(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
PARIS – Much like the rest of their countrymen, the French Jewish community was surprised by last night’s Right-Center primary results, in which former prime minister Francois Fillon bypassed both Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy. It was a surprise that some welcomed with open arms.
Leaders of the community are careful not to express any political inclination or support for a particular candidate, especially with the second round of primaries still pending for next Sunday. But community members note that Fillon’s “Jewish record” is a rather positive one.
“As prime minister of the Sarkozy government, we always felt that the door was open for any of us,” said Nicolas, a 24-year-old Jewish student. “And as a candidate he followed the same line. At a political meeting he conducted just a few days ago, Fillon noted that French Jewish sense of community – exactly like Catholic or Protestant religious identities – does not threaten the French Republic in any way.
The only threat to our way of life, he said, emanates from radical Islam religious identity and community approach.’’ Not all French Jews agree. They remember Fillon’s 2012 proposal against animal slaughter being done according to Halal or Kosher dictates, as per their respective Muslim or Jewish religious laws.
That action provoked an uproar within the Jewish and the Muslim communities alike. On the other hand, Fillon was quick to apologize, and the Jewish leadership at the time said that this affair was a matter of the past. For them, they expect the Center-Right candidate, be it Fillon or Juppé, to cooperate and protect the community and its traditions.
Fillon’s approach to Israel is less clear. As prime minister, Fillon expressed little on foreign issues in general, and the Middle East in particular, respecting the French division of forces, in which the president handles foreign affairs and the prime minister, internal ones. On rare occasions, he said creation of a Palestinian state was the only way to peace in the Middle East, and he criticized the Netanyahu government for not advancing negotiations.
However, since the rise of terrorist attacks on French soil, he has repeatedly warned against the dangers of radical Islam and praised Israel as the region’s only true democracy.
Fillon has also criticized France’s stand on the UNESCO Temple Mount resolution, saying France should have voted against it. He has also adopted the stance of Prime Minister Manuel Valls against boycotting Israel. If elected representative of the Center-Right, he will probably continue the same way.
It would be interesting to see what approach Fillon would take, if elected, vis-àvis the French initiative for peace in the Middle East. Fillon criticized President Hollande for convening such a conference without the two main parties (Israel and the Palestinians).
However, that does not mean he would discard the initiative, which has positioned France at the center of the diplomatic arena.
Still, one must remember that Fillon’s impressive showing in the primary guarantees nothing. Alain Juppé might still win the second primary round. In that case, Israel would face a former foreign minister who will have a very clear ideas where he will be heading diplomatically.