Madonna: Opposing the FN while performing in Israel is like denouncing animal cruelty whilst wearing mink
Madonna has always had a flair for publicity stunts. This week, she sparked controversy by showing an image of France’s Front National (FN) leader Marine Le Pen with a swastika across her forehead during a concert in Tel Aviv. Though some judged her decision to publicly berate Le Pen as risqué, few have noted the irony of her stance given her choice to perform in a country currently governed by members of the Far-right. The threat posed by Ms Le Pen, whose party has 2 MPs in the French parliament, pales in comparison with the actual damage the Far-Right have wrought in Israel. Discriminatory policies so far enacted include home demolitions, severe prohibitions on construction, settlement expansion, movement restrictions, and denial of access to land and water. And while Marine Le Pen has previously compared France’s Muslims to the Nazi occupation, Israel’s Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman upped the ante by calling for the execution of any Arab MPs who met with Hamas, comparing them to Nazi ‘collaborators’.
Madonna’s decision to make an ill-conceived political statement comes in the context of lobbying by Human Rights groups who’d sought to dissuade her from performing in Israel, citing the brutality of the Israeli government’s occupation of Palestinian land as well as its discriminatory, apartheid like system. In the first in a series of misjudgements, the queen of pop sought to silence her critics by offering them – presumably sardonically – free tickets to her concert.
Both Israel and France have seen a surge in the popularity of a Far-right themes in recent years, including hyper-nationalist and xenophobic ideas, disguised as a concern over immigration and ‘cultural identity’, partly fuelled by shared platforms whereby Israeli ministers have welcomed far-right European leaders. Parallels in the discourse have become increasingly salient, and the French National Front leader’s claim that immigrants represent a threat to France’s “national identity” seems almost tame compared with Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai ‘s statement that “Most of those people arriving here are Muslims who think the country doesn’t belong to us, the white man.”
Madonna’s decision to take a stand against the French National Front comes amid recent protests by the Far-Right in Israel calling for the mass deportation of African immigrants. Likud party member Miri Regev recently referred to African Migrants as a “cancer” in Israeli society and following a public outcry, chose to apologise to cancer suffers – though not to migrants… Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself referred to the Africans as “the infiltrator problem” who, like Arab Palestinians are said to represent a threat to the security and identity of the Jewish state, in a statement which could equally have been pronounced by Ms Le Pen concerning France’s Muslim population.
What is the significance of the imagery used by the songstress, in a country where Arab citizens face routine discrimination including calls they sign an oath of loyalty to the state? Where migrants can be detained for up to three years without trial or deportation? and where, in 2004, a member of the Likud party proposed “massive ethnic cleansing” of non-Jews as a “final solution” of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – Is the absurdity of opposing the Far-right from a country involved in ethnic cleansing somehow lost on Madge?
Madonna’s selective denunciation of Far-Right rhetoric is perplexing, particularly when anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment are often correlated. While her father was fond of holocaust denial and racial slurs, Marine Le Pen’s rhetoric reflects a broader shift in the Far-Right towards a less racialised discourse, focused on national identity and the alleged threat posed to it by immigrants and principally, Islam. The fact Islam is the religion of 6 million French citizens suggests ‘immigrants’ are not the only ones being targeted. This isn’t to suggest the FN has exorcised its anti-Semitic demons, far from it, but the evolution in the language and the focus of Marine Le Pen’s xenophobic diatribes is clear – the new enemy is Muslims. Opposing the Far-Right necessarily involves reflecting this evolving strategy and supporting all victims of their discrimination.
Marine Le Pen is a dangerous and deplorable voice in French politics who should rightly be condemned. However, she neither leads the country, nor currently has significant influence in devising discriminatory policies, unlike the Far-right in Israel. While both the FN and Israeli Far-right subscribe to a hierarchical conception of race expressed in what Pierre Vial calls “ethno-differentialism”, a vision which relegates those outside the accepted group to second-class citizenship, the Far-right in Israel actually has the power to implement its policies and has done so. Madonna’s publicity stunt may have seemed like a jibe to the FN, but her decision to perform in a country governed by members of the Far-right is a significantly greater validation of their legitimacy. Unless she plans to feature a picture of Netanyahu wearing a Klu Klux Klan outfit in her next concert – I, for one, will be boycotting it.