France and the Jews

by Chris Bertram on January 10, 2004

Norman Geras has a post on anti-semitism in France which documents some awful recent attacks on Jews. But he then goes on to cite another article by Serge Klarsfeld which alleges that France has been a “consistent adversary of the Jewish nation” and cites a 1789 speech to the National Assembly by Clermont-Tonnerre, one of the deputies. I was curious about this and googled for it, and the whole speech is available on-line . The speech actually concerns the various groups who were excluded from various legal rights before the revolution, including members of “questionable professions” (such as actors and executioners) and religious minorities including Protestants and Jews. Clermont-Tonnerre is arguing for the extension of legal rights to all citizens, regardless of their religious opinion, and that no-one should have a special and distinct legal status because of the religious or ethnic identity: all individuals should be equal as citizens before the law. He attacks the idea that the Jews should be allowed to have their own judges and to exact their own punishments on lawbreakers. But it is clear that the point he is making is the same as a liberal would make now if it were proposed that Muslims should be allowed to establish Sharia courts with the power to enact punishments within France or Britain today. Maybe there is an argument supporting the thesis of a persistent anti-Jewish bias by the French state since the revolution, but the broadly liberal sentiments expressed by Clermont-Tonnerre in the National Assembly are no evidence for this.

{ 48 comments }

1

John Isbell 01.10.04 at 9:17 pm

“and cites a 1789 speech to the National Assembly by Clermont-Tonnerre, one of the deputies.”
Idiot. A speech that gets cited a lot, both by those who aren’t demagoging idiots and by those who are.
Last time I checked, about 2/3 of France’s current wave of anti-semitic attacks were committted by France’s 10% North African population. I avoid links, but feel certain that this paragon of honest thought will have made that point, particularly with the historical thesis being pushed at us.

2

John Kozak 01.10.04 at 10:01 pm

The selective quotations and misleading analogies on Geras’s blog make it difficult to believe he’s acting in good faith. The interminable toadying to arsewits like Lileks and Reynolds doesn’t help much, either.

3

Chris Bertram 01.10.04 at 10:21 pm

The use was Klarsfeld’s not Geras’s. And I’ve found that those few words are quoted out of context all over the place. So I have to say that I find the suggestion of bad faith inappropriate and unjustified John.

4

John Kozak 01.10.04 at 11:30 pm

Noted, Chris – it’s not an accusation I like making. But surely there’s a basic duty to check sources concerning allegations as serious as that, rather than just crowing about having a prejudice confirmed? Anyway, it wasn’t just that: Geras’s recent analogies (U.S. as burglar;Palestine as an episode of The Office) are so perverse that I find it hard to believe they’re sincerely meant to clarify.

5

Conrad Barwa 01.11.04 at 1:13 am

One needs to be careful here, I think Clermont-Tonnere’s speech is often misunderstood, it can’t be construed as an anti-Semitic one; but it posits a notion of citizenship which is the reverse of the Romanticist German model, which in turn served in many ways as the model for Zionism. Certainly this tension between French and German conceptions of Nationalism have a tension between them that spills into the debate today in a number of ways; no Zionist or supporter of Israel can wholly agree with Clermont-Tonnere’s argument and it has been explicitly used by anti-Zionists to criticise the model of Jewish nationalism adopted. It is on the other hand very difficult to read even an unintended anti-Semitic bias into what Clermont-Tonnere was arguing for; but the salience of this kind of rationalising all-inclusive, voluntaristic notion of citizenship and nationalism by breaking down prior ethnic solidarities to other political affiliations cannot but be seen as part of the problem of assimilation which ethno-nationalisms such as Zionism have such a problematic relationship with. It should also be noted that the devil can indeed quote scripture for his purposes; I find it hard to believe frex, that the current move to ban the hijab from state schools in France is part of the great, universalistic, emancipation process that was launched at the birth of French nationalism and of which this speech is a classic example of. While I have enormous sympathy for the ideal of nation-building based on replacing pre-existing loyalties to one of a democratic and liberal collectively constituted polity; it must be recognised that sometimes these moves to reduce and break down already existing communities into the individual building-blocs of the single citizen, can be motivated out of less than progressive concerns. In this light, it may well be time to do some re-thinking on the use of Clermont-Tonnere’s prescriptions as to leaving these communities intact and ceding them some collective rights, as opposed to insisting they enter the polity only as individuals.

6

Ophelia Benson 01.11.04 at 2:35 am

Hmm. That could explain a thing or two (about my own allegiances, I mean). In a choice between German Romanticism and French universalism, give me the French menu any day. And the same goes double for collective v. individual rights. I want the right to tell my collective to sod off.

7

Dick Fitzgerald 01.11.04 at 8:48 am

Israel’s racist policies against Palestinians create anti-Semitism in the world, and that is how French Muslims have responded.

8

Chris Bertram 01.11.04 at 9:03 am

Dick Fitzgerald: (a) anti-Semitism long predates the state of Israel; (b) nothing done by Israel could justify or excuse racist attacks on Jews in France or elsewhere.

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Chris Bertram 01.11.04 at 9:13 am

Conrad’s remarks on German versus French ideals of citizenship are very helpful. I happened also upon an “essay by Michael Walzer”:http://bellarmine.lmu.edu/faculty/epark/amcs100/walzer.html that discusses Clermont-Tonnerre, basically gets him right, but argues that others such as Brissot were insistent not just on equal legal status but on cultural assimilation as a condition for emancipation. Walzer’s essay contrasts the French model of citizenship with the American one – so that gives us a three-way contrast.

10

David DeMille 01.11.04 at 1:55 pm

“Maybe there is an argument supporting the thesis of a persistent anti-Jewish bias by the French state since the revolution…”

There were such arguments made (sorry, the sources don’t come immediately to mind), the gist being that some Jews’ persistent refusal to abandon their individual (i.e. group) identity in favour of simple French citizenship has long irked the French “state”. Of course, the issue of “dual” (read: single, foreign) loyalty was often the cover for anti-semitic arguments during the Dreyfus affair.

11

Bob 01.11.04 at 2:56 pm

Chris,

“nothing done by Israel could justify or excuse racist attacks on Jews in France or elsewhere.”

Of course not in a world that is rational and benign but is that the world in which we live now?

If the Neocons in America can assert a unilateral right to international military pre-emption they should not be too suprised when others elsewhere claim and exercise a corresponding right in pursuit of what they perceive to be their interests.

It was Tony Blair who said in a speech to the Chicago Economic Club in April 1999: “If we want a world ruled by law and by international co-operation then we have to support the UN as its central pillar.” – from:
http://www.ndol.org/ndol_ci.cfm?cp=4&kaid=128&subid=187&contentid=829

But as we now know, Tony Blair does not actually believe what he said or he would not have committed Britain to a war against Iraq without UN approval, when:

“The Bush Administration began laying plans for an invasion of Iraq, including the use of American troops, within days of President Bush’s inauguration in January of 2001 – not eight months later after the 9/11 attacks as has been previously reported. That’s what former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill says in his first interview about his time as a White House insider. . .” – at:
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/01/09/60minutes/main592330.shtml

The fact is that by many reports Israeli forces have also acted extra-territorially on several occasions such as: (a) the bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981; (b) the kidnapping in Italy in 1986 of Mordechai Vanunu for disclosing Israel’s nuclear weapons programme; and (c) by repute, in the assassination in Brussels in 1990 of Gerald Bull, the designer of a supergun assembled in Iraq prior to Gulf I from parts supplied by foundries in Britain: http://world.std.com/~jlr/doom/bull.htm

This account relates to events on the night of 14-15 October 1953:

“. . Unit 101 was commanded by an aggressive and ambitious young major named Ariel Sharon. Sharon’s order was to penetrate Qibya, blow up houses, and inflict heavy casualties on its inhabitants. His success in carrying out this order surpassed all expectations. The full and macabre story of what happened at Qibya was revealed only during the morning after the attack. The village had been reduced to a pile of rubble: forty-five houses had been blown up, and sixty-nine civiliains, two-thirds of them women and children, had been killed. Sharon and his men claimed that they had no idea that anyone was hiding in the houses. The UN observer who inspected the reached a different conclusion: ‘One story was repeated time after time: the bullet splintered door, the body sprawled across the threshold, indicating that the inhabitants had been forced by heavy fire to stay inside until their homes were blown up over them.'” – from: Avi Shlaim: The Iron Wall (Penguin Books, 2000), p. 91. The author, an Israeli, is professor of international relations at St Anthony’s College, Oxford.

This assessment of events in Palestine territories leading up to end 2000 was released by Physicians for Human Rights, a US-based group: “November 2000: Physicians for Human Rights USA (PHR) finds that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has used live ammunition and rubber bullets excessively and inappropriately to control demonstrators, and that based on the high number of documented injuries to the head and thighs, Israeli soldiers appear to be shooting to inflict harm, rather than solely in self-defense. PHR sent a medical team to Israel, Gaza and the West Bank from October 20-27, 2000 to investigate claims that Israel Defense Force (IDF) is using excessive force in the current conflict that has pitted Israeli troops and settlers against Palestinian demonstrators and combatants. . .” – from: http://www.phrusa.org/research/forensics/israel/Israel_force.html

What is sauce for the goose has become sauce for the gander too.

It has been claimed that criticism of Israel amounts to anti-semitism:

“But where anti-Semitism and views that are profoundly anti-Israeli have traditionally been the primary preserve of poorly educated right-wing populists, profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities. Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent.” – from: http://president.harvard.edu/speeches/2002/morningprayers.html

If so, then on the basis of a Kantian categorical imperative, criticism of those who act on behalf of Palestinian interests amounts etc etc.

12

Chris Bertram 01.11.04 at 4:15 pm

Bob, when I said that nothing done by Israel could justify or excuse racist attacks on Jews in France or elsewhere, I was not supposing that the world is “rational and benign” but very much as it is now. I don’t think that criticism of Israel is ipso facto anti-semitic, but I do think that holding Jews (Israelis and non-Israeli, individually or collectively) anywhere in the world responsible for Israeli action and policy, excusing violent attacks on them etc etc either borders on or is anti-semitic and is hateful and wrong.

David, as you say the Dreyfus affair was a significant episode in French history. But if I understand that history correctly the affair exemplifies the deep divide within French society between the republican heirs of the revolution and the sundry royalist, Action Francaise, fascist, defeatist (in 1940) elements – a divide that continues to this day. In wrongly taking Clermont-Tonnerre’s speech as and instance of French hostilty to the Jews, Klarsfeld was firing on the very republican tradition that stood up for Dreyfus against the reactionaries in the army. No doubt things are more complicated than that, but that’s roughly how I understand matters.

13

Bob 01.11.04 at 5:04 pm

Chris,

I agree with you. Of course, a jewish resident of France or wherever cannot be held morally responsible for what Israeli governments do. But I’ve been posting to online discussion groups for eight years now and a fairly frequent experience in discussing issues like this that I’ve had to endure is being dubbed an anti-semite, or a friend of David Irving on one occasion, for posting criticism of Israeli governments.

Most of that didn’t come from Israeli citizens but from nationals of other countries speaking up on behalf of Israel. They are entitled to do so, of course, although some questions arise as to where their primary allegiances are, perhaps especially so in the light of the comment above by the President of Harvard. IMO Israeli governments in general, and Sharon in particular, have much to answer for, a view it seems I share with Gerald Kaufman:

“Israeli leader Ariel Sharon has been branded a ‘war criminal’ and a ‘fool’ by former Labour minister Gerald Kaufman. . .” – from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/1933309.stm

Famously, in the UN General Assembly debate on the future of Palestine in November 1947, the then British government abstained saying that partition would lead to continuing conflict and so it has proved. We have all been living with the consequences of partition since.

Curious that when Tony Blair was asked about doubling British arms exports to Israel, he was reported as saying: “you could cut the British arms industry, but someone else would supply them.” – from: http://politics.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,4468406-110779,00.html

Which only goes to show. I seem to recall much the same being said by the defendant at his trial for supplying crack cocaine but that is bound to be just another of those coincidences.

14

Eve Garrard 01.11.04 at 7:01 pm

Bob, you say that in a world which is rational and benign nothing done by Israel could justify attacks on Jews in France or elsewhere, but that we don’t live in such a world. This implies that in the world in which we do actually live such attacks *are* justified. You also say that Jewish residents of France or wherever cannot be held responsible for what the Israeli government does, although when they speak up on behalf of Israel there are questions about where their primary allegiances lie. The world has always been an imperfect irrational malign place, for Jews as for others, and our understanding of racism has always involved that background. And you think that in the real world, even though non-Israeli Jews may not be responsible for what the Israeli government does, nonetheless racist attacks on them can be justified or excused, and furthermore those Jews who support Jewish nationalism have suspect allegiances. How does this differ from some very familiar forms of racism?

The mantra ‘anti-Zionism isn’t the same as anti-semitism’ has come to replace the older one of ‘some of my best friends are Jews’ – it’s increasingly wheeled out to play a very similar exculpatory role. It’s true that a person can be anti-Zionist without being anti-semitic, just as it’s true that a person can claim to have Jews as friends without being anti-semitic. Nonetheless it is also true that a person can be anti-Zionist precisely because they’re anti-semitic. Judging what’s actually going on requires attention to just what’s being said prior to the production of the mantra. And if what’s being said is that it’s ok to attack innocent Jews because of what other people have done, and that anyway a lot of them have suspect allegiances to foreign countries, then it’s not very surprising that a charge of racism comes your way.

15

Chris Bertram 01.11.04 at 8:13 pm

Just to say that I’ve deleted one comment from this thread.

16

Bob 01.11.04 at 10:23 pm

Eve,

“How does this differ from some very familiar forms of racism?”

Just as Israeli forces have acted extra-territorially, if non-Israeli jews choose to defend the truly shameful record of some Israeli governments, it is hardly surprising that some who sympathise with the cause of the Palestinians regard all jews as enemy combatants just as Sharon regarded Palestinians in Qibya in 1953 as such. Their inexcusable error is in assuming all jews are inevitably uncritical of the military actions and policies of Israeli governments.

I’ve already mentioned Gerald Kaufman MP, who named Sharon as a war criminal, but there is also the group Jews for Justice for Palestine: http://www.jfjfp.org/links.htm

“Britain’s chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, today delivers an unprecedentedly strong warning to Israel, arguing that the country is adopting a stance ‘incompatible’ with the deepest ideals of Judaism, and that the current conflict with the Palestinians is ‘corrupting’ Israeli culture. . .” – at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,781113,00.html

“Half of Israelis regard Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as untrustworthy after he said he might take unilateral steps to resolve conflict with Palestinians on Israel’s terms, an opinion poll has indicated. The Dahaf Institute survey published in the Israeli daily Maariv showed 50 percent felt Sharon was untrustworthy or somewhat untrustworthy, compared with 40 percent last August. Forty-seven percent saw him as reliable in the latest poll.” – at: http://www.reuters.co.uk/newsPackageArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=421224&section=news

“Justice Minister Yosef Lapid yesterday launched a verbal assault on Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, describing their behavior as ‘barbaric,’ and accusing them of having ‘de facto’ control in Israel.

“Lapid said that the settlers ‘in their heart of hearts dream of the transfer of Palestinians to the [eastern] banks of the Jordan [River], a solution which is not only barbaric, but also utterly impossible.’

“Speaking at the Herzliya Conference, Lapid said that ‘even though Israel is an exemplary democracy, it is de facto controlled by a small minority of Yesha [West Bank and Gaza] settlers who represent a minority within the settlers themselves. . .”
-from: http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/373706.html

Presumably, on the take of the President of Harvard, all those estimable jews have to be regarded as “objectively anti-semitic” too.

17

Eve Garrard 01.11.04 at 10:58 pm

Bob, none of the critics of Israel whom you quote say that it’s ok to attack innocent Jews (or jews, as you seem to prefer) on account of the putative wrongdoing of other Jews. So their position isn’t much like the one you hold. Do you think it’s ok to attack innocent British Moslems on account of the wrongdoings of those who slit Daniel Pearl’s throat in Pakistan? Don’t you think that would be racist? But that’s just what you’re saying about French (and other) Jews.

18

Bob 01.12.04 at 12:32 am

Eve,

I’ve a powerful dislike of double standards which is why I’m so critical of the military record of Israeli governments.

19

roger 01.12.04 at 1:14 am

I’m surprised that you didn’t highlight a phrase of Klarsfeld’s that throws a lot of light on his position — the phrase “French Israelites.” This is a rather appalling instance of a subset of Anti-semitism — that prejudice that consists in refusing Jews the autonomy of making their own choices about citizenship. These are French Jews. They aren’t citizens of Israel. If they wanted to be citizens of Israel, they would have chosen that citizenship. In fact, the problem with Israel today is that it faces the choice that is always difficult for nations that are conceived in terms of the romantic ideology of nationalism: whether to become a liberal democracy, like France and the United States, in which citizenship is a matter of birth and choice, or whether to make claim about representing an international ethnos/religion. Americans of German descent don’t think they are part of Pan-Germania. French Canadians don’t claim to be part of France (well, mostly). But this comfort with the heterogenous mixture of nations is always disputed by nationalists — as was the case with the Germans of Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Russia during the 20th century.
These ultra-nationalist claims always lead to disaster. It is no wonder Klarsfeld targets the French Revolution, which was, among other things, the cauldron in which a nationalism of birth, class or religion was separated from the nation of a people free to chose their citizenship.

20

Tim Dymond 01.12.04 at 1:17 am

Bob, you can’t simultaneously say:

‘I’ve a powerful dislike of double standards . . .’

and

‘Just as Israeli forces have acted extra-territorially, if non-Israeli jews choose to defend the truly shameful record of some Israeli governments, it is hardly surprising that some who sympathise with the cause of the Palestinians regard all jews as enemy combatants just as Sharon regarded Palestinians in Qibya in 1953 as such.’

Surely the conclusion from the last point is that two-three wrongs DO make a right.

21

Ophelia Benson 01.12.04 at 2:03 am

“Do you think it’s ok to attack innocent British Moslems on account of the wrongdoings of those who slit Daniel Pearl’s throat in Pakistan? Don’t you think that would be racist?”

“This is a rather appalling instance of a subset of Anti-semitism — that prejudice that consists in refusing Jews the autonomy of making their own choices about citizenship. These are French Jews. They aren’t citizens of Israel.”

There’s a lot of this kind of confusion around.

The first quotation. Racist? But Islam is not a ‘race,’ it’s a religion.

The second is a good example of why precision is a good idea in these questions. Maybe people get so used to conflating Islam with race that French Israelites sounds vaguely correct.

I heard some Beeb reporter the other day talking about the Sudan; he mentioned the Arabs in the North and the Christians in the South. Eh? What a meaningless thing to say! Christians can be Arabs and Arabs can be Christians, so that makes about as much sense as saying Americans in the North and Christians in the South.

22

msg 01.12.04 at 4:56 am

Once again Ms. Benson, yes. Ok.
It’s anti-semantic. That’s the problem.
There are places in the world that designate whites “Christians” without regard for spiritual practice. Al Sharpton is observably not entirely of African-American descent. Halle Berry insists she’s never been mistaken for a white girl. Colin Powell is a black man, for political purposes; and what about Strom Thurmond’s love child? Is she black?
Tiger Woods calmly walked right through all that nonsense, and out the other side.
The classifications are themselves racist, whether the intention is or not. But we’re stuck in this self-feeding dynamic of racism and reaction and reinforcement.
Semantically this business of the Jew is mystifying from the outset. Where is the Semite? Can someone dislike the Jewish religion and its adherents and not care one way or the other about people who are genetically Jewish? I’ll suggest this is possible theoretically but it’s not allowed somehow.
And then Israel, a political thing, a geographical entity, somehow synonymous with a mythic home for a homeless people. Two things, at least, at once.

There’s this conservative trope of liberal understanding being the same as exoneration. As though taking into account an early childhood of horrific abuse means simply excusing adult crime. Similarly, conversely, liberals are more inclined to blindly defend racism in the traditionally oppressed as caused rather than causative.
But we need to understand or we’ll continue to be manipulated.
There is no such thing as a generic human being, of any race, or people. There are villains among us all.

23

Eve Garrard 01.12.04 at 9:06 am

Ophelia, since the (welcome) collapse of the biological conception of race, racism has come to refer to prejudiced attitudes or behaviour towards groups of differing ethnicity. Ethnicity is made up of a variety of factors, prominent among which is often, though not always, religious affiliation. Moslems who were worried about attacks on their co-religionists after September 11th referred to this in terms of racism, and I think they were right to do so.

Bob, what’s at issue here is not your dislike of the Israeli military, but your exoneration of attacks on innocent Jews outside of Israel. You say that you have a powerful dislike of double standards. That’s a very creditable thing for a person to have, but it can take you to some uncomfortable places. You exonerate attacks on innocent Jews on the basis of the terrible provocation offered to their attackers by the spectacle of Israel’s putative misdeeds. But your powerful dislike of double standards will then require you to exonerate other attacks resulting from provocation. There are a lot of provoked people in the world, including of course the Israeli government, which has been desperately provoked by the appalling behaviour of the surrounding Arab states, the suicide bombers in their midst, etc etc. So you’ll have to exonerate them too. I’m very sure you don’t want to do that. So if you want to go on thinking of yourself as a person with a powerful dislike of double standards, perhaps you should give up regarding attacks on innocent Jews as justifiable or excusable.

24

Bob 01.12.04 at 12:13 pm

Eve – “Bob, what’s at issue here is not your dislike of the Israeli military, but your exoneration of attacks on innocent Jews outside of Israel.”

And so you are empowered to choose the rules of debate?

Just where did I “exonerate attacks on innocent jews”? Show me the quote, please, or is that just another twist to the truth?

When did you criticise Sharon for the Qibya atrocity in 1953 – or for the massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982? Are you not outraged by this account of “torture by proxy” in the Khiam Prison in south Lebanon: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/correspondent/1002463.stm

IMO apologists for Israel, whether jew or gentile, don’t want the mention of Israeli atrocities. They want to unilaterally define the rules for negotiating the moral maze we find ourselves in as a consequence of the partition of Palestine. They want to define what is legitimate reprisal for past wrongs and what isn’t. They express outrage if others choose to act by their own rules. Double standards prevail.

By my personal rules, innocent jews in France or anywhere else are not legitimate reprisal targets for those who claim to act on behalf of the Palestinian cause – or innocent people anywhere for any cause. But then I believe what happened at Qibya in 1953 was an intended atrocity, so ordered by the Israeli defence minister at the time as I trust the account in Avi Shlaim’s The Iron Wall. I also believe the terrorist bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946 was another atrocity. That cost the lives of 91 people. The person widely credited with responsibility for organising that atrocity went on to become prime minister of Israel 1977-83.

The state of Israel was created tbrough organised, persistent terrorism and there is extensive documentation to support such a charge. Apologists for the terrorism and atrocities inflicted by those who wanted to create and defend the Israeli state rely on a wider public being short on their recollection of history – a rational premise since many surveys in many countries report that only minorities in most places can recall the names of government ministers currently in office. It seems that recalling recent history of current affairs is not a widely distributed faculty.

The next step is to smear as anti-semites anyone who recalls the suppressed history. That is how double standards prevail.

25

Chris Bertram 01.12.04 at 12:26 pm

Bob, I’m relieved by your statement that you don’t condone attacks on innocent people. But I wish you hadn’t taken my reference to the first part of Norman’s post (which I cited for context) as licence to bang on about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The main focus of my post was to challenge Klarsfeld’s interpretation of some remarks by a deputy to the French National Assembly in 1789 — post-1948 history may be interesting an controversial but it doesn’t have much bearing on what was at stake back in the 18th century.

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John Kozak 01.12.04 at 12:30 pm

Regarding my previous allegations of mauvais foi, I think Geras’s silence oin this matter (no blog update, clarification, comment, let alone apology to the French nation) speaks rather loudly.

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Rv. Agnos 01.12.04 at 1:30 pm

While I agree that Clermont-Tonnerre’s remarks need not be viewed as anti-Semitic, I am also not sure that I agree with Chris’ statement:

“But it is clear that the point he is making is the same as a liberal would make now if it were proposed that Muslims should be allowed to establish Sharia courts with the power to enact punishments within France or Britain today.”

British Muslims are currently treated fairly in British courts. I think that a better analogy (or at least an analogy that is equally bad in the other direction) is a proposed law setting up special courts for blacks in Mississippi in 1866 (or 1966) because of the expected treatment of former slaves in white-dominated regular courts.

If there is general understanding that a minority who has been discriminated against will continue to be discriminated against under a system that is “equal” in name only, then supporting that system, rather than supporting one that would lead to actual equality, could be seen as anti-Semitic.

28

Bob 01.12.04 at 2:05 pm

Chris,

“as licence to bang on about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

I responded to comments. Besides, there is a particular context for the rise of anti-semitic attacks in France – which, arguably, also includes the consequences of setting a relatively high statutory minimum wage.

France has a high rate of youth unemployment by European standards as a result. Unsurprisingly, the youth unemployment rate is even higher in the housing estates on the fringes of the major cities in France where the migrants from France’s ex-colonies in North Africa tend to live. Naturally, few in France want to contemplate a downward adjustment in the minimum wage or discuss the foreseeable outcome of misplaced government intervention in markets. It’s just another of those embarrassingly relevant contextual issues that often gets quickly swept under the carpet least anyone notices.

The course of history tends to be path dependent but then, as George Orwell wrote: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” [Nineteen Eighty-four]

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Conrad Barwa 01.12.04 at 3:36 pm

Chris,

“I happened also upon an essay by Michael Walzer that discusses Clermont-Tonnerre, basically gets him right, but argues that others such as Brissot were insistent not just on equal legal status but on cultural assimilation as a condition for emancipation.”….

I don’t know whether Walzer, gets Clermont-Tonnere right; he seems to be resorting to some of the same selective quoting that most pro-Zionists do when disparaging the views expressed by the former. The idea behind French Republicanism at the time, as I understand it, was to create in some senses a New Man, and New French Citizen and to do this obviously older identifications had to be broken down. Now this emancipatory and universalistic project ran into several difficulties and was largely abandoned, or left to one side when the Revolution ran into its problems both internal and external. However, what Walzer and others tend to overlook, is that when these sentiments were being expressed, there was an understanding that they would occur as a much deeper and wide-ranging part of social transformation not just as a simple change of regime in the polity. It was as much a desire for social change as it was for political change; unlike many of the debates today, where core aspects of what was contested then, such as the notion of citizenship, enchanced public participation, some adherence to democratic norms etc. are nor accepted by broadly most of the political spectrum. Moreover, if one is criticise Clermont-Tonnere, it should be done on how that project of Republican Nationalism has not delivered on its promises and failed to live up to expectations, not on some notion of alternative ethnic-based nationalist standards, which is really a different argument. It seems to me that many of the current controversies in France over secularism and the mal-adjustment of French Muslim minorities indicates that as with the existence of European anti-Semitism, the promise of this kind of ideal fell far below in practise.

I also take issue with Walzer’s rather idealised notions of American nationalism; it rests on the usual assumptions of American exceptionalism to which we should by now be wary of. It is all very well to say that individual identities can identify themselves as Irish-American or Italian-American but as many labour historians like Mike Davis have pointed out this kind of absorptive capacity always rested on the specific political economy of the country, that needed immigrant labour to exploit the untapped resource and land base available and the role they played in subsuming class identities under ethnic ones; surely militated against cross-communal alliances for progressive politics. It also accepts a certain hegemony of the Anglo-Saxon base of American identify, it is enormously revealing that while one can talk of Irish-American, German-American etc. one rarely if ever hears the terms English-American; this somehow is taken as the norm or baseline to which all other ethnic immigrants can assimilate or integrate to. The implication is that, American nationalism is less exceptional in this regard than Walzer might think it is, particularly when compared to the settler states of the other neo-Europes in Canada or Australia; as far as their nationalisms go.

I also want to add that Norm Geras’s use of Klarsfeld’s extract boggles the mind. I don’t know exactly what the purpose is but I find it quite troubling; I don’t know that any European state really supported the cause of Zionism pre-WWI outside highly limited occasions and when they did so it was purely for realpolitik purposes; ideological commitment here was very low. To say that the German Empire supported it is to my mind a difficult assertion to make simply; Herzl went to a number of international leaders including the Tsar and the Ottoman Sultan to get support for Jewish colonisation of Palestine and met with mixed results. In so far as German policymakers did support Jewish colonisation, I think it would be due to their desire to ensure that the mass of Ostjuden, who were an impoverished and looked-down upon community at the time, would be able to be safely removed to a far-off location (i.e. Palestine) instead of seeking to emulate their German cousins and move and settle in the German Empire itself. Many of the British figures who supported Zionism, like Balfour and Churchill, were either self-proclaimed “cultural anti-Semites” or had blatantly anti-Semitic views concerning the Jews and their supposed influence on international affairs. Their support for Zionism rested on the assumption that it would be better to place European Jewry somewhere safely outside Europe, rather than have to tolerate any significant level of cultural assimilation within Europe. The idea that they were somehow sympathetic to Jews as a culturally distinct and historic people in their own right or were ardent Zionists, is wholly misleading. The insinuations of Klarsfeld’s extract and Geras’s use of it; leads me to have some doubt as to what exactly they are trying to say here.

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David DeMille 01.12.04 at 4:58 pm

“Just as Israeli forces have acted extra-territorially, if non-Israeli jews choose to defend the truly shameful record of some Israeli governments, it is hardly surprising that some who sympathise with the cause of the Palestinians regard all jews as enemy combatants just as Sharon regarded Palestinians in Qibya in 1953 as such. Their inexcusable error is in assuming all jews are inevitably uncritical of the military actions and policies of Israeli governments.”

Bob, is there a point about your persistent use of lower-case spelling for Jews that I am not getting?

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Ophelia Benson 01.12.04 at 5:21 pm

“since the (welcome) collapse of the biological conception of race, racism has come to refer to prejudiced attitudes or behaviour towards groups of differing ethnicity. Ethnicity is made up of a variety of factors, prominent among which is often, though not always, religious affiliation. Moslems who were worried about attacks on their co-religionists after September 11th referred to this in terms of racism, and I think they were right to do so.”

Well, personally, I find the word ‘ethnic’ no more meaningful than ‘race’ or ‘racial.’ But leaving that aside – if it’s true that Muslims refer to attacks on Muslims as racism, I think they are very wrong to do so. Very wrong indeed. That just perpetuates the ridiculous idea that people are born Muslim or Christian and can’t escape it. Making race and religion interchangeable is a terrible category-mistake. Religion is a cognitive matter; it has content; it is based on ideas and truth-claims; one can accept them or reject them. Religion is optional.

And then conflating the two just reinforces the idea of the clash of civilizations – that some countries are Christian and others are Muslim, as if any country is 100% any religion.

Huge mistake, that’s my opinion. Plus just an abuse of language.

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Casmir Radon 01.12.04 at 5:58 pm

consistent adversary of the Jewish nation

I’m sure that’s just what the Syrian and Egyptian armies were thinking as the Israelis blew their asses away with Dassault-Breguet Mirage fighters bought from France.

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morton 01.12.04 at 6:28 pm

The Clermont-Tonnerre speech is fascinating. I can’t see how anyone can construe it as anti-semitic or anti-zionist (which is an anachronistic). When he says “We must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation” he means of course as a separate constituency within France, with its own system of law etc… Fascinating within the current discussion in France on the veil. You would think American conservatives, who have criticized multiculturalism as responsible for a breakdown in American republican values, would be more sympathetic to the French on this count. But when it comes to France it seems that in the U.S. all pretense of rationality goes out the window.

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stephen marks 01.12.04 at 11:45 pm

I tend to agree with the criticisms of Klarsfeld and Geras expressed here. But with reference to Klarsfeld’s quoted reference to ‘French Israelites’ does not the French word ‘Israelite’ just mean ‘Jewish’, as in for example the French Jewish philanthropic body ‘Alliance Israelite’ which I believe antedates the Zionist movement, let alone the Israeli state?

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msg 01.12.04 at 11:58 pm

“…regarding attacks on innocent Jews as justifiable or excusable.”
“…exonerate attacks on innocent Jews on the basis of the terrible provocation offered to their attackers by the spectacle of Israel’s putative misdeeds…”
“…recalling recent history of current affairs is not a widely distributed faculty.”
“…to smear as anti-semites anyone who recalls the suppressed history.”

Sacre bleu, le quagmire!
The imprecision of the language, which seems to have been just as indefinite and charged with hazard in 18th century France as it is now, keeps things at the boiling point.

An American, alone in northern Sudan, set upon by Muslims burning with hatred for the US. Not for what he is as a human being, but simply for his nationality.
That same American stumbling into a delegation of USAID workers and taking refuge among them, protected by their superior force whether he agrees with their roles and philosophies or not.
The subjective experience of repudiation, then welcome; I am not that, I am.

Our grasp of history, recent as well as ancient, is so partial as to be more rumor than established truth.
The innocent Jews who were attacked in France were innocent Frenchmen, that’s the point I think. Or innocent human beings.

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Glenn Condell 01.13.04 at 6:30 am

Well, I’m with Bob.

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Douglas 01.13.04 at 6:45 am

Hey Morton, You write, “You would think American conservatives, who have criticized multiculturalism as responsible for a breakdown in American republican values, would be more sympathetic to the French on this count.”

What makes you say they aren’t?

http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/003/583lxmcr.asp

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David DeMille 01.13.04 at 2:14 pm

“But with reference to Klarsfeld’s quoted reference to ‘French Israelites’ does not the French word ‘Israelite’ just mean ‘Jewish’, as in for example the French Jewish philanthropic body ‘Alliance Israelite’ which I believe antedates the Zionist movement, let alone the Israeli state?”

Stephen Marks: Yes you are entirely correct. “Israelite” and “Juif” are interchangeable in French and there is no reference in the first to the modern state of Israel. Israelite is roughly equivalent to “Hebrew” as the word was used earlier in the 20th century for many Jewish institutions — “Hebrew Benevolent Society of Brooklyn” etc. Both the French and English terms have a certain archaic quality, but while no one today refers to Jews as Hebrews, Israelite is still fairly common in France.

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roger 01.13.04 at 5:42 pm

Steve,

Where I live, in Austin, there are several different protestant churches with Zion in their names — Zion Baptist Church, Zion Church of God, etc.

However, I would not refer to these people as Zionists — although I suppose I could.

Similarly, the words Jew and Israelite are not semantically indistiguishable in French. The semantic charge comes, obviously, from context. The context of Klarsfeld’s remarks clearly has a history — that history in which a certain Zionism developed a certain polemical contempt for those Jews who did not want to support the Zionist project. The sin of omission, for the latter, consisted in thinking of themselves as still part of the nations in which they lived — French Jews thinking of themselves as French, for instance.

Now, I’m not for super-charging this issue with references to the Nazis, but since the Nazis are an extreme case, it will make the semantic point clearer. The preferred German term, in France, for Jews during the occupation was Israelite, as in the ‘Union Generale des Israelites de France.’ And the reason for that was the Nazi idea that Jews were not a part of Europe — hence, Eichman’s bizarre idea that he was some kind of Zionist.

I hope it is obvious that I am NOT saying that Zionism is Naziism. I’ll repeat that: Zionism does not equal Naziism. That’s an equation that makes no sense. I am saying that nationalist movements in Europe have a similar conceptual base in a romantic notion of the “people:” the German people, the Italians, etc. This notion gets projected on people who don’t necessarily want to politicize their ethnic identity — the Germans of Romania, for instance. But as their identity is politicized, their range of choice diminishes — slowly, the idea of being different within a political union that can tolerate differences is eroded away: on one side, by the attacker — the anti-semite, say, in France — and on the other side by the ideologue of nationalism — the super-Zionists in France, for instance.

The relevance of this to Klarsfeld’s words is that they succeed insofar as they make it seem somehow illegitimate to be both French and Jewish. Clearly, one of the ways this happens is to skew the language in which the question of identity is talked about — when you substitute Israelite for Juif, you are engaged in making the identity of Juif depend on the tie to Israel.

But if you point to that, the nationalist can easily fall back upon the excuse that this is just a semantically indistiguishable term — just a less used one, in these contexts. Political rhetoric consists of just this kind of linguistic hocus pocus, a zigzag from denotation to connotation and back.

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morton 01.13.04 at 6:17 pm

Douglas — Thanks for the link. Christopher Caldwell is indeed an exception but he also makes my point, doesn’t he? He writes, referring to condemnation of the French law, that “These are cheap shots. Americans overestimate the constitutional issues involved primarily because they are ignorant of the historic ones.” Caldwell digs a bit deeper than most commentators but I think it’s just a matter of time before better informed articles appear in the U.S. press. And some of these articles will appear in the conservative media and will link the French position to positions widely held among U.S. conservatives (such as Robert Bork) against multiulturalism. This is also the view of Alain Finkielkraut who has long argued against pandering to “particularisms” (defending actions or “relativist arguments” that are reprehensibleor untrue for example because they are carried out in the name of a minority group).

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morton 01.13.04 at 6:22 pm

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David DeMille 01.14.04 at 8:50 am

“Similarly, the words Jew and Israelite are not semantically indistiguishable in French. The semantic charge comes, obviously, from context. The context of Klarsfeld’s remarks clearly has a history — that history in which a certain Zionism developed a certain polemical contempt for those Jews who did not want to support the Zionist project. The sin of omission, for the latter, consisted in thinking of themselves as still part of the nations in which they lived — French Jews thinking of themselves as French, for instance.”

Sorry, Roger, but this is (mostly) BS. As Stephen Marks pointed out, the term “Israelite” long predates Zionism (as a political movement) or the State of Israel, and was up until recently the common (if slightly formal) term in France for “Jew”.

If you read French (the evidence from your comment suggests that you don’t), here are Klarsfeld’s original words (which just happen to contradict almost everything that you say):

http://www.desinfos.com/article.php?id_article=842

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Conrad Barwa 01.14.04 at 4:16 pm

Re: Geras’s response: initially the corrections made here increased my respect for Geras, a respect based on the high opinion I had of having read some of his work and I just want to put on record that I like the fact that he responded and was honest about any oversight on his part, an etiquette all too rare these days unfortunately so it is good to see that some still adhere to these standards. However, I am not so sure about some of the things he seems to be saying and now that his purpose is clearer and since he says that the comments thread in CT has skirted around the whole thrust of what he wanted to explore, it may be worthwhile to quickly sketch out a brief response to some of the points he has raised in his reply.

While Geras acknowledges that Clermont-Tonnere’s extract was basically misquoted by Klarsfeld, and that the former was making an argument about legal and civil equality and not some jibe at Jewish nationhood – at least in the sense that it was presented he then goes on to qualify it by saying that the extract was quoted to align himself with the view that French foreign policy was not even-handed between Israel and the Arab countries except for the 1946-67 period. There are a number of things wrong with this argument:

1) the extract quoted from Klarsfeld does not back up or even seem to have any relevance directly to this supposed bias in French foreign policy. Now there might actually be some ideological consistency in the kind of Republican Nationalism espoused by Clermont-Tonnere’s ideas of civic nationalism and the antagonism it might display towards an ethnic nationalism such as Zionism (something that I had actually pointed out earlier but which is not addressed, in the differing German/French conceptions of nationalism, by Geras). But to do this more detail would be needed on the linkage and consistent line of development to show how exactly this works and how French Nationalism has had this bias; one would also need to explain why it did not operate with the period 1946-67 while supposedly existing outside this timeslot. No evidence is put forward apart from the erroneous Clermont-Tonnere extract to demonstrate this.

2) There is also the problem of what exactly is meant by this bias. I can only take it to mean that for whatever reason, French foreign policy is held to have been favourable to the Arabs and not so much towards the Zionist movement/Israel for large periods of time. What evidence there is for this is not really produced either; as mentioned earlier, no major European state pre-WWI as far as I know was in favour of a Zionist state and why the French should be singled out is beyond me. After the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, since Palestine went to the British sphere of influence, I am at a loss to understand as to how the French are involved; given that the Zionists had obtained some limited support and aligned themselves with British interests and so co-operated with the Mandate authorities; one could perhaps see that the French would have seen any potential Zionist claim as part of a British colonial scheme of control – not unnatural given that they regarded British moves in this region as a violation of wartime agreements on who would get what and reflects at least in part, an older colonial rivalry that existed before WWI – the stand-off at Fashoda being a good case in point. In anycase, there seems to have been no principle at stake here that should indicate why the French in particular should object to a Jewish state in Palestine; certainly when it suited them, as Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt shows, declarations towards supporting such a goal were made (a source of ire for amongst others Said who recounts this with ill-grace, in “Orientalism”). As to how favourable the French were to the Arabs, this seems doubtful, like their British counterparts, French colonialism faced not inconsiderable resistance and hostility from the Arab locals upset at what they perceived to be foreign and exploitative rule by an unfriendly power. Certainly bloody episodes like the suppression of the 1926 Druze rebellion in Syria were hardly going to endear the French to the Arabs.

3) One also needs to provide an underlying rationale for this argument. Why any state should as a default position be expected to conduct their foreign policy either in favour or not in favour of another state/group of states is unclear. Generally speaking I think a realist paradigm here is a good way to understand and interpret the foreign policy of states; which means to say that, each state will act in accordance to its own perceived national interests. This should hold true of France in her policy towards the ME as well; unless there can be some national interest at stake which persistently made the French state act against Zionism/Israel and in favour of Arab states, then this would not be a correct way of interpreting French Middle Eastern policy. I can think of no such national interest justification and neither is one provided; certainly French interests may have changed somewhat but remained broadly no different from that of other European colonial powers and I would suggest that this reflects the shift by which it has been favourable towards Israel in some periods, less so in others. As the old adage goes ”states have no permanent friends only permanent interests”. Either way one would need to show how either the French states does not subscribe or follow this pattern and how it is different from any other European state for that matter. Certainly African states which have had close ties with Israel on security or economic matters, have taken strongly pro-Palestinian positions in the UNGA and other international forums, in a manner not too dissimilar from many European ones. If it could be shown that French foreign policy is somehow radically different in this regard than say Germany or Ireland then there would be a case to investigate. As it is, I do not see that one exists.

4) Lastly, and perhaps most troublingly of all; very little evidence or support is offered up to back these allegations of French foreign policy bias. What instead is offered is “an impression” without any else to substantiate it. Nothing wrong with this in the sense that opinions are free and can be so held; but they should not be presented as historical or empirical facts when they clearly are not. The willingness to, how shall I say, jump to certain conclusions so readily suggests to me that there is a preconceived bias, which is casting around rather selectively for any material that will confirm its suspicions. Needless to say I think this is not a very rigorous nor intellectually honest way to proceed.

I must say something about what is also mentioned as “an aspect” of the discussion which is given as a sort of warning for those who come to CT for the first time. I do not think this is something tolerated or in anyway a routinised aspect of most discussions on CT; and neither are the sentiments therein shared by a large part of both commenters and posters. A perusal of most posts and their comment threads will demonstrate that this is the case.

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roger 01.14.04 at 7:20 pm

David, Oh, but I do read and speak French. And English, too. You should try the latter language some time. It’s fun, and it’s easy!

Hebrew is a good example of what I mean. I can go to the store and get Hebrew kosher dogs. But try using the phrase, “American Hebrew.” Try dropping it into an article you write for, say, the NYT. Watch the blue pencil come out. Watch your writing jobs with the NYT dry up.

This is not even difficult. Denotation and Connotation are two separate things.

Since you claim to read French, I suggest you start with Leon Bloy to find out how many variations a French writer can ring on the word Juif.

Again, the

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roger 01.14.04 at 7:41 pm

PS — David, Klasfeld’s article is about exactly the kind of nationalistic identification that I was going on and on about. Here’s a graf, in the French first, then translated: L’avenir ? Certains juifs français courberont la tête, exprimeront leur différence avec Israël ou même leur indifférence, se plongeront ou feront semblant de se plonger dans “l’éthique du judaïsme” et se résoudront à n’être que des marranes politiques.

The future? Certain French jews will bow their heads, express their difference with Israel or even their indifference, will dive, or at least seem to dive, into the “ethic of judaism” [little hit at Derrida there] and content themselmselves with being only political marranos.”

Political Marranos, eh? Christian on the outside, jewish on the inside. Interesting how this is the kind of phrase one would encounter in Maurras — which makes my point. The logic of denying that a Jew can be a citizen of anyplace but Israel eventually leads you to using precisely the tropes of anti-semitism.

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David DeMille 01.14.04 at 7:53 pm

Roger, my “claim” to reading French is based on the minor fact that I’ve spoken it since childhood and have written and lectured in the language for nearly 25 years. Clearly you haven’t the foggiest idea what Klarsfeld is actually saying — denoting or connoting.

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David Demille 01.14.04 at 8:02 pm

“The future? Certain French jews will bow their heads, express their difference with Israel or even their indifference, will dive, or at least seem to dive, into the “ethic of judaism” [little hit at Derrida there] and content themselmselves with being only political marranos… Political Marranos, eh? Christian on the outside, jewish on the inside.”

Is there a certain type of discourse about Jews that requires the use of a lower case “j”?

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roger 01.14.04 at 8:59 pm

David, Hasty typing, that’s all. Jews are Jews.

As for the rest of it — since you have been teaching French and lecturing in it, then surely you know the political connotations of Klarsfeld’s terms, and you know that when he speaks of French Jews as Marranos he is taking something from the anti-Dreyfusard vocabulary of abuse — the idea that the Jews couldn’t be good citizens. To speak of French Israelites is, contra vous, not simple a formal way of talking, but one in line with the Klarsfeld’s whole point — a sort of inversion of the Baron de Charlus’ fantasies about Jews.

Am I over-interpreting? No, actually I am adhering to Klarsfeld’s express point. He is well aware of the political connotations of his terms, and talks about it at the beginning of the article: “D’abord, pourquoi “juifs de France” et non “juifs français” ? Je suis un de ceux qui ont le plus employé l’expression “juifs de France”…” etc., etc. The excursus is a response of French speaking writers to his French — a pretty good sample of the effect of connotation, I would say. Connotation isn’t universal — it might really not sound to you like his terms are instilling a separation between French and Jewish. But that is the deal with language — it is full of codes, some of which are unclear. Your riff about small letter j jewish is a good example — is this really some new way of signalling anti-semitism? That’s not an unreasonable question — it could be. A code has to start somewhere.

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