Jews caught between far left and far right in French elections

The election could see a wave of immigration from France to Israel, experts say


Marine Le Pen (Photo: Remi Noyon)

Jews in France are stuck between two extremes, as France heads towards elections this Sunday. With both the far-left and far-right parties accused of antisemitism, “the danger of extremes has never been greater,” according to the French Jewish group CRIF.

The far-right National Rally party – lead by Jordan Bardella and Marine Le Pen – are set to win the largest share of the vote in their history, and could even win a majority of seats in France’s National Assembly. According to experts, this could mean “another step forward” in a wave of immigration of Jews from France to Israel.

Ariel Kandel, chief executive, of the Quelita association for the absorption and encouragement of Jewish immigration, told the Times of Israel some 50,000 French Jews “are currently contemplating leaving”.

But according to Kandel, Jews would be even more likely to consider making aliyah if the far-left under Jean-Luc Melenchon gains power. Kandel said: “Then we’re talking about an even bigger push factor.”

Kandel said that many French Jews believe that Melenchon is an antisemite. Since October 7, he and his movement – France Unbowed – have criticised Israel’s military actions and have refused to call Hamas a terrorist group.

Melenchon has also been accused of underplaying antisemitism. In a blog post published earlier this month, the far-left leader said antisemtiism was “absent” from anti-Israel rallies in France.

Antisemitism in France has surged since October 7, with four times as many antisemitic incidents reported in 2023 compared to the year before. The Jewish population in France numbers roughly half a million people – the largest Jewish community in Europe.

Antisemitism allegations against Melenchon – who denies being an antisemite – have pushed some Jews in France to the far-right. The National Rally takes a strong pro-Israel stance, attracting some Jewish voters. As part of her plan to detoxify her party’s brand, Marine Le Pen even joined protestors in Paris in November, who were marching against antisemitism. 

Most notably, Holocaust survivor and renouned Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld has said that in a choice between the far left and far right, he would vote for the National Rally. Speaking to French news channel LCI, he said the National Rally “supports Jews, supports the state of Israel”.

For many Jews, though, the National Rally is a party they cannot support. Its founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has multiple convictions relating to antisemitism, including repeatedly saying Nazi gas chanbers were only “a detail” in the history of the Second World War.

Referencing the choice between the far-left and far-right, one Jewish voter told Reuters: "I feel like I'm caught between plague and cholera”. Outside of the outcome of the election, Jews in France are already changing their behaviour as fears around antisemitism increase. According to a recent poll, more than half of Jews surveyed have stopped wearing religious symbols in public, and 19 percent have removed mezuzahs from their homes.

The second round of the parliamentary elections will take place on Sunday. The election does not affect the presidency but may limit the president’s ability to pass legislation.

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