A report by Jean-Yves Camus on how the French Jewish Community is dealing with the Front National
As antisemitism from Islamic radicals grows and mainstream parties are disavowed by many Jews, observant or not, voting for the Front National’s (FN) Marine Le Pen has now become an option for 10-12% of Jewish voters, despite warnings by communal leaders of the dangers of her being elected.
For almost 40 years, the leaders of CRIF, the French equivalent of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, have clung to a clear attitude that it is not acceptable to vote for FN.
Indeed, FN officials are never invited to any Jewish commemoration, festival or meeting. Neither are those of the Communist Party and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Parti de Gauche because of their support for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
Nevertheless, the vote by Jews for the FN’s candidate in Presidential elections has grown from a mere 6.1% in 2002 (the combined vote of Jean-Marie Le Pen and Bruno Mégret) to 13.5% in 2012, according to a landmark study by the polling institute, IFOP.
This does not mean so many votes. According to IFOP, there are only an estimated 260,000 Jewish voters in France, that is 0.6% of the population, and not all of them are registered voters, nor, if they are, do they always vote.
Nevertheless, it seems that, with the volcanic Jean-Marie Le Pen being out of the picture and his daughter Marine now the FN’s torchbearer, the party has become more acceptable to Jewish voters.
Why is that? First of all, Marine Le Pen does not make those disgusting and shameful puns about the Holocaust that helped make her father infamous and she is not obsessed with Jews and the Second World War. She is not a Holocaust-denier and is not an antisemite.
She simply does not understand the specific history of the Jews in Europe and the sensitivity of such issues as ritual slaughter and being able to wear the kippa on the street. She wants to forbid that while most Jews think it is part of their religious freedom.
If some Jews do feel ready to sacrifice their basic religious rights by voting for FN, it is because they feel under attack by radical Islam and think that the mainstream left and right have been ineffective in fighting Islamism. It is estimated that “only” 294 antisemitic incidents took place in 2016, compared with 808 in 2015.
Yet, the tally of 294 is much more than before the start of the second Intifada in 2000 and 808 is about 8 times the number of the incidents in the 1990s.
As a consequence, many Jews feel insecure, especially those who live in the cities of Paris, Lyon and Marseille or in their suburbs, where most of the incidents have taken place.
This feeling is strong not only because of the terrorist attacks in Toulouse (2012) and the kosher supermarket in Paris (2015) but because of the harassment many Jews, especially those wearing Orthodox garb, as well as schoolchildren attending religious schools and people on their way to synagogue, are now experiencing constantly.
These incidents are occurring not only when events related to the Israel-Palestinian conflict lead to a peak but even when the situation is relatively quiet in the Middle East.
What has made FN an option for a number of Jews is that the party stridently boasts it will “bring Islamism down to its knees” including by closing down “fundamentalist” mosques.
Many Jews now believe that antisemitism from the far right, if still alive, is relatively benign nowadays. They take it for granted that Marine Le Pen has expelled the fascists and Holocaust-deniers in the FN’s ranks and tend to downplay what remains of traditional extreme right-wing ideas within the party.
In other words, they no longer think the FN is an existential threat while Islamism is seeking to root them out of France and destroy Israel at the same time. It is true, furthermore, that most antisemitic incidents are not the work of the extreme right.
Although we do not have exact figures – France is not very good on this front – people with a cultural Muslim background account for the majority of such incidents and, unlike in the UK, the US and Germany, there is no known terrorist capability from the far right, much less of terrorism targeting Jews, as Islamophobia now sets the patterns and the targets for whom the fascists and nazis want to hit.
The FN has launched a minuscule “Jewish” satellite organisation, the Union des Patriotes Français Juifs (UPFJ), led by Michel Thooris. The FN’s number three, Nicolas Bay, travelled to Israel, in January 2017, visiting the Yad Vashem Memorial. There, he repeated Marine Le Pen’s statement that the “camps were the acme of Nazi barbarity”.
It is to be noted that this verbiage does not mention the deportation and extermination camps nor the Holocaust or the orchestrated policy of exterminating the Jews simply because they were Jews.
The fact that between 12-15% of the Jewish voters are ready to turn a blind eye to this and vote for the FN shows the extent to which the “new antisemitism” has estranged Jews from the left which is accused of working hand in hand with the Islamists in scapegoating Israel and Zionism.