French elections

A combination of economic stagnation, radical and ineffectual politics and, of course, anti-Jewish violence are forcing more and more French Jews to reconsider their future.

March 24, 2015 21:40
3 minute read.
Netanyahu Hollande

PM Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Francois Hollande speak at the Grand Synagogue in Paris.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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For French Jews who are already pessimistic about their future under the Fifth Republic, Sunday’s first round of voting in nationwide local elections gave little reason to be optimistic.

Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front party performed strongly with a second-place performance, reflecting an increasingly xenophobic and EU-skeptic sentiment. Last May, FN came out on top in European elections. Last year, it took control of 11 towns in municipal elections.

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The second, decisive round will take place this Sunday.

French voters seem intent on voting into power political parties that will keep France on its depressing course of economic stagnation.

Some have argued that the rise of the FN is not necessarily bad for the Jews. Le Pen has worked hard to change the image of the party. Under her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the FN was a political home for neo-Nazis, militant Catholics, racists and xenophobes. Le Pen fille, in contrast, has pushed out some of the Holocaust deniers and anti-Semitic ideologues and has attempted to muzzle the remaining bigots.

In parallel, there are now senior members of FN who are of partial Jewish descent and others who are gay.

Some French Jews have chosen to vote for the party, perhaps out of a feeling that the biggest threat comes from the more extreme elements of the Muslim population and that only Le Pen is willing to take steps to fight them.

According to Ifop, a leading pollster, 13.5 percent of Jewish voters supported Marine Le Pen in the 2012 presidential election, which, by the way, was lower than the national average.

And just recently, in a comment that triggered much criticism, the chairman of the Representative Council of French Jewish Organizations (CRIF), Roger Cukierman, said that Le Pen was personally beyond reproach when it came to anti-Semitism and that the reason she was not invited to a CRIF dinner was that she had not publicly denounced her father’s anti-Semitic statements.

But there are troubling underlying currents in Le Pen’s party. As noted by Foreign Policy’s Robert Zaretsky, the magazine L’Obs analyzed the websites of the thousands of FN candidates ahead of Sunday’s elections and found anti-Semitic, anti-black and anti-Muslim slurs.

“Banks control the world, Jews control the banks, and Jews have license to assassinate,” tweeted Jérémy Aycart, the FN candidate from the Haute-Vienne department.

Le Pen vowed to treat these cases with “absolute firmness.”

But this will be difficult if not impossible in a party that openly appeals to xenophobic sentiments.

Beyond the gains of the FN, however, the truly depressing results of Sunday’s elections reflect the utter lack of economic policy thinking necessary to extract the French economy from its stagnation.

Nicolas Sarkozy, whose UMP party came in first in Sunday’s vote and was expected to receive the highest level of Jewish support, was ineffectual at reforming France’s rigid labor laws and job-killing red tape when he was president between 2007 and 2012. And there is no sign he intends to change his ways.

Meanwhile, anachronistic and self-defeating institutions such as the 35-hour work week remain unchallenged.

Due to the opposition of the Greens and other more radical leftists, the ruling Socialists – ironically the most supply- side minded of the three large parties – have failed to deregulate professional services and lift restrictions on Sunday opening hours for shops. Weakened in the local elections, the Socialists will have an even harder time doing so in the future.

When Le Pen does comment on economics (she prefers to talk about a referendum on capital punishment and stopping immigration) she voices anti-globalization, anti-capitalist positions.

While the economies of Germany and Britain have had their highs and lows in recent decades, French decline has been nearly constant. Since 1978, French economic growth has averaged 0.45% per year; unemployment has not fallen below 7% in 30 years. Lacking either the will or the way, none of the three large parties give the French much hope of extricating their country from stagnation.

The Jewish Agency expects aliya from France to reach 9,000 in 2015, compared to 7,200 in 2014, which was a record year. And Jewish Agency-sponsored events providing information on job opportunities in Israel are attracting unprecedented attendance.

A combination of economic stagnation, radical and ineffectual politics and, of course, anti-Jewish violence are forcing more and more French Jews to reconsider their future.

Here in Israel, we should probably be brushing up on our French.

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