The French historian and philosopher Georges Bensoussan is best known for his studies of matters relating to the Jewish world, on topics such as the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, Zionism, and the fate of the hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from Arab countries after the declaration of Israel’s independence in 1948 and the signal defeat of Arab armies which invaded the new state between then and 1949. He himself was born in Morocco in 1952, but moved with his family to France in his early years.
After a doctorate in history from the University of Paris I in 1981, Bensoussan became director of a journal for Holocaust history (Revue d’histoire de la Shoah) and went on to develop a training service for Holocaust education. Over the years, he has published several well-researched books on the Holocaust, Zionism, and related topics. Juifs en pays arabes: Le grand déracinement 1850-1975 (2012) covers the too-little known history of the way in which nearly a million Jews in Arab countries were reduced in fewer than thirty years to about 5,000. His intellectual and political history of Zionism, Une histoire intellectuelle et politique du sionisme 1860-1940 (2002), counters the modern use of the term Zionist as a pejorative.
Given these credentials as a leading opponent of Europe’s oldest form of racism, one might very well expect that Georges Bensoussan would be one of the last people fit to be labelled a racist. And you would be correct. But on January 25, Bensoussan was obliged to present himself at the 17th chamber of the Tribunal Correctionel of Paris to face a charge of “provocation of racial hatred” (“provocation à la haine raciale“). A more honest description of the charge would have read “provocation of ‘Islamophobia'”. It is not racist to accuse Muslims of wrongdoing; Islam is a religio-political system, not a race. This conflation of two very different things already causes endless confusion and miscarriages of justice.
The charge against Bensoussan was brought by the Collectif contre l’Islamophobie en France (CCIF) an Islamic activist organization that seeks to defend Muslims from perceived attacks (“Islamophobia”) in the secular system of the country. Such scattershot accusations fail to make a distinction between genuine hatred for Muslims and fair and balanced criticism of some of their behavior and their religion. Leading the accusation in court was a hijab-wearing woman, Lila Cherif, in charge of the CCIF’s legal team. On the public gallery sat an assemblage of anti-racist organizations: SOS-Racisme, a much criticized French and international group, the prestigious Ligue Internationale Contre le Racisme et l’Antisémitisme (LICRA), the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic Mouvement contre racisme et pour l’amitié entre les peoples (MRAP) – which is part of the Platform of French NGOs for Palestine that supports trying to destroy Israel economically – and the anti-Israel League of Human Rights (Ligue des droits de l’homme).
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