December 13, 2011


Send the Marine: 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 (Robert Zaretsky, December 12, 2011, Tablet)

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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Posted by at December 13, 2011 4:29 PM

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