French Jews and the Front National
Louis Aliot, Vice-President of French National Front. The Confederation of French Jews and Friends of Israel is condemned for having talks with him
By Shirli Sitbon, Jewish Chronicle
February 16, 2017
For the first time ever, last week a French Jewish organisation met representatives of the National Front.
In doing so, the leaders of the Confederation of French Jews and Friends of Israel (CJFAI) broke a Jewish community rule: never talk to the far-right.
The association, created six years ago, met the National Front’s Vice President, Louis Aliot, and the party’s representative in Parliament, Gilbert Collard, sending shock waves through the wider community.
On Wednesday night, the main Jewish umbrella association, the Council of Jewish Institutions in France (Crif), denounced the move.
“This meeting is morally shocking and politically irresponsible,” said Crif in a statement. “It’s an attempt by the National Front to exploit French Jews.”
French Jewish organisations and media believe the traditionally antisemitic party is reaching out to Jews as part of a long-standing strategy to appear more moderate and, by doing so, become more electable.
“Jews feel strongly that the National Front should be kept at a distance because they know that isolating the party benefits the nation and French Jews as well,” said Crif president Francis Kalifat.
The CJFAI believes, on the contrary, it should talk to all parties.
“I’m anything but a National Front supporter but we have to see the obvious: this party is backed by a third of the French population and it will get more MPs in coming elections,” CJFAI chief Richard Abitbol told the JC.
“The National Front has two main trends: one is led by Marine Le Pen, Louis Aliot and Gilbert Collard; the other is more radical and led by Bruno Gollnisch. Do you want the more moderate branch to prevail or the other? I’d rather eliminate the fascists,” said Mr Abitbol.
Under Ms Le Pen, the party is stronger than ever and as other presidential candidates struggle, voters have started to pay attention to the NF manifesto.
Ominously for the Jewish community, however, Ms Le Pen recently proposed blocking dual citizenship for anyone whose second nationality is not European — a major issue for dual French-Israeli citizens — and banning the Islamic veil and kippah in public.
Asked on French TV whether big crosses would also be banned in public, Ms Le Pen said: “Big crosses don’t exist. I’m not going to invent them.” She then mixed up religious symbols, saying, “Small kippahs are accepted, I mean small Jewish crosses, I mean Jewish stars.”
Regarding the ban on holding a second, non-European passport, Ms Le Pen was questioned specifically about Israelis. “Are you telling French Jews they should renounce their dual citizenship?” asked journalist Lea Salame.
“Israel is not a European country. I think that even Israel agrees with that,” answered Ms Le Pen. “Israelis will be treated like everyone else.”
Several Jews said they were offended by the journalist’s insinuation that French Jews automatically have Israeli citizenship.
“According to Lea Salame, France’s Jews have dual French and Israeli citizenship. Scandalous!” tweeted Philippe Meyer the Vice-President of B’nai B’rith France.
Below: Front National political campaign rally, Lyon, France – February 5th, 2017. Photo by Laurent Chamussy/ SIPA/Rex/ Shutterstock
CAN LE PEN REALLY WIN IT?
This week, bookmakers put the chances of Marine Le Pen winning the election at 33 per cent, a striking rise on the end-of-January estimate of 25 per cent.
The figures echo recent polls, which have Ms Le Pen reaching the second round but soundly beaten in the May 7 run-off against centrist Emmanuel Macron.
Of course, it no longer feels that simple. The Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory left many pundits with their fingers burnt and warning that Ms Le Pen may pull off the same trick.
One French political insider still believes, however, that the NF remains too toxic for the electorate to put her in the Elysée Palace. Patrick Buisson,
Nicolas Sarkozy’s former key adviser, has argued that the Le Pen brand – not her ideas – will ultimately put off voters.