From ISIS To Le Pen French Jews Feel Surrounded By Enemies

An umbrella group representing French Jews called Monday for “massive” voter participation to block the far-right National Front from capitalizing on its historic victory in the first round of France’s regional elections.

The CRIF, the representative council of French Jewish institutions, described the National Front as “xenophobic and populist.” In its statement, it tried to get out the vote ahead of runoffs Sunday that could hand Marine Le Pen’s party control of major areas around the country.

“We need to create a barrier against the National Front,” the statement said. “Don’t let the Republic retreat!”

In the aftermath of the Islamic State’s attacks on Paris last month, French Jews have been increasingly on the alert.

While the army guards Jewish schools and other possible targets, the Jewish community’s security body, the SPCJ, has organized training courses to help people be prepared for an attack.

“You can’t count on the army. You have to be able to detect dangerous situations and protect yourselves,” an SPCJ official told parents at a recent meeting in a school outside Paris.

One parent asked: “What if the National Front wins the elections? Will they scrap security measures?”

Jewish leaders fear that if the far right wins the runoffs, it might lift the security protection from Jewish institutions; that’s just one reason to be fearful.

“Parents and people going to synagogues have to understand the danger of the Islamic State group, but we have no weapons, so confronting terrorists on our own would be difficult,” CRIF head Roger Cukierman told Haaretz.

“But the main problem is the atmosphere of having fascists in power, like in the lead-up to World War II.

Those of us who lived here during the war hoped they would never have to see this again.”

As a result, Jews felt as if they were surrounded by hostility.

“There are anti-Semitic attacks and people boycotting Israel, while countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia have a growing influence over the country; they control major French companies,” Cukierman said. “And now, on top of that, the National Front is winning elections, a party full of revisionists and people still in favor of the World War II Vichy regime.

We called on people not to vote for them, but nobody listens to us. Sunday was a very bad day.”

The results of the first round were thus worrying in the least.

“The National Front is now the biggest party by number of voters,” Cukierman said. “It’s expected to win whole regions, and this dynamic might continue until the National Front is even a governing party.”

Many people in the Jewish community share those feelings.

“This victory is frightening. I feel that people who vote for the far right don’t understand what this party is really about,” said Eric Haddad, a Jewish man from Paris.

“Imagine what will come next. If [the National Front] wins more elections and manages the country, France might turn into a police state where officials feel free to persecute foreigners.

Maybe I’m paranoid, but that’s what I imagine when I think of the possibility that this party will govern.”

There are no estimates of how many Jews voted for the National Front on Sunday. Still, the party has made inroads among Jewish voters, even though it remains far less popular than among the general population.

According to a survey last year by IFOP, the French Institute of Public Opinion, some 13 percent of French Jews voted for Le Pen in the 2012 presidential election, compared with a national figure of 18 percent.

Many Jews who back the National Front don’t do so openly, fearing that their choice would anger others in the community. Some turned to the party because they were exasperated with Nicolas Sarkozy’s Republicans party and the governing socialists.

“At least the National Front will fight the source of terror and not just pretend to protect the Jewish community,” said Georges, a Jewish supporter who asked that his last name not be published.

“The right and left are hypocrites. They pretend to protect Jews but they let Muslim extremists prosper and choose the Saudis for allies. The National Front doesn’t do that.”

Since the previous decade, even before she became party leader, Le Pen launched a campaign to soften the Front’s image. At least two party officials are Jewish, and party Vice President Louis Aliot has repeatedly mentioned that his grandfather was Jewish.

Le Pen’s niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, a young National Front MP, has played down the World War II deportation of French Jews to Nazi Germany. At least she didn’t echo her grandfather and former party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who said the gas chambers during the Holocaust were a “detail” of history.

Still, she told weekly Valeurs Actuelles that thousands were deported form France, some of them Jews, when actually more than 140,000 were deported, the majority of them Jews.

Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the MP favored to win in the southern Provence-Alpes Côte-d’Azur region, told newspaper Présent that French Muslims did not have the same status as French Christians because France was a country of Christian culture and heritage.

1 reply
  1. Joe Levin
    Joe Levin says:

    PARIS – On Friday, just two days before the first round of the regional elections in France, the Alsace chapter of the French Jewish umbrella organization CRIF, published a statement: “The Alsace chapter, strongly attached to the values of the Republic, calls upon all voters to participate at the upcoming elections – since so much is at stake. We are calling to reject the extremist parties that advocate hatred and try to prosper at the expense of the divide within the society created by fear.”

    The significance of these words was crystal clear to any French voter. The Jewish community is calling upon its members and other French citizens not to support the extreme right parties and to work against sentiments of Islamophobia that have been gaining ground in the country ever since the November 13 attacks.

    For those who were still not convinced, CRIF president Roger Cukierman published an unequivocal statement Monday morning in which he called on the Jewish community to take part in the second voting round “in order to block the National Front, a party of xenophobia and populism.” Indeed, the results of the first round yesterday shocked many.

    The leaders of the political parties, including Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, suspended for about a week their election campaigns after the Paris attacks. Nevertheless, or maybe because of that, the participation rate in this round of voting was exceptionally high for regional elections – more than 50 percent.

    Boosted by fears over the Islamic State attacks that killed 130 people in Paris on November 13, Marine Le Pen’s National Front party secured 27.7 percent of the vote nationally.

    It came first in six of 13 regions in Sunday’s vote, its best showing ever. The anti-Europe, anti-immigration party has been gaining ground for years among voters frustrated by the government’s failure to tackle unemployment, fearful of immigration and disillusioned by mainstream politics.

    Riding a wave of euroscepticism and anti-immigrant feeling which has brought far-right parties to prominence across Europe, the breakthrough bolsters Le Pen’s position as a serious contender for the 2017 presidential election.

    Some 16 percent of those who voted for the FN said they had changed their voting intentions after the November 13 attacks, an exit poll published on Monday said.

    Sixty-eight percent said their aim had been to punish the unpopular Socialist government of President Francois Hollande, the poll by Ifop and Fiducial for iTELE, Paris Match and Sud Radio said.

    The outcome also exposed fault lines within both the country’s main traditional political groupings over the right tactics to confront the National Front in the decisive second round of the regional elections next Sunday.

    To try to make sure Le Pen does not win in the final round, France’s ruling Socialist Party decided to tell its supporters in three regions where it came third to back Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative Republicans.

    Party seniors admitted that they themselves never expected such results.

    Dr. Simon Samuels, international relations director of the Wiesenthal Center in Paris, feels that French society has undergone deep changes over the past few years.

    “If elections had taken place before the November attacks, we could have perhaps argued that the dire economic situation pushed people to the margins. But following the attacks, it is clear that we are talking about something else. This is not a protest. People have just had enough. They are tired of insecurity and they are looking for other political routes and solutions.”

    Samuels regrets the small minority of French Jews who have been voting in past elections, and probably also this time around, for the National Front party.

    “A few months ago members of the European Jewish parliament discussed the possibility of meeting with Marine Le Pen. I voted against it, but the majority agreed, and so a group of Jewish leaders met with her last summer. She made very positive declarations in this closed meeting with them about the Jewish community and about Israel, but said that she cannot say the same things in public. For me, this is dangerous. Those who are against Muslims in general, might also turn against Jews one day.”

    Dr. Samuels stressed that this does not contradict in any way the necessary pan-European battle against extreme Islam.

    The Jewish community, and with it all those who oppose the National Front, have but a week now to turn this trend around. According to current estimations, the National Front won’t take over all of the six regions where its candidate came in first at the first round. Still, Marine Le Pen in the northern Pas-des-Calais region and her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen in the southern Province-Cote d’Azur, might very well duplicate last Sunday’s results. With or without any Jewish vote, these two women might preside over two important French regions in the very near future.

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