Analysis: Nothing new from the Left

French presidential election: The discreet presence of the Israeli question.

Marine Le Pen France National Front 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier)
Marine Le Pen France National Front 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier)
PARIS – The “Israeli/Jewish question,” generally a favorite subject in public debate in France, had stayed in the background during the campaign for the presidency of the French Republic.
This is because the major theme of the election, “the Crisis,” although it concerns foreign affairs, is entirely tied up with the economic and social imperatives of the Hexagon, as the French often refer to their country: globalization, Europe, the national debt, the uncertain future of the euro zone... One could say “internal foreign affairs.”
Admittedly, there was the Toulouse affair which brought into the campaign words such as security, terrorism, immigration, identity. Nevertheless, only Marine Le Pen, the National Front candidate, referred to the attack during her final rally, at the Zenith concert arena in Paris. She proclaimed herself against “the practice by all presidents since [Valéry] Giscard d’Estaing [1974-1981] of permitting massive immigration over a period of 35 years, which allowed the settlement on our territory of 15 million foreigners, including 12 million non-Europeans.”
Facing an ocean of blue- white- red flags, Le Pen harangued a crowd of ecstatic followers: “You have a right to not want any more Franco- Algerians like Mohamed Merah,” the Islamist who murdered seven in Toulouse last month. The crowd roared: “This is our home.”
Speaking before her, Gilbert Collard, the president of her support committee, said: “It is when unfortunate Muslim and Jewish people are killed that we realize there are terrorists in France.”
During her campaign, Le Pen, has said: “If we give support to the creation of a Palestinian state, Israel must be assured about its unquestioned existence and guaranteed security.”
Regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict, the candidates generally stayed in line with their parties’ positions. On March 6, during a radio broadcast with France 2 television, Nicolas Sarkozy, the incumbent president and UMP candidate, promised, should he be reelected, to set up a French peace initiative together with the whole of Europe, and declared his first visit would be to our region.
In September 2011 at the UN, he called for “the mutual recognition of two countries for two nations, based on the lines established in 1967, with exchanges of agreed and equal territories.”
To achieve this, today Sarkozy asks for a “change of method,” a quick revival of credible negotiations, with a precise timetable and a follow- up mechanism.
It is understood that the president is a friend and supporter of Israel; however, he surprisingly supported the membership of Palestine in UNESCO.
François Hollande, the candidate of the Socialist Party and the front-runner in the polls, committed himself “to take the initiative to favor peace and security between Israel and Palestine with new negotiations.”
He promised, “I will support the international recognition of the state of Palestine.” The Socialist Party’s head office reiterated its position in favor of mutual recognition of two states.
Centrist candidate François Bayrou’s commitment to peace in the Middle East is well known. The problem is with the extreme Left, which is totally committed to the Palestinians.
To quote former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, “The sea is the same sea.” To paraphrase him, “The Left is the same Left” and the parties stay mainly concerned with the Palestinians and their understanding of what peace means.
Candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a longtime member of the Socialist Party and unconditional supporter of president François Mitterrand, is representing the Left Front in this election. On Thursday night during his final campaign rally in the Parc des Expositions convention center, he never said a word on the subject.
He faced several thousand militants waving the most red flags I have ever seen in my life. You could say it was normal for a political rally of communists from the old PCF (French Communist Party), which was always anti-Israel.
The Left Front with Mélenchon, the Green Europe Ecology party of Eva Joly and the new anti-capitalist party lead by Philippe Poutou all advocate “the acknowledgement of the State of Palestine by France and EU.”
Poutou is the successor to Olivier Besancenot, a very strongly anti-Israel politician. Besancenot had inherited the ideas of Alain Krivine, the French Jewish Trotskyite who inspired the anti-Zionist and anti-capitalist Matzpen organization that was founded in Israel in 1962 and which was active until the 1980s.
There is permanence in the positions: the Left persists in its identification against the Hebrew state.
A phrase comparing the Palestinians territories, particularly Gaza, to “open air concentration camps” uttered on television by Nathalie Arhaud, candidate for La Lutte Ouvrière (a movement influenced by the Third (Communist) International) was identified by Joly as reflecting the typical “signature” of the Left.
“Concentration camps are not a Nazi German specialty... concentration camps and open air prisons, are synonyms. Gaza is a catastrophe,” she said.
In an endeavour to avoid all controversy, Joly has tried to tone down her words by saying: “At no time have I thought to compare an actual situation in the world with the horror of the Shoah and the extermination camps of the Second World War... To fight for the right of the Palestinian does not mean falling into extremes.”
The UEJF, the Union of Jewish Students in France, denounced the insinuations of the two female candidates. Jonathan Hayoun, president of the Union, expressed outrage: “Lutte Ouvrière and the Greens have made numerous abusive comparisons and turned away from an effective promotion of the rights of the Palestinians and of peace,” he said.
This week, the last week of campaigning before the first round on Sunday, France celebrated two high profile official ceremonies, both related to the painful past between France and the Jewish people.
The first was at the Invalides, where Napoleon is buried. Sarkozy and Hollande were present at the nation’s farewell to Raymond Aubrac, who was a follower of Gen. Charles de Gaulle and a leader in the Resistance against the Nazi occupation. Aubrac died earlier this month aged 97; his wife, Lucie, who died in 2007, was also a famous member of the Resistance. The Jewish couple were among the most respected figures of their generation.
The second ceremony took place at the Shoah Memorial, where for 24 hours the names of 74,000 Jews deported from France during the Holocaust were read out.