In France, the yellow vest movement has lost its charm

'The Jewish vote? I can only guess but in four Paris districts with a Jewish or Israel-friendly mayor, Macron’s party polled between 38 and 46 percent, Le Pen between six and eight per cent'

May 31, 2019 11:25

The French went to the polls Sunday to elect 79 representatives to the European parliament. The extreme right came in first, as expected. But President Macron’s “Renaissance” list won as many seats (23) as Marine Le Pen’s “Rassemblement National”, vindicating his personal engagement in the campaign and entrenching his young party in the political landscape.

The election’s main surprise was the third place (13 seats) for “Europe Ecologie Les Verts” (Greens), while the two traditional mainstream parties -- “Les Republicains” (Conservative) and “Envie d’Europe “(Labor) -- simply collapsed, mustering only 14 seats between them.

The radical left party “La France Insoumise” (six seats from 6.3 percent of the vote) plummeted from its threatening 19 percent at the presidential elections two years ago.

France’s social crisis is not over, but the yellow vest movement has lost its charm. Violent attacks on established democratic institutions – from the presidency to political parties, trade unions and media – lost them support. And as the election drew closer, public debate shifted away from pocketbook issues and anarchic ideas such as government by referendum. Many yellow vests abstained or voted Marine Le Pen.

In another surprise, turnout rose sharply to more than 50 per cent, as voters mobilised to vote for or against President Macron. Young people took more interest. The issues of immigration and climate change gave the election a refreshingly European flavour.

So, the results are encouraging for the future of Europe and representative democracy. They also conform to the dramatic reshaping of France’s social and political landscape. 

Tracing trends over the past 50 years, Jerome Fourquet in “L’archipel Français – Naissance d’une nation multiple et divisée” has complied a compelling story of progressive but radical change. Religious observance among Catholics has crumbled. Divorce is now common. Children are often born out of wedlock and homosexuality is accepted. At the same time, the rise of individualism, higher incomes and better education combined with the failure of communism in Russia and eastern Europe, have turned the French away from ideologies.

Society’s former divide between traditional/Catholic and secular/communist has given way to a split between winners and losers from globalisation: city versus rural dwellers, higher educated and geographically mobile versus the rest. The first group embraces change with alacrity and confidence, the second sees the present as unfair and fears for the future.

This seismic shift helps explain the electoral success of both Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, as well as the dismal performance of traditional parties. 

And the Jewish vote? I can only guess, but in four Paris districts with a Jewish or Israel-friendly mayor, Macron’s party polled between 38 and 46 percent, Le Pen between six and eight per cent. In other Jewish districts, the Greens came first. Jewish leadership’s advice was “please vote, but not for the extremes”.

The paradox of Jewish life in Paris was on display Monday night. The “Bernheim Prize” for arts and sciences is a prestigious annual event celebrating secular French Jewry. Yet, of the three prizes awarded, one went to journalist Marc Weitzmann for his latest book looking at antisemitism in France and a second to philosopher Pierre-Andre Taguieff for whom antisemitism has been his life’s work.

Accepting his prize, Mr Weitzmann described the Jew as someone whose region exists nowhere on any map.

In a new book “La France sans les Juifs” (France without the Jews), Danny Trom argues that Europe’s identity is too weak, its immigrant community too strong and its post-colonial guilt too heavy to defend its remaining Jews who may now be condemned to withdraw in silence.

"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

May 31, 2019 11:25

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive