On Thursday, speaking to France24, far-right French presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen said that she would bar dual citizenship with non-European Union countries if elected. Thus, the many French Jews who are also Israeli citizens would be forced to renounce the latter, or live as foreign residents in France without voting rights. “Israel is not a European country and doesn’t consider itself as such,” the National Front leader explained. (Conveniently, the pro-Putin Le Pen exempted Russia from this rule, dubbing it part of the “Europe of nations.”)
Earlier this week, the far-right leader reiterated her longstanding support for banning the wearing of yarmulkes in public spaces, as part of an overall ban on religious (mostly Muslim) attire. “The struggle against radical Islam should be a joint struggle and everyone should say, ‘there, we are sacrificing something,’” she told Israel’s Channel 2. “Maybe they [Jews] will do with just wearing a hat [instead of a yarmulke], but it would be a step in the effort to stamp out radical Islam in France.” Conveniently, Le Pen has never called to ban wearing crosses in public, having previously claimed that “the Catholic religion doesn’t have conspicuous symbols.”
Given that Christians and Russians appear curiously exempt from Le Pen’s draconian diktats, what’s really behind these radically exclusionary policies? To begin with, one cannot discount the latent anti-Semitism shot through Le Pen’s party. The National Front’s founder, Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie, is a notorious bigot and Holocaust denier, and though his daughter cut ties with him in an effort to mainstream the party, evidence of its anti-Semitism continues to surface. An undercover BuzzFeed report this past week caught attendees at a National Front “Patriots Night” party engaging in bigoted banter about Jews. A French Jewish student group similarly encountered National Front supporters decrying alleged Jewish control of the economy and global politics. “The financial oligarchy is the Jews,” said one. “They have always dominated the world.”
Beyond anti-Jewish prejudice, there is another force at work here: Islamophobia. The desire to marginalize Muslims is implicit in all of the above Le Pen policies: bans on dual citizenship are meant to impact Muslim immigrants, while bans on religious attire are meant to suppress the expression of Islam. But in order to deflect charges of bigotry, the National Front needed to implicate at least one other religious group so they could argue that they were not simply targeting Muslims for discrimination. Thus, Jews became collateral damage in the far-right’s anti-Muslim dragnet.
Essentially, French Jews are being asked to sacrifice their religious distinctiveness on the altar of an attempt to stigmatize that of Muslims. Hence the National Front’s call to ban both halal and kosher slaughter. Tellingly, for all Le Pen’s talk of “sacrifice,” nothing is asked of the Christian majority.
The French elections are scheduled for April 23. Le Pen is currently leading in the polls, thanks to the implosion of her scandal-plagued conservative rival Francois Fillon, but projected to lose to independent center-left candidate Emmanuel Macron in a second ballot run-off.