PARIS – The Paris terrorist attacks in January focused the attention of French society on the Islamist threat and the rise of what is often dubbed as “new anti-Semitism,” nurtured by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while “traditional” anti-Semitism has been somewhat sidelined in the public discourse.
But surveys indicate that the traditional extreme right’s xenophobia is still very much alive in France, and that the far-right National Front party is gaining strength.
According to a poll conducted on Sunday by Ifop and published by French daily Le Figaro regarding the regional elections on March 22, some 30 percent of French voters are expected to support the National Front, more than the 28% in favor of the center- right UMP. Less than 20% declared that they would vote for the ruling Socialist party.
These findings are hardly surprising, as they correspond to the prevailing trend in the past five years, which saw increasingly favorable results for the National Front.
The Ifop poll was based on an average participation rate of 30% at the regional elections.
But its authors emphasized that lower participation rates will only further benefit the far Right. In case of strong abstention, 53% of far-right supporters declared that they will make a special effort to vote.
Prof. Jean-Yves Camus, director of the Observatoire des radicalités politiques think tank and an expert on the French far Right, warned that the findings of the Ifop poll could be misleading.
“The fact that polls attribute 30% of the votes to the National Front does not mean that they will get 30% of the regional delegates. This is a global number. In almost all the cases the two main candidates will have to compete at a second round. One must remember that so far, despite positive polls in the past polls, the National Front has won only two regional delegates,’’ he said.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post
, Camus acknowledged that while it isn’t possible to predict the exact results of the regional elections, there is a clear tendency of “political dynamics” radiated by the National Front over the past few years.
‘“They had good results in the last presidential elections, at the 2014 European Parliament elections and also two weeks ago, at the local elections held in Doubs, near the Swiss border,’’ he said.
The situation has radically changed since the 2002 presidential elections, Camus said, when the French public rallied behind Jacques Chirac to prevent a victory of then-National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.
This time around, the UMP won’t adopt such an approach, he said.
“There are actually many within the moderate Right who do not exclude local alliances with far-right candidates,’’ he said.
“In future local elections, if the second round will confront a socialist candidate against a far-right candidate, the moderate Right might call upon its supporters to abstain. They will not necessarily adhere to the policy of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who excluded any sort of alliance with the far Right, even on the local or municipal level,’’ he predicted.
According to Camus, the National Front isn’t an anti-Semitic party per say.
“Having said that, one must note that following the terror attack at the Jewish Museum in Brussels last May and following the massacres at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher, the National Front could not bring themselves to include the words ‘anti-Semitism’’ or ‘Jewish’’ in the press notices they issued after these terrible incidents.
“One must also bear in mind that the agenda of the National Front objects to the wearing of kippa in public and is against kosher shechita [ritual slaughter],’’ he said.
Even though the National Front ideologists are not aiming to change or replace the French governing institutions, the values they champion do stand in contrast to the fundamental democratic pillars of the French Republic, Camus said.
“The National Front would like foreigners who are legal residents in France to have different, lesser rights than those of French citizens. And this ambition endangers our democracy,’’ he said.
Sacha Reingewirtz, the president of the French Jewish Student Organization (UEJF), shares Camus’s concerns.
“The National Front won’t express itself publicly against the Jewish community. This would be against the law. But there are several political figures in small towns, mostly those along the northern- eastern border in the south of France, who use the social networks to spread hate messages online,’’ he said.
“In communities such as Fréjus or Béziers in the south of France we had reports about organizations working with immigrants or with single- parent families that lost their municipal financial support following the 2014 local elections. These are signs we cannot ignore,’’ he said.
Reingewirtz is worried that the younger generation will be increasingly influenced by both facets of anti-Semitism – the traditional and the new one.
On Sunday, the UEJF held a conference designed to confront the increasing phenomenon of hate online.
“Spreading hate messages online is fast, generating millions of viewers instantly,’’ he told the Post.
“According to a survey we have ordered, more than 50% of the French people were exposed to racism on the net or in social networks. Eighty-nine percent of all respondents would like that the main network platforms become accountable for that, and responsible for removing such sites or blocking their operators,’’ he said.
“The problem is that blocking these sites or taking them off the net demands complicated judicial procedures,” he said. “Last year we witnessed the very instant large diffusion of videos of anti-Semite or Holocaust denial character by comedians Dieudonné [M’bala M’bala] and Alain Soral. These video clips were watched by millions. The procedure to remove them from the web lasted three weeks.’’