Only days away from the first round of the French Presidential elections, the usual choice of candidates spreads across the political spectrum from extreme right to extreme left. France seems disillusioned with the last Hollande five-year term. The country is a very unique blend of cultures that have never integrated very well in the French republic. France is both the country with the most Jewish people after Israel and the USA (500,000), as well as the largest Muslim community of Europe(5 to 6,000.000.)
France is also not immune to the current refugee crisis that has plagued much of Eastern and Western Europe in the last two years. The open borders of Europe according to the Schengen Agreement are making things hard if not impossible to manage. The governments of Germany and Sweden are struggling to maintain order in the midst of a constant flow of un-vetted and unmanageable migrants. It is impossible to assess how many refugees come through these countries and even harder to keep track of those who just pass through to land into another European country, not to mention those who adhere to an agenda of terror.
Few are those in Europe who are bold enough to speak-up, as if The Old Europe was resigned to no longer fight for freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press. Cultural euthanasia seems to be looming over parts of Europe, so it is not unreasonable for people to look for candidates with an agenda focused on the national security of France. Enter Marine Le Pen!
The “Front National” party (FN) has been somewhat of a thorn in the flesh of France since its founding in 1972 by Marine’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. It is a far-right populist party with anti-immigration, euro-sceptic and antisemitic views. Jean-Marie Le Pen was fined several times for saying that the Holocaust was a”detail of history.” He also claimed that the Vichy government run by Maréchal Pétain during the Second World War was not inhumane in its help provided to round-up over 78,000 Jews out of France. In spite of all this, he actually made the elections run-off in 2002.
In 2011, After he had promised to retire, Jean-Marie was replaced by his daughter Marine at the head of the party. She immediately started to work on changing the xenophobic image of the FN in an effort to gain more popularity amidst the French voting bloc. Politically, France had always been characterized by a right/left polarization usually leading to alternating power every presidential election. Marine’s desire to put the FN on the French political map was somewhat successful. In the 2012 presidential election, she garnered 18% of the French vote which was the most the FN ever got. Then in 2014, during the European Parliament elections, the FN got 22 of France’s 74 seats at the European Parliament. Then, in August 2015, Marine Le Pen expelled her father from the FN altogether.
Many people in France are actually anxious about the outcome of the 2017 elections. The FN current agenda is attractive to many because of its push on ending immigration, fighting Radical Islam, and even pull France out of Europe in a Brexit style move. Marine Le Pen vows to reinstate and close French borders if elected. What ‘s wrong with such an idea? The last few years have seen France be the victim of several major terrorist attacks resulting in over 230 deaths. Promises were made by François Hollande to fight terrorism and antisemitism but in the end, very little was accomplished. Nobody knows where, when or even how the Islamic State will strike next.
Le Pen promises to keep France safe, keep it French and keep it going. She is currently neck-to-neck with Center-Left Emmanuel Macron. She insists that Jewish people should have nothing to fear if she is the next president. There are actually some Jewish people who believe that she would lead France in the right direction, and like them, I believe that she has something good to offer. Yet, the image that she has been working so hard at re-creating in the last decade might turn out to be a very thin veneer. Her true colors are not deep under that veneer.
She recently stated that France shouldn’t be held responsible for the Vel d’Hiv roundup and the French Militia that fed Hitler and the Nazis almost 80,000 Jews. She tried to back pedal, but it was too late and the memories of Jean Marie Le Pen’s antisemitic remarks of yesteryear were back haunting France and its Jewish community. How can one say that France was not involved in the Vel d’Hiv roundup? Saying that the French government was in exile in London is accurate, yet there were plenty of French officials and sympathizers who stayed behind and became some of Hitler’s willing perpetrators at worst or detached bystanders at best. Even if most of France was made of bystanders during WWII, they greatly facilitated the work of Hitler’s willing murderers.
Marine Le Pen might make it through the first round of the elections on April 23, and possibly with votes from French Jewry. If she wins–and it is unlikely– France might benefit from some of her policies. Then again, Donald Trump won against all odds. While I am not comparing his administration to that of a Front National government, Marine Le Pen could win in the biggest upset in French history. Unfortunately, I am not convinced that Jewish people would become safer in France under a Le Pen administration.