How did the French citizens in Israel vote for the presidential election in France?

Three conversations with French-Israelis who tell The Jerusalem Post about the difficult and complicated election

 People voting a the French school in HaNeviim Street in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
People voting a the French school in HaNeviim Street in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Marco Sarrabia made aliyah from France more than 30 years ago and lives in Kibbutz Tzova near Jerusalem. About seven years ago he met then-French Industry and Trade Minister Emmanuel Macron when he visited the Kibbutz. “We connected when Macron was in Israel and we’ve been in touch ever since,” Sarrabia told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “When he established the La République En Marche party seven years ago, my friend, Elizabeth Caro, and I became his representatives in Israel and run the party’s Israeli branch.”

Why did you decide to support him?

There are many reasons. First of all the man is smart, educated, with a long-term economic vision, European in every way and even though he’s not really a social-left politician – he has retained all the social benefits of Social Democracy that characterize France’s welfare policy. France is a welfare state and he advanced and he maintained the situation of welfare in the republic. During [the] COVID-19 [pandemic], for instance, he helped all those who were in difficulties financially, including the French citizen living abroad. It is one of the only countries in the world that is in touch with its citizens around the world. They assisted with allowances for people in Israel with economic difficulties such as the self-employed. Because of Macron, France is a welfare state far beyond its borders.”He added that also when it comes to the connection with Israel, Macron gets top marks, “He is a soul mate of Israel and he continues to adhere to the two-state solution. He is a true friend of Israel. He enacted a rather revolutionary law that anti-Zionism is antisemitism which was groundbreaking. Of course, French people can criticize Israel, but those who oppose the existence of the State of Israel are considered antisemitic.”

Do you think that many Israelis will vote for the right-wing Jewish candidate Éric Zemmour?

“It will be interesting to see at the end if there are really as many Israelis who will vote for Zemmour or rather if it’s noise. He got into trouble at first when he shied away from the responsibility of the Vichy government and also spoke problematically about the Dreyfus affair. He lost much of the Jewish vote because of these mistakes. He promotes total assimilation of the Jews in France. He wants Jews to give their children French names and also to bury their family members in France and not in Israel. At first, he made no distinction between Jews who are very attached to Israel and Muslims who are very attached to Arab countries like Algeria and Tunisia. In my opinion, he lost a lot of support from Jews but there are many who identify with his views regarding immigration. They think immigration needs to be overcome.”

 People voting a the French school in HaNeviim Street in Jerusalem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) People voting a the French school in HaNeviim Street in Jerusalem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

How will the Jewish community be perceived in France if Zemmour gets a lot of votes?

“There are many Israelis who are voting for the French election. It has nothing to do with the candidate’s plan or how good he is for France, the only criteria is the candidate’s attitude towards Israel and their attitude towards Muslims and Arab countries. I don’t think he will get so many votes. In my opinion, most of the citizens of France in Israel are sane and will vote for Macron.

Jonathan-Simon Sellem is a political adviser and a “spin doctor” working with leaders around the world who lives in Tel Aviv and has lived in Israel for many years. “I do not yet know who I am voting for,” he told the Post towards the early evening hours. “I’m on my way to the consulate to vote right now and I’ll decide at the last second.”Sellem explained that many French olim – new immigrants to Israel – are very mixed up and it was difficult for them to decide who to vote for.” He added that “This is the presidential election, therefore we know that nothing will change if Macron is chosen. He was not an amazing president for Israel and the Jews. We, as French Jews, want the policy to improve for Israel. He (Macron) canceled all ventures with Israel, and he did not do much to promote relations.”

He added that there are other candidates that have “no charisma” and that Zemmour definitely has a chance to receive many votes. “There are good and less good things about him,” Sellem said. “There are those who think Zemmour can be a solution. The extreme left is also very dangerous in France. Candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon is a very bad candidate for us. The people in his party are very hostile towards Israel.”Sellem said that “From what I saw all day at the ballots I believe most of the adults voted for Macron, and many of the younger ones up to the age of 40 voted for Zemmour. Many of the young French-Israelis have suffered from antisemitism from Muslims in France. They see Zemmour as a French Trump – and they love Donald Trump, therefore love Zemmour.”

Benjamin Petrover is a news anchor for i24NEWS edition in French. He interviewed many heads of political parties and a few of the candidates for president, among them Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour. “Most French Israelis have voted for Zemmour,” he told the Post, “I know this since in the garbage around the polls you can see the voting pieces of paper with Macron’s name on it and barely any with Zemmour’s name.”

Have the parties invested in campaigning in Israel?

“Yes but not all of them. The Republican party has invested in Israel. In addition, supporters of Le Pen and Zemmour have arrived in Israel and even came to interview on my show. Le Pen’s staff contacted me a week ago and said they want me to interview her – that is a sign that she wants to talk to the Jewish community in France and in Israel. This pretty much means that the right-wing wants to influence what’s going on in Israel and the Left does not show any interest.”

People voting at the French school on HaNeviim School in Jerusalem (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)People voting at the French school on HaNeviim School in Jerusalem (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Petrover said that the most dramatic part of what is going on in this election with regards to the Jewish community is that there is a gap between the leadership of the Jewish community and its leadership. “I think the fact that the heads of Jewish organizations told their constituents not to vote for Zemmour displays a great division between the Jewish community and its leadership. Throughout the campaign, the leaders told the Jewish community not to vote for Zemmour. This behavior made the community members angry at its leaders. Many of them asked ‘How can they think they are entitled to tell us who to vote for?’ It also shows the leadership all supported Macron and the people actually supported Zemmour. They do not like being told who to vote for.”

Why did Zemmour succeed in the Jewish community?

“He said out loud what the Jews were saying behind closed doors. After this election, the heads of Jewish organizations and communities need to think about how they can reconnect to their members.”