France is at a political crossroads

Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron will compete for the French presidency in the second round of elections.

 A WOMAN walks past official campaign posters of French presidential election runoff candidates Marine Le Pen and incumbent, Emmanuel Macron, in Paris on Tuesday.  (photo credit: GONZALO FUENTES / REUTERS)
A WOMAN walks past official campaign posters of French presidential election runoff candidates Marine Le Pen and incumbent, Emmanuel Macron, in Paris on Tuesday.
(photo credit: GONZALO FUENTES / REUTERS)

PARIS – French Jewish leaders have been increasing calls not to vote for National Assembly head Marine Le Pen in the April 24 presidential runoff, but to vote for incumbent President Emmanuel Macron.

Already on April 12, two days after the election’s first round, the umbrella organization for French Jews CRIF called to block Le Pen’s presidential race by massively voting for Macron.

“Following the results of the first round of the presidential election, with the votes cast in favor of Marine Le Pen, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Éric Zemmour, the CRIF notes a weakening of the republican camp and the dangerous strengthening of the populist parties of the extreme Right and extreme Left. The CRIF calls for a republican union to prevent the extreme Right from gaining power,” said a statement issued by the CRIF.

President of the CRIF Francis Kalifat said, “No calculation, no pretext can be invoked in order to escape our civic responsibility in the face of a choice, which is not really a choice: we must call to vote massively for Emmanuel Macron in order to preserve our democracy.”

Addressing his synagogue on Passover evening last Friday night, Le Raincy community Rabbi Moshe Lewin also didn’t mince words. “I dare say today, since we are at a serious moment.... We have today this duty toward our children to be very careful. It [voting] is not a choice like any other. We must not make a choice we will later regret. We must say: I will make sure that she [Marine Le Pen] does not pass.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, candidate for his re-election in the 2022 French presidential election, attends a political campaign rally at Paris La Defense Arena in Nanterre, France, April 2, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/SARAH MEYSSONNIER)French President Emmanuel Macron, candidate for his re-election in the 2022 French presidential election, attends a political campaign rally at Paris La Defense Arena in Nanterre, France, April 2, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/SARAH MEYSSONNIER)

Lewin, who also serves as special adviser to the grand rabbi of France, was not the only one to preach this way to his community. Dozens of other rabbis across France also took up the opportunity of the Passover service to call on their community members to block Le Pen at the polling booth.

The Jewish community in France has reason to worry. True, surveys this week show that Macron is still ahead of Le Pen, with the gap between them actually growing. A poll published April 20 showed Macron with 55.8% of the votes, compared to 44.2% for Le Pen, the largest margin noted since the first round. Nevertheless, French Jewish leaders are worried that the high rate of abstention in the first round will reoccur and even increase in the second.

Julien, Jewish, 55, voted for Zemmour in the first round. He now intends to vote for Macron. “I live in France and I voted for Zemmour in the first round. Some of my family members who live in Israel also voted for him. With everything that had happened here in recent years, the murder of Mireille Knol, the murder of Sarah Halimi, we need someone who is not afraid to tackle extreme Islam. Still, I won’t vote now for Le Pen. Her father was condemned for antisemitic remarks.”

A Jewish woman in her forties, who asked not to be mentioned by name, said she will vote for Macron, but noted that many of her friends will probably not vote at all. “I work in the media milieu. Many of my friends who are in communications, the arts and performance said they prefer not voting at all to supporting Macron. They voted for Mélenchon in the first round. For me, this is unacceptable. Those who choose not to vote, in reality reinforce Le Pen.”

Dozens of civil society groups usually not involved in politics have formed what is called here “a republican front” against Le Pen. SOS Racisme, for instance, a powerful French human rights organization, published a communique, warning that the danger of the far Right seizing power in France is a real one, and should not be ignored. On April 14, an activist of the green group Collectif Ibiza interrupted a press conference of Le Pen, displaying a sign in the shape of heart with the pictures of Le Pen and Putin. She was forcefully removed from the premises.

An anti-Le Pen demonstration that took place April 16 in the center of Paris reflected exactly that. The organizers were mostly labor unions and extreme-left groups. No center or right-wing organizations were associated with the Paris rally, or with any of the other similar rallies that convened across the country simultaneously. Then, somewhere in the middle of the march between Place de la Nation and Place de la Republic, the tone of the megaphoned-voices changed, with chants against Macron, against his economic policies and against the police.

Demonstrators whom The Jerusalem Post spoke with said that they will vote for no one – neither for Le Pen nor for Macron. Some of them were carrying signs saying “Ni Macron, Ni Le Pen.”

Extreme-left leader Mélenchon registered a surprisingly high score in the first round, finishing third with 22% of the vote. In a letter to his supporters published April 12, he presented Le Pen as more dangerous than Macron, but added that every person must reach his/her own conclusion and vote according to his/her own conscience. He did not call explicitly to cast a Macron vote.

In contrast, former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande both called to vote for Macron, as did Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo, The Republicans’ candidate Valérie Pécresse and the French Greens’ candidate Yannick Jadot.

ÉLIE KORCHIA, president of the Israelite Central Consistory of France, told the Post that no Jewish leader has the right to stay silent at this moment, as the country faces the danger of falling into the hands of the extreme Right.

“It is not only Marine Le Pen in person that worries us, but also the party behind her, the government she will form if ever elected president. These concerns are not just on the ideological level. We see concrete, very worrying examples.”

Korchia explained that, not long ago, Le Pen was against wearing a kippah in public, asking Jews to make this “little sacrifice” for the sake of the public. She allegedly backed away from that, and is now “only” against the Muslim headscarf. Still, when one is against religious signs in public spaces, it is clear where this would lead, he noted.

“Le Pen is against kosher slaughter, pretending that we ignore the suffering of the animals. That is not true. The French Jewish community is the third largest in the world and the largest in Europe. For many French Jews, kosher meat is part of how they express their Judaism and their beliefs daily. Solutions like importing kosher meat from Israel or from Argentina would rob them of that.”

Arié Bensemhoun, executive director of the European Leadership Network branch in France, regrets that some French Jews, both in France and in Israel, supported in the first round far-right candidate Zemmour. He said that some of them undoubtedly saw Zemmour as a savior from growing antisemitism in Europe, extreme Islam and terrorism, not realizing that he was actually opening the way for Marine Le Pen by whitewashing her.

“When you add up all those who voted for Mélenchon, Zemmour and Le Pen, you get more than half of the voters who chose the extreme. This is very dangerous for the French society, for democracy. I am appalled by the credulity of those who adhere to “Everything but Macron,” or those who advocate “Ni Macron, Ni Le Pen,” at the risk of letting the heiress of infamous [Jean-Marie] Le Pen win. In doing so, they allow the extreme Right, the most radical, the most anti-European, the most xenophobic, racist and antisemitic [political bloc], to reach the position of supreme power in France,” noted Bensemhoun.

“Marine Le Pen wants us to believe that she has changed. But we know the truth. We remember the origins of her party. We see the people in her movement.

“If Le Pen wins, we will see on the steps of the Élysée Palace her father, people who are antisemites, neo-Nazis. This is the risk we are facing on Sunday.”