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In 2006, Ilan Halimi was kidnapped and murdered in a Parisian suburb. A gang of thugs chose him as their victim because they presumed that, as a Jew, he was wealthy. This and other anti-Semitic manifestations in the cités inhabited by immigrants and their children set off a wave of concern among French Jews that resulted in (slightly) increased emigration to Israel as well as statements that the situation was “worse than under Vichy.” The absurdity of such a comment is almost too obvious: the difference between state sponsored anti-Jewish measures that bring with them the loss of job, home, and life and isolated anti-Semitic attacks is simply too great for any comparison to be acceptable.
The reaction to the sordid series of events surrounding the former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and potential presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) is enough to put the lie to any accusation of France’s profoundly anti-Semitic character. This story has been rife with Jews from beginning to end, with a cast of characters that included DSK, his wife Anne Sinclair (her father’s name was originally Schwartz), and his most vocal defender, the marvelously ridiculous philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy. The lack of insight of Lévy’s pronouncements in the period after Strauss-Kahn’s arrest for allegedly raping a maid at the Sofitel in Manhattan are a delight to read now: He said of the press that “no earthly law should allow . . . his wife, admirable in her love and courage, to be exposed to the slime of a public opinion drunk on salacious gossip and driven by who knows what obscure vengeance” (fed up with her husband’s shenanigans, Sinclair would divorce Strauss-Kahn a year later). He also described DSK, famous for his libertinage (to give it a polite name) and his frequenting of prostitute-staffed orgies, as a “friend to women,” and likened him to Alfred Dreyfus — although, in fairness to Lévy, he didn’t say Strauss-Kahn was considered guilty because he was a Jew, only because he was rich.
The parade of Jews through this squalid end to a career that began with such promise is never-ending, and a new firestorm has now erupted in France, this time involving Strauss-Kahn and another Jew, the Argentine-born Parisian intellectual Marcela Iacub.
Iacub, who moved to France in 1989 after being the youngest member of the Buenos Aires bar, has made a name for herself as a philosophe libertaire (a libertarian philosopher in the French sense, i.e., anarchist), defending prostitution, full sexual freedom, and condemning feminists for their allegedly moralizing tone and acts. A personage like DSK, with his notoriously outsized libido, seemed to be made for her, and she defended him several times in her columns in the left-wing daily Libération and in interviews. Less well-known in America than the hotel rape case were DSK’s subsequent problems as member of an alleged prostitution ring — and here, too, Iacub defended DSK, likening him to Meursault in Camus’ The Stranger, “sentenced to the guillotine because he didn’t cry at his mother’s burial.” (In this case his lawyer defended DSK in the press against the charge of hiring prostitutes by saying that when women are naked it’s hard to tell who’s a prostitute). Iacub was incensed at French feminists’ immediate taking up for Strauss-Kahn’s victim in the rape case, and condemned the media and intellectuals who “sought above all else to not stand out and to show how moral, feminist, and united they were in the face of an ignominy they considered proved even before the judges.”
In early 2012, Iacub published a book called Une société de violeurs (A Society of Rapists), in which she continued her defense of Strauss-Kahn against “punitive feminism.” The two were fated to be together.
The beautiful, flamboyant Iacub had much to attract DSK, and what is more, she had written that “far from being a vice of pigs we tolerate, libertinage should be seen as the future of our sexual practices.” DSK had to meet her, and a few hours before their first meeting he texted her: “You who love to write, tell me what you want me to do to you when we meet.”
That night their affair began.
Now Iacub has published a novel about their affair, titled Belle et Bête (Beautiful and Stupid, but also a play on the French title of Beauty and the Beast, La Belle et la Bête), and the book has riled the French literary and intellectual world. Although Strauss-Kahn is not mentioned by name in the book, he is clearly the subject, and he sued to block its publication on the grounds that it was an invasion of his privacy. Since there is no First Amendment in France, he partially won his case, with the publisher and the author being fined, as was the magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, which published excerpts and an interview with Iacub. Every copy of the book — which is a best-seller — contains a notice stating that Strauss-Kahn considers it an invasion of privacy.
Iacub describes her time with DSK as “the most poetic, the densest, the richest, the most beautiful, the most painful” experience of her life, but there is much in the book to displease him:
“You would have transformed the Elysée Palace into a swingers’ club.”
“Only a pig could find it normal that a miserable African immigrant should give him a blowjob and get nothing in return, just to give him pleasure, just to render noble homage to his power. And the poor woman went back to the room to see if you’d left her a tip, but there was nothing.”
“It took me time . . . to understand that you aren’t just any pig, but the king of pigs.”
And her reference to DSK as his wife’s “poodle,” who was pushed to aspire to the presidency only to satisfy her needs, endeared Iacub to neither partner.
In response, Strauss-Kahn wrote an open letter to the editor of the Nouvel Observateur, Jean Daniel (a Jew), condemning “the former great journal of the conscience of the left” for “imagining its salvation in a commercial and filthy publication that one would have thought was reserved for the gutter press.”
In this opinion he was not alone, and the press was full of questioning of the legitimacy of giving any play to this hideous tale. Paris’ most prestigious daily, Le Monde (in the person of Jean Birnbaum (!!!) reproaching Iacub for a “taste for transgression that authorizes the worst.”
So we have this whole sordid tale, covered from end to end with Jews: A Jewish libertine cheats on his Jewish wife in a vile way, is defended by a Jewish philosopher who is relayed by another Jewish philosopher with whom the libertine has an affair, about which an important interview appears in a magazine published by a Jew which is then condemned by another Jew in the name of the most prestigious of French newspapers.
And though all this there is not a hint of anti-Semitism, and if ever there was a case that would give that sentiment free rein it is this one. Strauss-Kahn has, of course, been justifiably attacked for exercising a droit de cuissage owed his status as a rich man, but nowhere has there been a peep, a hint, a soupçon of accusations of Jewish debauchery and baseness.
A Jew in France is now free to be as degraded and degrading as anyone else, but it is no longer accounted for by his Jewishness. Jews are so well-established, so accepted a part of French society, that Strauss-Kahn (with two Jewish last names) is regarded simply as the king of pigs and not a Jew pig. Enormous progress has been made.
Mitchell Abidor is a contributing writer to our magazine and a translator, musician, and actor living in Brooklyn. He is author of Communards: The Paris Commune of 1871 as Told by Those Who Fought For It.
Mitchell Abidor, a contributing writer to Jewish Currents, is a writer and translator living in Brooklyn. Among his books are a translation of Victor Serge’s Notebooks 1936 – 1947, May Made Me: An Oral History of My 1968 in France, and I’ll Forget it When I Die, a history of the Bisbee Deportation of 1917. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Liberties, Dissent, The New York Review of Books, and many other publications.