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Killer’s Jihadism Shakes Up French Politics

Plus, resources on anti-Semitism in France

Marc Tracy
March 21, 2012
President Nicolas Sarkozy today.(Francois MoriAFP/Getty Images)
President Nicolas Sarkozy today.(Francois MoriAFP/Getty Images)

This morning, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the killing of four Jews at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, and, in reference to the alleged killer Mohammed Merah’s statement that he acted to avenge Palestinian deaths, had this to add: “It is time for these criminals to stop marketing their terrorist acts in the name of Palestine and to stop pretending to stand up for the rights of Palestinian children who only ask for a decent life.”

The swing over the past 24 hours from suspecting the attack derived from ultra-right provenance to knowing that the attacker is a self-proclaimed Muslim jihadist has shaken up the French presidential race (the election is next month). President Nicolas Sarkozy, a former interior minister, had been running to his right on issues like law-and-order and immigration (which is often code for xenophobia) in order to make sure he beats out the far-right Front National‘s Marine Le Pen in the first round of elections and thereby makes it to the run-off round against the current leading candidate, the Socialist Francois Hollande. For the past couple days, the thought was that Sarkozy would have to suspend that strategy: how does pandering to the right on foreigners look right after a xenophobic anti-Semite murdered seven people?. Now, however, it almost seems like he could double down on it: unfortunately, pandering to the right on “foreigners” looks a lot different when a “foreigner” is the one who killed seven people.

Meanwhile, if you’d like additional reading on growing anti-Semitism in France, well, look no farther!

• Robert Zaretsky on how French Jews created the figure of the public intellectual and then, in discussing Israel and Islam, have all but extinguished it.

• Zaretsky on Marine Le Pen’s transformation of her party and outreach to Jewish voters.

• Ryan Liebenthal on French Jews who make aliyah.

• Léa Khayata on Arab-Sephardic relations in the 19th Arrondisement.

• Myself on Le Pen’s efforts to woo Israeli voters.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.