French Jewish organisations fearful that far-right candidate Marine Le Pen’s could win the presidential election on 24 April are throwing their support behind Emmanuel Macron’s re-election bid.
In the first round of voting last weekend, Macron secured 27.8 per cent of the vote, with National Rally candidate Le Pen taking 23.1 per cent.
“We must call for a massive vote for Emmanuel Macron to preserve our democracy,” wrote Francis Kalifat, the head of Crif, the main Jewish umbrella group, in a statement.
“Our freedom, social diversity, traditions, and our country’s stability are at stake.”
Le Pen’s manifesto includes a ban on ritual slaughter. She previously said she would also extend the ban on the wearing of the Islamic veil and the kippah from public schools and municipal halls to all public areas, but has stepped back from banning the kippah.
Her vows to fight anti-Jewish violence and curb illegal migration have won some support among Jewish voters, though in the first round of the election on Sunday, Jews in favour of nationalist policies voted for the far right-wing Jewish candidate Eric Zemmour.
Zemmour and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melanchon were eliminated from the presidential race in the first round.
Jewish organisations are concerned by the fact parties classified as radical won more than 50 per cent of the vote.
“These parties ride on people’s discontent and anger. Each one of them has policies that present specific threats,” said Samuel Lejoyeux, who leads the UEJF Jewish student organisation.
“Marine Le Pen is a candidate with xenophobic ideas. She wants to divide the French. We live in an unbelievable time when the president has to say that he will defend Jews’ right to eat kosher food! There is a real threat [to this].
“Jews’ rights to follow religious traditions are at risk. The National Rally is a party with origins in Second World War collaborationist and antisemitic France.
“For Melenchon, hatred of Israel is a baseline... He is a threat too.
“As far as Eric Zemmour goes, hearing a Jew defending such [right-wing] theories is extremely troubling and saddening, as is his call to vote for Marine Le Pen [in the second round].”
Zemmour received just over seven per cent of the vote but has vowed to continue his political battle to build a coalition on the right and far-right.
Jews represent less than one per cent of the French electorate, but the fact many in the community backed Zemmour has attracted attention in the media.
The percentage of Jews who voted for Le Pen and Zemmour cannot be published owing to a French ban on surveys conducted on religious grounds, but 53 per cent of French nationals living in Israel who took part in the poll voted for Zemmour and 3.3 per cent for Le Pen.
However, only ten per cent of French nationals living in Israel voted, so this is not a fair reflection of where most dual nationals’ loyalties lie.
But the results in the first round indicate a division in the Jewish community in France, since Jewish officials called for voters to eliminate Zemmour and Le Pen.
“This shows once again that there is no Jewish vote,” said Elie Korchia, the head of the Consistoire, the Jewish cultural institute in Paris, who is alarmed by the growing popularity of radical parties on the right and left.
“Power is within reach now for the National Rally. Marine Le Pen has strengthened her position, compared to 2017 when she faced Emmanuel Macron for the first time,” he added.
It is the voters who backed Zemmour and Melenchon in the first round who will determine whether Macron or Le Pen prevail. It’s unclear how many of Zemmour’s voters will follow his call to turn to Le Pen.
Melenchon, meanwhile, has told his supporters not to vote for Le Pen but stopped short of asking them to support Macron.
“Crif reaffirms its opposition to the National Rally, whose history and positions are contrary to the republican values carried by the Jews of France,” wrote the organisation.
“Crif calls for a Republican union to prevent the far-right from coming to power.”
But the days of a ‘Republican Front’, in which all parties blocked the far-right by voting for the mainstream candidate, are over.
In the light of this and apprehensive of the future, Jewish leaders have called on Macron to address voters’ concerns if he is reelected, warning that if he doesn’t extremist parties will keep getting stronger and eventually reach power.