Should Israel prefer French socialists or the National Front?

The Socialist party has been negative towards Israel recently, but the FN still has the specter of Jean Marie Le Pen hovering in the background, despite his daughter distancing herself from hm. What to do?

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

OpEds Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld

The recent regional elections in France have once again confirmed that the right wing Front National (FN) has become a major force in the country’s politics. In the first round it won 28% of the vote, more than any other party, coming first in six of the thirteen French regions.[1] However in the second round, the FN did not win in any region.  This was due to several factors, primarily the elimination of small left wing and right wing parties which had not passed the voting threshold, the significant increase in the number of voters and the withdrawal of Socialist lists in two of the regions. Even though the FN has not achieved control of any region, its tally of 6.7 million votes in the second round has set a new record for the party.

Many French Jews have consistently watched the FN with great suspicion. Its founder, the now 87 years old Jean Marie Le Pen, has always been an outspoken anti-Semite, and frequently minimized the importance and extent of the Holocaust. In April 2015 he called Nazi gas chambers a “detail” of history. The older Le Pen was condemned several times for anti-Semitic statements. He was expelled from the FN in August 2015.[2]

Marine Le Pen, his daughter, has been FN party leader since 2011. In an interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel she explained her views.[3] The younger Le Pen is in favor of bringing back the French franc to replace the Euro. She wants France to exit from the European Union. The party is against globalization, and seeks to pursue an economic policy with strong isolationist elements.

The FN does not mention Muslims specifically, but is explicitly anti-immigration and non-integration. Le Pen has come out against alternative school menus which do not contain pork, for example.[4] In 2010 she compared Muslims praying in the street to the German occupation of France. It led to a court case, in which she was acquitted.[5]


Israel’s interests do not always run parallel to those of France’s Jews.
Other key persons in the party put the emphasis somewhat differently. In a 2014 statement, FN’s republican and secularism advisor Bertrand Dutheil presented the party’s positions, stating that Muslims should be permitted to worship privately but that public prayer should be forbidden, that all immigration should be halted, and that all French citizens should be integrated into one French nation, regardless of origin or creed. In addition, Dutheil stated his belief that Catholicism is the religion which has provided expression of the genius of the French nation over the centuries.[6]

In response to the FN’s resounding gains, the CRIF, the umbrella body of the French Jewish community recently called for a massive vote in the second round to block “the xenophobic and populist FN.”[7]

As mentioned, the long anti-Semitic history of the party and its founder has given rise to a great deal of sensitivity among Jews with regard to the FN. Yet with Marine Le Pen’s arrival at the party’s head and the anti-Semitic violence and the major incitement emerging from parts of the Muslim community, the percentage of Jews voting for the FN has been increasing. Figures are available for the first round of the 2012 presidential election which show that 13.5% of Jews voted for the FN. This percentage, although significant, still fell below the average national vote of 18%.[8]  

The results of the 2015 regional elections show that France has become a country where three major parties predominate. The left is represented by the Socialists, the largest left-wing party. The main center right party, recently renamed as the Republicans, is now led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy. The FN is further to the right of the political spectrum.

Sarkozy has publicly legitimized FN. He remarked that 6 million people voted for it in the first round of the regional elections and one could not say that these voters were against the republic. He ranked the Socialists and the FN more or less at the same level. This even though the Socialists had withdrawn their list in two regions after the first round to improve the chance of the Republicans in blocking the FN.[9]

Israel’s interests do not always run parallel to those of France’s Jews.  Jewish leaders in any country must find the best way to maneuver locally in a climate of unpleasant realities, focusing on people and parties who recognize those realities and are sympathetic to the issues involved.  French Socialist President François Hollande and in particular the Prime Minister Manuel Valls have been very positive toward the Jewish community. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has repeatedly stated that fighting anti-Semitism is a priority for the French government.[10]

However, Fabius also distorts the truth about Muslim anti-Semitism, as French sociologist Shmuel Trigano has pointed out, and claims that it is linked to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Trigano observed that the murderous attacks of January 2015 showed that the origins of Muslim anti-Semitism can be found in Islamic and Koranic motifs against non-Muslims.[11]

Although Valls recently specifically condemned boycotts against Israel,[12]France has taken a leading role in the demands for labelling of Israeli settlement products.[13]

Fabius has also taken two very unwelcome international initiatives with regard to Israel. Earlier this year, France announced its intention to press for a UN Security Council resolution on settlements.[14] In October 2015 Fabius announced that he wanted to have international observers deployed on the Temple Mount.[15] The ruling Socialists proposed a motion in Parliament in December 2014 which obtained a majority. It asked the government to recognize the Palestinian state.[16] The government, however, did not act upon it

If the French Socialists are defeated in future parliamentary and presidential elections, should Israel indeed have any preference for contacts with them over the Front National? The very act of voicing such a question may seem heretical to many due to long term cultural constraints, but given the ruling Socialists’ recent negativity toward Israel in the international arena, it must be asked. It is clear that in the event Israel does choose to develop contacts with the FN, the connection should be built up very gradually, constantly reviewing that party’s attitudes on issues important to Israel. This is particularly true if Jean Marie Le Pen returns to the party.

Sources:

[1] Angelique Chrisafis, “Front National wins opening round in France's regional elections,” The Guardian, 7 December 2015.

[2] Noemie Bisserbe, “Jean-Marie Le Pen Expelled From National Front,” The Wall Street Journal, 20 August 2015.

[3] Mathieu von Rohr, “Interview with Marine Le Pen: 'I Don't Want this European Soviet Union',” Der Spiegel, 3 June 2014.

[4] “France's Le Pen: ban non-pork meals in schools,” The Telegraph, 5 April 2014.

[5] Aurelien Breeden, “French Court Acquits Marine Le Pen of Hate Speech,” The New York Times, 15 December 2015.

[6] Bertrand Dutheil, “Aux Français qui se disent musulmans de s’assimiler dans la République,” Front National, 2 September 2014.

[7] “Le CRIF appelle à faire barrage au Front National,” Crif, 7 December 2015.

[8] “Les votes juifs : poids démographique et comportement électoral des juifs de France,” IFOP, August 2014.

[9] Alexandre Lemarié, “Pour son premier meeting de l’entre-deux-tours, Sarkozy met PS et FN sur le même pied,” Le Monde, 8 December 2015.

[10] “Laurent Fabius : "Les juifs en France ne doivent pas avoir peur,” RTL,  24 July 2014.

[11] Shmuel Trigano,"Pourquoi la manifestation du 11 janvier est un événement inquiétant," Actualité Juif, 5 January 2015.

[12] Lahav Harkov, “French PM Valls condemns BDS: ‘Criticism of Israeli policies that turned into anti-Semitism’,” Jerusalem Post, 19 December 2015.

[13] “Israel compiles EU 'black list' on goods labeling,” Globes, 13 December 2015.

[14] Barak Ravid, "France to Push for UN Security Council Resolution on West Bank Settlements," Haaretz, 11 October 2015.

[15] Barak Ravid, "France Pushes Security Council Call for Deployment of International Observers to Temple Mount," Haaretz, 17 October 2015

[16] “L'Assemblée adopte une résolution invitant la France à reconnaître l'Etat palestinien,” Le Monde, 12 December 2015.




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