Sunday, June 4, 2017

Shocking, Fascinating or Merely Interesting 2: French Jews, Anti-Semitism and the Election

As Americans and as Jews we breathed a sigh of relief when Emmanuel Macron handily defeated Marine Le Pen two to one. Although we know next to nothing about Macron, we feared the possible victory of Le Pen, leader of France's National Front, a far right party with an anti-Semitic history. The Macron victory demonstrated a check on the populist elections in Great Britain and the U.S.

Below are longish excerpts from two related pieces: a. an April article from the New York Times incredibly demonstrating an effort by Le Pen's party to court Jews, and b. the Jerusalem Report's exploration into Jewish concerns over Macron's leadership, despite his receiving 90% of its vote.

"France's Far Right, Once Known for Anti-Semitism, Courts Jews", New York Times, April 5, 2017 by Amanda Taub

"Paris--For years, France's far-right National Front was synonymous with anti-Semitism. Its founder, Jean Le Pen, was notorious for anti-Semitic outbursts--including a comment that the Holocaust was just a detail of history.

"But since Mr. Le Pen's daughter Marine took over the party's leadership in 2011, the National Front has attempted a remarkable about-face: Today the party positions itself as a champion of French Jews.

"Although Ms. Le Pen, one of the front-runners in the coming presidential election, still alludes to anti-Semitic stereotypes on the campaign trail, she now promises that her party will be the protector of French Jews.

"It is a surprising twist that has resonated with some French Jews who feel abandoned by what they see as the government's tepid response to the anti-Semitic violence that has plagued the country for years.

"But experts say the National Front's shift may be intended more as a message to non-Jewish voters, looking for moral cover in supporting a party that vilifies their primary sources of fear and anger: Muslims and immigrants.

"The National Front has long been widely viewed in France as toxic, but by declaring itself a shield for French Jews, it may have found an effective way to allow many voters to justify breaking a taboo. That reflects a concept known a 'moral license.' Framing the party as a champion of one minority enables voters to justify supporting its agenda in suppressing another.

"The result is not a more racially tolerant National Front, but rather a party that has found near unprecedented success in persuading mainstream voters--many of whom may be quietly sympathetic to its anti-immigrant agenda--to embrace far-right ideas once considered off-limits.

"'They are instrumentalizing us,'said Jonathan Arfi, vice president of the Council of Jewish institutions in France, which goes by the French acronym CRIF. 'We are a small minority,' he said, 'but we have an important symbolic role to play.'

"Mr. Arfi can point to the precise month when the new age of anti-Semitism began in France: September 2000, the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising. That brought about attacks on Jews in France, particularly those who lived in poorer neighborhoods on the outskirts of large cities--areas that had gradually become dominated by Muslim immigrants from North Africa and their families. Since then anti-Semitic violence has remained high.

"But the French government and civil society were slow to respond to the attacks, Jewish leaders felt. For many years, Mr. Arfi said, politicians were in denial about the attacks, preferring to see them as an 'imported conflict' rather than as resurgent French anti-Semitism, although he was careful to note that the response has improved in recent years.

..."In 2014, Ms. Le Pen summarized her message to France's Jews in an interview with the French magazine Valeurs Actuelles. Her party, she argued, 'is without a doubt the best shield to protect you against the one true enemy, Islamic fundamentalism.'

..."No mainstream Jewish organization in France has endorsed the National Front...But the group's massage may be about more that recruiting Jewish voters.

"'By saying they will protect the Jews against anti-Semitism, people understand that they mean they will be tough with the Muslims,' Mr. Arfi said. 'Everything is between the lines.

..."By recasting the National Front as a vote in defense of Jews rather than a vote to suppress Muslim immigrants, Ms. Le Pen is giving mainstream voters a way to embrace racial supremacist politics without feeling racist.

"In a State of Fear: French Jews Voted Overwhelmingly for Emmanuel Macron, But Are Concerned He Will Pander to the Country's Large Arab Minority and Fail to Protect Them", May 29, 2017, The Jerusalem Report by Bernard Edinger, Paris

"Center-rightist Emmanuel Macron, 39, who was voted in by 66% to 34% over the far-right Marie Le Pen is France's youngest national leader since Napoleon Bonaparte more than 200 years ago.

"Exit polls indicated that France's half million Jews, Europe's largest Jewish community, voted for Macron by about 90% to Le Pen's 10%, but he was not their first choice. Their preferred candidate was former right-wing premier Francois Fillon, whose platform was especially strong against Islamic fundamentalism. However, Fillon, the initial favorite to win the election, became mired in a sudden corruption scandal that resulted in his elimination after the first two rounds of voting.

"Macron, who will be the European Union's youngest head of state, has never held elected office before and only created his 'En Marche!'(Onwards) movement a year ago.

"'His rise has been absolutely extraordinary,' marveled conservative politician Jean-Francois Cope, a son of Jewish immigrants from Romania and Tunisia, speaking on TV. 'Every political figure has had to surmount obstacles, but what this man has accomplished is equivalent to having crossed the Red Sea dry-footed,' said Cope, jokingly comparing Macron's achievements to those of the Biblical prophet Moses.

"But, for many French Jews, the vote took place under a new pall of uncertainty and anxiety after the murder in Paris on April 4 of an Orthodox-Jewish French physician, Dr. Sarah Halmi, 66.

..."Sarah Halmi was thrown to her death from the window of her fourth-floor apartment in the often rough Belleville area of northern Paris after a neighbor, 27-year-old Kada Traore, also a Muslim Frenchman of black-African origin, broke into her home in the middle of the night.

..."What has jarred French Jews is that the national media has been entirely silent about the murder, and that there was practically no coverage whatsoever, except in Jewish media, of a subsequent protest march by 1,200 Jews in Halmi's neighborhood. Participants said local Arab youths provoked them from windows with death threats, and several Arabs were beaten as a result.

..."A leading (non-Jewish) expert on the contemporary French-Jewish community, social scientist Jerome Fourquet tells the Jerusalem Report, 'If you are an ordinary French citizen not specially interested in Jewish issues, and if you're not Jewish, there is virtually no chance that you would have heard anything about this case.

"'This reinforces the feeling of French Jews that they are not heard as they should be, and it also reinforces their anxiety about their safety,' he says. 'The event did fuel Jewish support for Fillon who had a very strong anti-Islamic platform, and who, according to my calculations, got more than 50% of French Jewish votes in the first round of the election, whereas nationally, he got 20.1%.

..."'We are French and we share the preoccupation of the French public. But, as Jews we also have specific interests, and the main one is that of the security of our families against those who threaten and attack us as Jews.'"

"Our main preoccupation is with antisemitism by local Arabs. The French press and public still does not seem to have understood that old-style European antisemitism has been replaced by an antisemitism brought to France by Arab immigrant populations as part of their culture.

..."Antisemitic acts in France dropped by 75% from last year in comparison to the years immediately preceding, when the number of such acts reached more than 1000 per year, including an average of one act of physical violence every other day of the year.

..."'I voted for Macron in the runoff round in the election as did most Jews. He looks like a decent human being, he's apparently 'a good boy', but we wonder whether he will have the strength to defend us when we are attacked. Will he have the willpower to withstand the pressure of his voters, including the Arabs? We're a small community compared to the Arabs here--6 million of them, half a million Jews. We must remain vigilant and CRIF (the political leadership of the French Jewish community) has to be on guard,' he says.

..."Macron made all the right political noises to reach out to France's Jews, including a highly publicized visit to the French Shoah Memorial in the last days of the election campaign, a visit to Israel in 2015 and pledges to oppose the anti-Israel BDS campaign and any move to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state.

..."Alain Finkelkraut, son of Polish-born Jewish death-camp survivors and France's best known living philosopher, said he feared French Jews would suffer from what he predicted would be attempts by Macron to reach out to and appease the country's restive Muslim population. Referring on Jewish radio to the choice between Macron--whom he distrusts--and Le Pen, Finkelkraut said, 'A disaster saved us from a catastrophe."

..."We certainly hope the new government will also take our security concerns into consideration,' says 'Benayoun'. The sweeping under the carpet of Sarah Halimi's murder by the outgoing administration has deeply shaken French Jewry and we hope things will change."

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