French Jewish community speaks out against far right
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With the first round of voting in France’s regional elections just days away, leading members of the country’s Jewish community have publicly opposed the far-right National Front party, which could win up to four regions.
Leaders of the Jewish community in the southern Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region joined a growing chorus of opposition to the National Front (FN) on Thursday after calling on the public to vote against the far-right party in the elections, which will be held on December 6 and 13.
The move comes as some polls predict that the FN could win as many as four regions, including Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, where Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, niece of the party’s leader Marine Le Pen, is a candidate.
“We aren’t stupid enough to believe that we are not among those excluded by the [National Front],” Michèle Teboul, regional president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF), said at a press conference in Marseille on Thursday. “Madame Maréchal-Le Pen has based her discourse on the supremacy of a Christian France where we Jews do not have a place … We are not dupes. If Muslims weren’t there, she would exclude Jews.”
Teboul’s comments were echoed by William Labi, deputy president of the local chapter of the Consistoire, an umbrella organisation that administers to Jewish congregations.
“Not a single Jewish vote should go to the National Front,” Labi said.
Wooing the Jewish vote
The move is a blow to Marine Le Pen, who has worked hard in recent years to build up support for the FN among Jewish voters.
While her father, the party’s founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, has been convicted numerous times for making racist or anti-Semitic remarks (including once earlier this year for repeating comments describing the Holocaust as a “mere detail" of history), Marine Le Pen has diligently sought to clean up the FN’s image ever since taking over its leadership in 2011.
She has made an increasing number of statements that attempt to rid the FN of its reputation as a fundamentally racist and anti-Semitic party. In doing so, she has also sent a targeted message to Jewish voters.
“I will not stop repeating to French Jews, who are turning to us in increasing numbers, that not only is the National Front not your enemy, but it is without a doubt the best option to protect yourselves in the future… against the one true enemy, Islamist fundamentalists,” Marine Le Pen said in an interview published by the conservative magazine Valeurs Actuelles in June 2014.
One month later, she defended the extremist Jewish Defense League, which is known for its violent anti-Arab rhetoric, following clashes at synagogues in Paris and the northern suburb of Sarcelles, arguing the organisation had a right to exist “because a large number of Jews feel threatened”.
‘A vote for the FN is no longer marginal’
It appears that Marine Le Pen’s efforts to reach out to Jewish voters have not been entirely in vain.
“The combination of her party’s new positioning, the clean break with Jean-Marie Le Pen, a mounting sense of insecurity and the ‘Islamist threat’ have made a vote for the FN possible among this voting demographic,” Jérôme Fourquet, a director at the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) and author of a study on French Jewish voters, told FRANCE 24.
Marine Le Pen won 13.5 percent of the Jewish vote during the first round of the 2012 presidential elections, according to an IFOP poll. Although the figure is still significantly lower than the national average (17.9 percent), Fourquet said it demonstrated that “a vote for the FN is no longer marginal within this demographic”.
He warned, however, against drawing any hasty conclusions based on the data.
“The electoral results in Sarcelles, also known as ‘Little Jerusalem’, did not reflect any further gains by the FN during the European elections in 2014, nor local election in 2015,” Fourquet said.
While it is still unclear whether the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris will translate into concrete support for the FN in the upcoming regional elections, CRIF certainly hopes not. The organisation issued a statement on Wednesday calling on the “French to go to the polls en masse to demonstrate the democratic vitality of our country despite terrorist threats”.