Contrasts and Contradictions: Springtime in Paris 2017

For weeks now, the presidential election has overwhelmingly dominated the news. Four candidates might win the right to compete in the May 7 run off, writes Reuven Levi

April 19, 2017 17:11

Springtime brings metamorphosis to Paris with warm temperatures and long days, café-lined streets, chic shops and flowering gardens offering an overdue sense of hope after a harrowing winter.  Though too late for the hapless Mr Hollande, the economy continues to strengthen. The atmosphere, however, remains tense with ongoing fears of terrorism and palpable political uncertainty.   

For weeks now, the presidential election has overwhelmingly dominated the news. With just a few days remaining, four candidates might win the right to compete in the May 7 run off, but many voters are still undecided. Despite the divisive influence of social media, no single issue has dominated the campaign, except for ethics in politics fed by a stream of “revelations” by investigative journalists.  

While the four candidates position themselves from right to left – or left to right – the true divide lies elsewhere between revolt and reason. Le Pen (extreme right) and Melenchon (extreme left) uncannily agree on most issues: they are anti-establishment, anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation; anti-Europe anti-NATO. Meanwhile Fillon (traditional right) and Macron (centre and centre left) both argue for market-based economic reforms and defend Europe and the Atlantic alliance, though not unconditionally. On national identity issues, however, the old left/right split holds, the right defending France’s Christian heritage and culture, while the left defends multiculturalism without saying so and is more open to immigration.   

Mr Melenchon, a gifted public speaker whose chances have recently risen sharply at the expense of official socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, is also anti-war, whatever the implications of pacifism, a tearful admirer of Hugo Chavez and a sharp critic of the CRIF, the organisation that represents French Jewry.  A scenario not to be excluded pits Le Pen against Melenchon in the May 7 run-off.  

Why Melenchon? Because the man and his message resonate with the French and not only from the hard left. He has become the only candidate with both experience and honesty. Learning from a failed 2012 campaign, he has become “reassuring”, respectful of the national flag, avoiding commitments to unlimited immigration.  But he can still give sophisticated speeches peppered with powerful catchphrases. 

The French admire a revolutionary - that’s how the Republic was born - and prefer sweeping ideas to Anglo pragmatism. They study Marx and Keynes, not supply-siders, and markets are disdained.   Deficits and debt are for accountants. Europe is now too big – and Germany too strong - for France to guide and influence. Reticence towards the Atlantic alliance is hardly new.  

Happily, Israel-Palestine has not been a campaign issue. Palestinians still enjoy extraordinary support as victims of “colonialism” and “apartheid”, but a letter signed by 100 plus parliamentarians calling for recognition of the state of Palestine got open support from Hamon (now at 8 per cent), but not from Macron despite his visible efforts to attract the Muslim voters who overwhelmingly supported Francois Hollande in 2012.  A pro-Palestine demonstration attracted more police and Jewish opponents than demonstrators. French foreign policy is now focused on its commercial interests with Sunni states less hostile to Israel, while Israel’s hi-tech entrepreneurship and security expertise are attracting growing interest.  BDS has been outlawed.   

The election season, however, resonates differently for Jews.  The Pesach Exodus story seemed awfully real this year. Between the two rounds of presidential elections, Jews will celebrate Yom Hashoah with an all-night roll call for those deported during WWII, then Yom Hazikaron and Yom Hatzma’out.  Before the legislative elections on 11 and 18 June, we will relive the Six Day War and Jerusalem’s reunification.  e will also remember Charles De Gaulle’s unexpected stigmatisation of Jews and France’s sudden switch from Israel’s closest ally to the Arabs’ best friend.  What should we say?  Next year in Jerusalem? 

"Reuven Levi" has been a Paris resident since 1981. He married in the United States and is father of three and grandfather of six. He is an active member of the Jewish Community

April 19, 2017 17:11

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