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Israeli PM Netanyahu enters French legislative election fray

© Jack Guez, AFP | Meyer Habib met with Les Républicains presidential candidate François Fillon in Tel Aviv on 20 April, 2017.

Text by Alcyone WEMAËRE

Latest update : 2017-06-14

When polls open in the second round of France's legislative elections Sunday, some French overseas residents will be voting in a contest that's shaping up as a political duel between Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu and France's Emmanuel Macron.

French residents in Cyprus, Greece, Vatican City, Israel, Italy, Malta, San Marino and Turkey make up the 8th electoral district of French overseas voters and on Sunday they will be electing their representative to the National Assembly.

But the electoral contest has taken a controversial turn with Prime Minister Netanyahu weighing in by backing incumbent MP Meyer Habib.

Habib, who previously represented the centre-right UDI party, has this time round formed an alliance with the conservative Les Républicains.

He'll be challenged by former socialist Florence Drory, the candidate for Macron's La République en marche party.

With more than half of the roughly 150,000 voters in the 8th living in Israel, Netanyahu has a clear stake in the election outcome.

The French MP and the hardline conservative prime minister are said to share a political rapport. In a show of unequivocal support, Netanyahu appeared in a video voiced in Hebrew to officially endorse Habib, whom he called "his friend".

The two are in tune on a number of issues and Habib has openly espoused pro-Israeli views during his time as an MP.

For one he supports Jewish settlements. Most recently, Habib accused Quai d'Orsay officials of anti-Zionism because the term "Palestinian Territories" appeared on electoral forms. In a statement to French citizens in Israel, he said he was "deeply attached to France" but also claimed to be "a Zionist, a supporter of the integrity of Eretz Israel and faithful to the values of the Torah".

He hammered the point home even further by describing his record as a French MP. "For the last four years I have defended Israel, which shares our values, and the Jewish people." And in the same address he attacked his opponent, Macron's candidate, Drory, who won the first election round with 36.73 percent of the vote (Habib won 35.51 percent).

"My opponent appeals to constituents by presenting me as a puppet candidate in the service of Israel, backed by Netanyahu and his rabbis," he said.

Responding to Habib's pro-Israeli rhetoric, Charles Enderlin, a former news correspondent at France 2 in Jerusalem, retweeted the words of a Likud activist who said that: "We must not be embarrassed if the French are stupid enough to allow us to send a representative for Israel to their Parliament."

But Habib is no shoo-in for the MP's post. He has tried to rally constituents to "massively mobilise" after a poor turnout of only 19.1 percent in the first round. He said that without more votes "the consequences would be serious".

With just 137 votes separating the two candidates following the first round, mobilising French voters in Israel for the second round -- but also in Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Italy and Malta -- will be critical to Habib, and by default, Netanyahu's success.

This article was translated from the original in French.

Date created : 2017-06-14


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