Anti-Semitism is as French as crepes suzette—even more so—as we can see that its roots extend deep into the history of the Gallican peoples—long before there even was a France, but as we enter into the modern era the battle lines form and we will see the development of the connection between Anti-Semitism and the Catholic “Traditionalist” movement.
The Jews had a particularly rough road in medieval France and the French Crown played a crucial role in the harassment of the Jews. There were several episodes in which this harassment peaked into persecution and even mob violence. The Crusades triggered several waves of mass murder of Jews. The French Crown expelled the Jews from their domains in 1182, 1306, 1322, and 1394. Jews were forbidden to own or hold land, had to wear distinctive clothing, were restricted in where they could live, and often saw their synagogues destroyed (or converted into churches) and their sacred books burned. But as France entered the Enlightenment, many of a philosophically liberal persuasion began to call for the emancipation of the Jews in the Kingdom of France. One of the Enlightenment figures who was notorious for his anti-Semitism, however, was Voltaire. On the eve of the French Revolution a number of advocates of Reform including the Count de Mirabeau and the Abbé Grégoire advocated giving the Jews full citizenship. While the government of Louis XVI did not accede to this suggestion, there were several municipalities that enfranchised Jews. As the Revolution began to unfold, the plight of the Jews became one of the contentious issues with the advocates of Reform (from constitutional monarchy through radical revolutionaries) supporting civil rights for the Jews and the monarchists/reactionaries opposing them. When the papal territory of Avignon was seized by the revolutionaries and incorporated into France, the Avignonese Jews were granted full citizenship in France for their support of the annexation of the formerly papal territory by France in 1791. Their siding with the Revolutionary (though still a constitutional monarchy) government in seizing the papal territories only further alienated the Catholic party from the Jews. As the Revolution progressed from Constitutional Monarchy to Republic, the Jews of France embraced the anti-monarchy positions and were happy to see the Church disestablished. However, they did not support the Jacobins and the Reign of Terror and when the Cult of Reason proscribed Christian religious worship, the ban was most often applied to Jewish worship as well. As the dust of Revolution settled and Napoleon emerged as Emperor of the French, Jews were guaranteed full and equal rights in the Empire. They were freed from the Ghettos wherever the French Army conquered and Judaism was recognized as an official religion of the Empire along with Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism. Napoleon further convoked an assembly of Jewish representatives from throughout his empire known as the Grand Sanhedrin to be a sort of Jewish High Council and represent the interests of the Jewish community to the Empire. This helped draw the line with Jews in Napoleon’s favor while the Catholics tended to be Royalists who refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Empire in hopes of a restoration of the French Bourbons to the Crown. Throughout the nineteenth century Catholics would continue to support the Bourbon/Monarchist causes while the Jews would support the various liberal governments that came intermittently along between restorations of the monarchy and the revival of the Empire under Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III).
When the 2nd Empire collapsed towards the end of the Franco Prussian War the monarchists held a majority in the National Assembly but were divided between the Legitimists who favored the Comte de Chambord, grandson of Charles X and a semi-absolutist monarchy, and the Orleanists who favored the Comte de Paris, the grandson of Louis Philippe, and a constitutional monarchy. Although a compromise was finally arranged, the monarchist party was unwilling to accept the terms on which the crown was being offered and what was meant to be a temporary Republic but ended up lasting almost seventy years was established under the monarchist Marshal of France with the improbable name of Patrice de MacMahon. Although MacMahon was a Legitimist who favored the restoration of a strong monarchy, he took his duties as President of the Republic seriously and refused to sanction a coup by the conservatives to take over the Republic. By the time of MacMahon’s resignation in 1879 the monarchist cause had lost popular support and the Republic was pretty firmly established.
The Catholic Church in France strongly supported the restoration of the monarchy; therefore non-Catholics: Protestants, Jews, and Secularists supported the Republic. Consequently the Church in France became a strong force for political and social reactionism. French Catholics felt somewhat betrayed by Pope Leo XIII’s endorsement of the Republic. The Catholic reactionaries mounted a strong anti-Semitic campaign and were particularly intent on purging the military of Jews. This resulted in the infamous Dreyfus case where a French officer of Jewish blood, Alfred Dreyfus, was framed and convicted of treason and then imprisoned under appalling conditions before finally being cleared. Catholicism and anti-Semitism became deeply linked by their common affiliation to conservative French politics in the early 20th century.
Following the Dreyfus affair and the anti-Semitism that surrounded it, a reactionary movement arose called Action Français. Action Français set about undoing any and all effects of the French Revolution—it was monarchist, anti-democratic, nationalistic and very, very Catholic. In fact is was so Catholic that Pius XI condemned the movement in 1926—in other words, Pius saw the movement as using a veneer of Catholic faith for political and socio-economic objectives that were contrary to Catholic thought. Pius XII lifted the excommunications in 1939 when he saw Action Français as a defense against Marxist-Leninism, but the Holy See never endorsed the political or sociological objectives of the movement which ran contrary to the encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI (and subsequently to the social encyclicals of John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI.)
Despite the relative strength of Action Français in the first half of the 20th century, monarchism never garnered enough political momentum for there to be serious consideration of restoring the French monarchy, especially in a somewhat absolutist form as advocated by the hard-line monarchists. Action Français faded out after World War II, but its nationalistic, conservative, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic fanaticism remained in the hearts of many French reactionaries.
Among the bearers of the Action Français heritage was the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Lefebvre came from a monarchist family in the North of France. Like others in the Legitimist tradition they saw the French Revolution and the end of the ancien regime as the collapse of everything Catholic. They wanted not only to restore the Bourbons to the Throne of France, but Catholicism as the State Religion. Lefebvre himself was an ardent supporter of the Vichy Regime during the Nazi occupation as he saw the Petain dictatorship as the womb for a reborn Monarchist France. The Archbishop shared in the anti-immigrant, anti-Jew, anti-Muslim, anti-democratic views of Action Français and later, with the collapse of the movement as a force in French politics, shifted his political allegiance to Jean-Marie LePen and his French National Party. Le Pen is infamous for his anti-Semitism and his skepticism about the Holocaust.
Lefebvre’s own anti-Semitism has colored the Catholic Traditionalist movement. Many Traditionalists have insisted on maintaining the older Good Friday Collect for the Jews, describing them as perfidis (unbelieving, but often translated perfidious). This word had been removed from the Liturgy by John XXIII who literally stopped the Good Friday Service in 1960 and ordered the prayer recited without that word. Benedict XVI insisted that the traditional collect be altered to avoid the word but his insistence has been ignored by many in the “Traditionalist” community and certainly by those in Lefebvre’s Society of Saint Pius X. Among the four bishops illicitly ordained by Lefebvre, the Englishman Richard Williamson, has been a notorious Holocaust denier. Contemporary Traditionalist literature both in France and throughout Western Europe and North America, the parts of the world where neo-Traditionalism has taken root, is often laced with anti-Semitism, sometimes subtle, sometimes virulent. The Traditionalist communities in France are hotbeds of agitation against both Jews and Muslims.