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Send the Marine: The Rise of France’s Far-Right Front National party

France’s far-right Front National party, under leader Marine Le Pen, is shedding its history of anti-Semitism and becoming popular with Jewish voters

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Marine Le Pen at her first major campaign rally, held yesterday in Metz. (Jean-Christophe Verhaegen/AFP/Getty Images)

This article was originally published on December 12, 2011.

As the euro crisis deepens, French politics increasingly resembles, well, French politics. Rhetorical excess is the rule. The left denounces President Nicolas Sarkozy for “appeasing” Germany’s fiscal demands and suggests that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is channeling Otto von Bismarck in her policies toward France. The right is busy lambasting the Socialists for reviving the demons of nationalism while throwing the borders open to the hordes of Arab Muslims waiting to swamp the nation.

It is hard to imagine a scenario that better serves the ambitions of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right Front National party. While the Socialists and the Gaullists throttle one another over the economy and immigration, Le Pen has mostly watched with a smile from the sidelines. She has good reason to grin: French opinion polls now show her in third place for next year’s presidential election. At roughly 20 percent, Le Pen trails Sarkozy by 6 percentage points and François Hollande, the Socialist candidate, by 10 points. (Squabbling over the crumbs is the rest of the packed field of candidates.) Le Pen’s prospects are even more promising because Sarkozy’s future is yoked to Merkel’s—critics now refer to the twosome as Merkozy—and Hollande’s greatest electoral advantage is that he is not Dominique Strauss-Kahn. To the extreme consternation of the left and right, nearly one in three French voters now has a positive opinion of Le Pen, according to the Ipsos/Le Point poll from mid-November.

Does this sea change in public opinion include the French Jewish community? The answer, unthinkable even a year ago, is yes, for reasons both practical and historical. French Jews and a political movement once steeped in anti-Semitism now seem destined to join forces.

***

Since its inception in the 1970s, the Front National has wrapped itself in the repellent rags of traditional French anti-Semitism. The series of outrageous dérapages, or verbal slips, of the movement’s founder and longtime leader Jean-Marie Le Pen—Marine’s father—are legion, ranging from his remark that the Holocaust was a “detail” of history to his rhyming of crematory (crématoire) with the name of a Jewish politician Michel Durafour. Thus the question of whether anti-Semitism was incidental or central to the Front National’s ideological essence was, from the perspective of French Jewry, entirely settled.

Until now, that is. Since she assumed its leadership at the beginning of 2011, Marine Le Pen has worked to “modernize” her father’s party—a diplomatic word for purging its most reactionary elements. Nolwenn Le Blevennec, a journalist for the news site Rue89 who reports on the Front National, notes that Le Pen has demoted party figures like Christian Bouchet, a notorious fan of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and expelled Alexandre Gabriac, who gave a Nazi salute at a party rally. She’s also distanced herself from Alain Solal, a prominent anti-Semite previously identified as one of Front National’s intellectuals. Even more notably, by making her father the honorary president of the Front National, Le Pen has effectively made him a figurehead shorn of actual power.

At the same time, Marine Le Pen has made a series of dramatic overtures to the Jewish community. Her trip to the United States in early November largely passed under the radar of the American media, but it was widely covered by the French press. At first, the visit wobbled between the surreal and slapstick. At one point, Le Pen’s handlers tried to bar the pack of French journalists from following her into the U.S. Capitol; once inside, the reporters found that Le Pen’s strenuous efforts to meet with a U.S. politician—indeed, any politician at all—ultimately yielded only a furtive 10-minute chat with Rep. Ron Paul. But then, days later, Le Pen pulled off a coup de théâtre: Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, attended a gathering she hosted at the United Nations. Despite the subsequent announcement from Israel’s foreign ministry that the meeting was based on a “misunderstanding,” all the press releases in the world can’t undo the image of a smiling Prosor standing side-by-side with a beaming Le Pen.

Le Pen has not had big success with the Jewish community in France, though not for lack of trying. In March, shortly after Le Pen declared in the magazine Le Point that the Holocaust was the “summum of human barbarism,” the radio station of the Jewish community, Radio J, scheduled an interview with her. The Union of French Jewish Students deplored the invitation, and Richard Prasquier, the head of the Council of Jewish Institutions of France, condemned it as “unacceptable.” Though the radio station insisted the interview would be “no holds barred,” public pressure proved too great, and the station’s director canceled the interview.

In a subsequent interview, Le Pen described the decision as a “deeply anti-republican and anti-democratic.” (Then, just last week, the Jewish council played a leading role in preventing Le Pen from participating in a public debate at the University of Paris. Le Pen responded by bringing suit against the student union for violating her freedom of speech.) By lobbing back at the Jewish council the traditional critique aimed at her own party, Le Pen displayed the skills that have made her a formidable political figure. But is her outreach to French Jewry just a crude political calculation?

Rue89’s Le Blevennec believes that Le Pen is not anti-Semitic and genuinely wants to turn the page. In fact, “turning the page” were the very words used by Gilles-William Goldnagel, a prominent lawyer, conservative essayist, and leader of the French Jewish community, when he agreed to meet with Le Pen earlier in the year. Jean-Yves Camus, a well-respected political scientist who tracks the extreme right-wing, has also stated that Le Pen is free of her father’s anti-Semitism, not to mention his negationist reflex regarding the Holocaust.

Yet many others, such as the intellectual Caroline Fourest, the author of a controversial biography of Marine Le Pen, are not persuaded. According to Fourest, Le Pen has simply disguised her party’s xenophobia and latent anti-Semitism with the garb of republican respectability. Another observer, Valérie Hoffenburg, the former director of the French office of the American Jewish Committee, warns that other anti-Semites within the party, like her father’s closest ally, Bruno Gollnisch, remain influential. Besides, Hoffenberg argues, to condemn the death camps does not make Le Pen a true republican.

***

French Republicanism—the doctrine that affirms the equality and liberty of citizens and requires that the public sphere be entirely free of ethnic or religious claims—is the crossroads at which the Front National and French Jewry seem slated to either collide or collaborate. Upon their civil emancipation during the French Revolution, French Jews embraced republicanism, particularly its emphasis on a secular society, as their own.

But that might not be the case for much longer. The national debate over immigration and national identity—issues that involve the 5 million Muslims, mostly of North African origin, living in France—seems shriller by the day. The urban riots that convulsed France in 2005, followed by the appalling death of Ilan Halimi, a young French Jew tortured and murdered by several youths of North African background, have had an especially powerful impact on French Jewry. It may well be that the community has reached a point no less pivotal than 1967, when the Six-Day War, followed by Charles de Gaulle’s notorious remark that Jews were an elite and domineering race, ignited French Jewish self-consciousness.

According to Jean-Yves Camus, the political scientist, at least 5 percent of Jewish voters will support Le Pen in 2012. While he and other specialists debate the precise number—there are no surveys on the question—they agree that France’s Jewish community has been moving steadily toward the political right and, indeed, to the extreme right. Clearly, a Jewish Le Pen supporter is no longer the oxymoron it once was. Richard Prasquier, of the Jewish council, worries about this potentially tectonic shift, suggesting that French Jews are increasingly “receptive to and tempted by Le Pen’s discourse.” Perhaps the most immediate reason for this evolution is, that “for the first time since World War II, French Jews are afraid,” said the intellectual Alain Finkielkraut.

These so-called transfuges—voters who cross not just party but ideological lines—clearly welcome Le Pen’s repeated claims that current immigration policies will destroy French culture and society. As she declared at a party conference in September, France is “confronted by a multiculturalism that is wreaking havoc with her laws, her mores, her traditions, in short the values of her civilization and her identity.” The Front National promises to slam shut the door on immigration, encourage legal aliens to leave the country, and beef up the police force. Insecurity will, on cue, disappear. As for national identity, Le Pen has borrowed a few pages from her father. Earlier this year she described as a “new occupation” the practice of Muslims in Paris praying on the sidewalks, lacking sufficient space in mosques. And there is the élan with which Le Pen has continued her party’s tradition of holding an annual celebration at the statue of Joan of Arc in Paris, which makes it all too easy for the fearful to see Marine Le Pen’s battle against the barbarian hordes from across the Mediterranean as a continuation of Joan’s struggle against the perfidious invaders from across the Channel. (Or, for that matter, against Brussels. Le Pen has astutely tied fears over immigration to her denunciations of globalization and the European Union. As the euro crisis worsens, her popularity improves.)

Against this background, Le Pen’s effort to seduce the French Jewish community takes on even greater significance. It is only by channeling popular fear and loathing at Muslims that the Front National has made room under its “republican” umbrella for its previous bête noire: the Jews.

***

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You may not blame the daughter for the ‘mistakes’ (hatred, anti-Semitism etc.) of the father. But Marine Le Pen has everything to do with a fierce attempt to grab power and the end justifies all means.

The Moslem population of France (around 5 million) is far more visible than its Jewish population of not even half a million. What’s easier then to make the Moslem population the scapegoats of everything which does not go well in France (shortage of welfare funds, causing the crime rate to rise, stealing jobs, the economic crisis, etc.)

Be aware: it’s all populism by Marine Le Pen, who’s repeating old rhetoric of the 1930s and 1950s (Poujade), but it goes down very well with an electorate that is frustrated by the classic right and left. And frustration it is for good reason.

One of Ms Le Pen’s important advisers is the well known French top lawyer Maître Collard, who is no less than the grandson Maréchal Petain of Vichy France that collaborated very close with the German Nazis (1939-44) and sent tens of thousands of Jews to the death camps.

My impression is that ‘official’ French Jewish organizations don’t even flirt with Ms Le Pen and keep a well justified distance.

The 5 %, who’re supposed to vote for Ms Le Pen, is more than stupid.

In that way in the first round of the presidential elections next April she may deprive either Sarkozy or Hollande getting into the run off by ending herself in 2nd position (of that first round) and be the arbiter of the next. Remember 1933 in Germany! It all started with ‘decent’ campaigning and democracy (which was the first mortal victim).

Robert has it right. I paraphrase
“Being beaten with a 2×4 isn’t so bad because it feels so good when it stops”.
I remember the photo exhibit in the Ann Frank house in Amsterdam with a picture of a smiling President Ronald Regan and Marine’s father.
You just have to read some of the Jewish writing in the early days of the Nazis.
Some folks never learn.

MonkFish says:

“Michel Durafour (who eventually committed suicide)”

I’m doubtful Michel Durafour, who is very much alive, would appreciate being dispatched by Mr Zaretsky’s pen.

Is Tablet to cash-strapped to employ a fact checker?

http://www.senat.fr/senateur/durafour_michel57714l.html

MonkFish says:

“Ilan Halimi, a young French Jew tortured and murdered by several youths of North African background”

I applaud Tablet’s efforts to provide some coverage of French-Jewish news but a little more “rigeur” is needed. Of the 27 individuals who were charged in the Halimi affair only 6 were of North African origin. Youssouf Fofana, the gang’s psychotic ringleader, is of Ivorian origin. The so-called “Emma”, the attractive young woman you lured Halimi to the Paris suburb where he was sequestered and tortured, is the daughter of an Iranian political refugee.

In lumping the culprits together in the category “North African” you are not only misrepresenting the facts, you’re contributing the very feelings of fear and suspicion that French Jews harbour toward their Arab brethren. Tut Tut.

Joseph says:

Ah, the heady opportunity for Jews to discriminate against others for a change. Resist it, please! It doesn’t stink any less.

As a Swedish Jew, I’ve seen more and more young Jews here turn into nationalist politics.

They do this despite what they know, that they know they should do better.
But the fact remains – anti-Semitism among white Christians has probably never been as low as it is today in history.

Muslim immigrants however – and a more important point often missed – their children, often born in Europe and supposed to assimilate into the continent’s generally liberal nature, are often much worse.

Malmö is now infamous for the open hatred of Jews. What do the local Jews do? They are Jews after all – they try to appease and make outreach. They often get greeted with holocaust denial, and very aggressive muslims claiming that only if Israel is destroyed will they accept us.

In one interview just this other day, a nice Jewish woman was interviewed about this program and stated that she had heard ‘borderline anti-Semitic statements’(her choice of words).

These ‘borderline’ statements included the usual litany of ‘Jews control the world’ and ‘the Holocaust is a myth used invented to make the world feel bad about them’.

I personally know most Jews in my surrounding who dare not use a kippa in public and are afraid to be visibly Jewish in other ways, because the stories of violent attacks are numerous. Many muslims, and most of them not criminal in any way, will stop whatever they are doing and force themselves onto you and try to attack you, spit at you and shout to his/her friends that he/she has found a Jew, and then the assault can start.

I’m a liberal and I don’t want to vote for these parties, but the world has moved on since WWII. Most Jews, mentally, have sadly not. They still think there’s somekind of Nazi plot lurking around while their children are getting attacked and there are open calls for violent conflict with Jews from muslim immigrants.

It’s a horrible situation, but if history teaches us anything is that appeasement has been our downfall. Never again.

Oh, and one final thing. Judge me all you want. But try to live here for a change. And Sweden’s not even the worst place to be. France is where the situation has gone the furthest, which is why I’m not surprised to reac this article.

There are only two options: Flee or make a stand.

Jews never chose this conflict, nor did the ethnic Europeans who have given them all access to the welfare state.

It should be said that there are righteous muslims in Europe, of course, but these are sadly very few. Many are just silent and many more are engaged in fake speech about ‘tolerance’ while not infrequently being exposed as inviting Jew-haters to speak at their conferences and then screaming ‘Islamophobia’ when asked to explain why they use tax-payer money to invite people who want to stone homosexuals, kill apostates to Islam and make Jihad on the Jews (and Israel, but these are often seperate, as to underline that Israel isn’t simply enough).

The situation is not unlike that in Israel, if anything, the situation in Europe is often more hostile because the Europeans themselves are so trapped by guilt and political correctness they simply cannot understand how one religious minority might be so violent and oppressive towards another, the Jews.

Jewish masochism doesn’t help either, of course. But as I said, the younger ones are increasingly radicalised. In Sweden, the nationalist parties have late to the game. We still only have one, and it was recently elected. But there are many Jews and half-Jews in it’s leadership. Almost all of them are 30 or younger.

These people became nationalists because they’ve been told one thing as they grew up and watched an impotent Jewish establishment do nothing while harassed.

If nothing improves, we will move. But Sweden is a fantastic country and I want my children to have the childhood I had and many Jews of my generation. We never faced anything but total acceptance and love, and we owe Sweden the same and it’s people.

Evelinsche says:

Thank you, Robert. I’d remind readers that “You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, before you are six or seven or eight, to hate all the people your relatives hate…” and this one was carefully taught at the knee of a dangerously vicious, wily man. Jewish Le Pen supporters are morons, not oxymorons. (The “normal Frenchmen,” as opposed to Jews, who are Le Penists are, too.) For decades I’ve followed news about this “party.” Having personally known no Jews, Le Penists I’ve unfortunately met try to convince me (oops) of all the tenets — count ‘em — of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I smile and say, if what you say is true, surely there are laws in France against such terrible things. Take them to court…if what you say is true…then I wax rhapsodic over the Rights of Man. I “heart” France, especially rural France where I somehow attract these idiots; but if one in three Frenchmen is pro-LePen, we ought to make it bad for business.

I think we should listen very carefully to Adam, above.

Robert says:

First, my thanks to Monkfish for pointing out my mistake concerning Michel Durafour. (I confused him with the former prime minister Pierre Bérégovoy and should have been more careful.) But I also wish to thank Monkfish for his second comment concerning the Ilan Halimi case. I’m not sure where Monkfish draws the line for “several,” but six more than meets my standards, even when they belong to larger group of two dozen. But this sort of morbid book-keeping aside, I share what I believe is Monkfish’s larger point. French Jewry risks committing against the French Muslim community what had been done to them in the 19th and 20th centuries: they are transforming a wonderfully variegated community of more than five million souls into a monstrous “Other” supposedly bent on their destruction. Marine Le Pen is delighted to reinforce this skewed perspective and, should she succeed, the consequences for the Republic will be tragic.

phillip baram says:

If I were a French Jew, I would think of self interest and Jewish communal interest, and as such would welcome the outreach and “turning of the page” by Mdme. Le Pen. I would also maintain a certain distance, however, and see where her party stands vis a vis Israel, the settlements, etc. If positive, then I would if not embrace her party would definitely ally with it.

I doubt French Jews will do this, however. They appear to be stuck in the ideologies and habits of the past and are still phobic about a nationalistic France tough on crime and immigration– even if that’s the answer to their fears! This proves they are, in plain English, stupid when it comes to self interest, much like kneejerk Jewish liberals (the majority) in the US who are stil tied hook line and sinker to Obama’s Democratic Party even as that party moves further and further away from being a true friend of Israel and shows itself indifferent to words and acts of antisemitism, especially in academia.

A minority of Jews in the US, however, and growing, is shifting to the Republican party, more or less an analogue to Le Pen’s nationalist party. Similarly, according to one of your posters, in Sweden, some young Jewish Swedes are joining the nationalist party because they are sick and tired of their deadbeat passive liberal Jewish leaders.

I await news that more young French Jews do similarly.

Thank heavens I am not a French Jew and my choices for president are not the Gaullist creators of Eurabia and the Mediterranian Union, the even more pro-Islamic Socialists, and the less antisemitic than five years ago fascists. Were I unfortunate enough to be a Frenchman, I would vote for Movement for France in the first round, at least as a principled protest. MPF are principled free market nationalists. In the second round, if the choice is between a fascist, who claims not to hate us, and the two candidates who would turn all of France into the burning burning Islamic-dominated Banlieues of our Camp of the Saints nightmare, the choice is clear.

Front National is not the equivalent of the Republican party. FN is a nationalist, protectionist, and dirigiste party. The closest we got to a nationalist and protectionist in the GOP was my first choice Representative Thad McCotter of Michigan. McCotter was ostracized by the from the time he announced his candidacy, until he was forced to end the campaign. McCotter was not allowed in any debate. McCotter is more Goldwater-Buckley than anything in Action National parlance. The only immigration restrictionist candidate left in the Republican field is Michele Bachmann and most other Jews I know dislike her out of urbane prejudice.

I happen to know a little something about Sweden, having family there. The Swedish Democrats are not fascist and are certainly not antisemitic. Two of the most famous members are the Jewish Ekeroth brothers. Kent Ekeroth was their former spokesman and is now a member of the Riksdag. His brother Ted Ekeroth is a journalist and winner of the 2006 Herzl Award from the WZO his activities in Fidim, the Society for Israel and Democracy in the Middle East. If Jews are voting for SD, it is because the Moderates (conservatives) and Christian Democrats don’t want to touch immigration.

MonkFish says:

@Robert

Thanks for making the corrections and keep up the good work! Many American Jews I know are woefully ignorant of the present state of French Jewry. Yours is an important and timely task!

Masatoshi ONO says:

The main actor of the abduction, torture and killing of Ilan Halimi was not of Arab origin but a sub-Saharan Black African.
The weekly prayers of Muslims are not restricted to sidewalks, but occupy also de streets, blocking them of any kind of circulation.

Gotlieb says:

Sir :

you state Michel durafour is a French jewish politician.

There is no evidence to support such an assertion, as you will see in wikipedia http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Durafour

Isabella Overington says:

I don’t feel it’s right to trust them, I don’t believe their ideology goes away so quickly. I’ve seen this before. Many Jews believe anyone that’s anti Muslim is pro Jewish, and many Muslims believe anyone that’s anti Jewish is pro Muslim, neither one is true. The truth is the far right is always xenophobic and always anti the “other”, and generally very paranoid and inverted, no matter who or what the “other” is.

‘Connecting Mind and Heart’
http://www.occupyholestreet.com
Graphic Commentary on Reconciliation

alsatian in usa says:

Marine is maried to an 1/4 jew and her bodyguard fought for “Tsahal”… Anti-semitism came always from the leftard collabos in France!… The main issue is north African invasion for an 5-10-50000 year old white europe!… The jew in Europe must to be with us, i’am an old militant of the ultra-far-right MNR, and some “smart” jews where in some B.Megret meeting!…Marine is handsome and extremly smart, She say EXACTLY what you whant to heard!!!! she can to boost all Europe against islamisation and if the European jewish are with us, an huge new perception can happened from European conservators (the opposite of the dreyfuss case!). Islam invasion have no futur in Europe and the jews must to make the GOOD choice! NOW, IT’S THE MOMENT OF TRUE!

alanpacker says:

Bless you

Eh…the French far-right does have a history of antisemitism. Of course, no far-right will ever compare to the Nazis as far as the Jews are concerned–they wiped out European Ashkenazi culture!

Vladislav Feldman says:

In a fight one must choose the lesser of two evils. While the right obviously have anti-semitic sympathies, it is in no way comparable to the African and Middle-Eastern
views on jews.

Jacob Arnon says:

What an awful title.

Zyx says:

Saying that French Jews are supporting Lepen’s fascist party is an outrageous lie. Interestingly enough the author of this article does not bring any evidence of what he writes.

David Shea says:

This article is elitist, and in my opinion people like the author characterize as xenophobic statements, such as that Muslim integration threatens French culture, because the only Muslims they really know are the doctor down the street and the lawyer around the corner. But the better off people are, the more their culture resembles the international culture of the educated and the well-to-do. WE, the blue-collar people, are left to put up with their hatred and cultural antagonism the poorer Muslims visit on us.

I can understand the fear that French Jews have as a result of the violent demonstrations of late. I believe that European culture is essentially anti-Semitic, no matter which European country. The question is can Jews successfully live with a certain degree of anti-semitism. Is the anti-semitism of the NF less virulent then then Liberal anti-semitism. Does the marching of thousands of Muslims and their French collaborators seem less of a threat then the NF . Jews must make deals with the devil in order to live in Europe. The new Left in Europe can be more of a threat then the New Right, in order to stay in Europe Jews will have to make choices.

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Send the Marine: The Rise of France’s Far-Right Front National party

France’s far-right Front National party, under leader Marine Le Pen, is shedding its history of anti-Semitism and becoming popular with Jewish voters

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