French candidate promises to protect Jewish rights

In bid to defeat Le Pen, French center-right candidate cozies up to Jews.


Francois Fillon
Francois Fillon

On Monday France’s center-right presidential hopeful Francois Fillon attended a town hall meeting with some 700 members of the Jewish community organized by CRIF, the federation of Jewish communities in France.

Dozens of supporters welcomed the candidate by chanting “Fillon President” at the meeting at a Paris hotel. Meyer Habib, a Jewish lawmaker and former CRIF vice president, endorsed him publicly. Fillon earned applause at least a dozen times when he pledged to support Israel and curb jihadism.

Fillon rebuked France’s support for a UNESCO resolution passed last year that ignored Jewish ties to Jerusalem, calling it “an error and historical untruth that complicates peace efforts.” And he vowed never to normalize ties with Iran as long as that country “continues to call for Israel’s destruction.”

He said he supported Palestinian statehood “only if the future Palestinian state is reached by an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Fillon also promised to “be more careful,” in reference to his controversial remark last year during a radio interview in which he claimed Jews in the past had lacked respect for the rule of law. As for ritual slaughter, he assured the crowd that his comments from 2012, when he said that the practice “has little to do with modern science,” does not mean he would act to outlaw the custom.

Last year, French Jews and Muslims formed a joint effort to defend against attacks on kosher and halal practices.

“Jewish values, they are, well, they’re our values,” Fillon said. “Jews had a very major role in building the French republic,” he added, noting that Jews have lived in France “since time immemorial.”

“Without a candidate for the center-right, Mrs. Le Pen would have a field day,” Fillon warned. “Some in the right wing would express their anger by going so far as to vote for her.”

According to a poll Tuesday, Le Pen is leading the race with a 26.5 percent approval rating, followed by Macron at 25.5 percent. Fillon was third at 18.5 percent and the far-left Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon had 13.5 percent.

The top two vote-getters in April’s first round will advance to the second and final round on May 7.

Fillon, who won his party’s primaries despite predictions he would finish third or fourth, cited the false forecasts in advising his listeners to distrust polls.

Macron, who has avoided statements about Islam, waging a positive campaign promoting national reconciliation, is the “kind of candidate that floats on the cloud thanks to a nice platform, but come elections, voters will be faced by the divides once more, and that’s when candidates like Macron crash,” Fillon said.

An independent candidate has not won a French presidential election in over four decades, since the 1974 victory by Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.

Countless French voters who are worried about radical Islam, Fillon also argued, would vote for Le Pen if forced to choose between her and the reconciliatory Macron. On February 4th in Lyon, Macron riled the right and even some centrists when he said, “There is no French culture, there is culture in France, and it is diverse, different and made up of multiple cultures.”

Fillon at the CRIF meeting, saying “France is not multicultural, it is diverse but has one language: French.”

Fillon said he would focus only on Islam and would not change any of the religious liberties now afforded to Jews and Christians in France.

“Banning citizens from wearing all religious symbols goes against my understanding of religious freedom,” he said. “Today there is one religion that poses an integration problem, and that is Islam.”