary place of truth.
In his speech commemorating the 75th anniversary of the roundup of Jews in France during World War II, Macron said unequivocally that “it was indeed France that organized this.” He added that “not a single German was involved.” Rather, Macron correctly noted, it was the French police under Nazi rule and in the Vichy government of unoccupied France that did the deed.
Macron also rejected the assertions of the National Front and the French far right that the Vichy regime did not represent the French people in their policy of anti-Semitic purges and deportations to Nazi death camps. “We cannot build pride upon a lie,” Macron added.
On the subject of Israel, Macron acknowledged that “recently we have witnessed a rise of extremist forces that seek to destroy not only the Jews, but of course, the Jewish state as well, but beyond that. … The zealots of militant Islam, who seek to destroy you [the Jewish people], seek to destroy us [the French], as well. We must stand against them together.” Lastly, Macron paraphrased the late, great Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in plainly stating that anti-Zionism is “a reinvented form of anti-Semitism.”
Go ahead and blink in surprise. I did. More than that, however, I shed tears of joy. As a former Justice Department prosecutor of fugitive Nazi war criminals, as a participant in the United States’ investigation of postwar American (yes, American) complicity in the escape of Gestapo officer Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyon,” and as a lifelong pro-Israel activist, I frankly thought that I would never live to see the day when a president of France, with no holds barred, spoke truth to the power of denial.
France has long suffered from a troubled history with the real fact of the Shoah – not the fake facts that predominated much of the French posture that they were a people without any free will during World War II, and thus could not be held accountable for what happened to their Jewish friends and neighbors. The real facts are that France was a wartime country whose officials and many of whose citizens disposed of Jews as the price of doing business with the Nazis. Germany did not need to teach many (although, of course, not all) of the wartime French about anti-Semitism. All the Nazis did was to fan a fire already set.
In speaking the truth, Macron, a Catholic, has done to the conscience of France what no Jew could: He has awakened it from the peaceful slumber of denial with a swift kick to the tush.
As to his defense of Israel and his condemnation of Islamic terrorism and hatred directed at the Jewish state and his own, Macron also has done what no Jew could do: He has tied the fortunes of Israel to those of the of the West. It always has been a truth never spoken by most European governments that Israel is very much a nation in the European democratic mold: a great if imperfect parliamentary democracy with full religious and political freedom for all of its residents regardless of their backgrounds. In its mindset and political philosophy, Israel has always looked westward. Israel may be in the Middle East, but it is decidedly not a medieval-like theocracy or autocracy as are many of its neighbors.
Macron seems to understand this in recognizing that the enemies of Israel are the enemies of France and the other Western democracies. Finally, Macron’s spirited embrace and defense of Zionism as an honorable national movement is a clear rebuttal to the persistent propaganda that Zionism is a form of racism. In just his first few weeks in office, the French president has risen to a level of inspired leadership in the defense of Western, including Jewish, civilization.
Bruce J. Einhorn is a former federal prosecutor and judge, and an adjunct professor of international human rights law at Pepperdine University.