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May 7, 2017 4:26 pm

French Jews, Relieved by Le Pen Election Defeat, Still Cautious About Future

avatar by Ben Cohen

France’s new President, Emmanuel Macron, comfortably defeated Marine Le Pen in the election’s second round. Photo: Wikicommons

French Jews breathed a sigh of relief as far right candidate Marine Le Pen was roundly defeated by centrist Emmanuel Macron in the second and final round of the country’s presidential election on Sunday — but experts warned that the community still faces tough decisions over its long-term future.

Projections after the polls closed showed Macron with a comfortable 65 percent of the vote. However, the new French president will be acutely aware that a full 25 percent of voters abstained on the second ballot. As a whole, the election was dominated by extremist challenges, from Le Pen’s National Front on the right and Jean-Luc Melenchon — who won almost 20% of the first-round vote — on the communist-dominated far left.

Macron’s victory on Sunday brought some temporary respite to French Jews, experts told The Algemeiner.

“French Jews are very positive about the result, they didn’t want Le Pen to win, so they are happy with that,” said Dr. Dov Maimon, the head of the Europe Desk at the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) in Jerusalem. “Maybe 5 or 10% voted for her, but 90% percent were against her with good reason.”

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Michel Gurfinkiel, a leading French political analyst and president of the Jean-Jacques Rosseau Institute in Paris, agreed that the majority of Jews will be pleased by Le Pen’s defeat. “But a majority will still be concerned about their future,” he said.

Francis Kalifat, president of the French Jewish representative organization CRIF, tweeted his congratulations at Macron. “It all starts now,” Kalifat declared.

While the immediate threats that would have been posed by a National Front victory have abated — among them a prohibition on the wearing of kippot in public places, measures against Jewish ritual slaughter, and a ban on dual nationality that would have harshly impacted French Jews in Israel — the general pessimism about the community’s long-term future remains.

“Macron is a supporter of multiculturalism, which in this case means more power for the Muslim community,” Maimon observed. “70 percent of French Muslims say they don’t like Jews.”

A 2014 poll conducted by CRIF found that over 70 percent of French Muslims believed that Jews “had too much power” over the nation’s media and financial system.

Gurfinkiel said that while Macron had made several statements to reassure the Jewish community in the run-up to the election, many Jews remain nervous about some of his key political allies. Among them is the secretary-general of Macron’s En Marche! political movement, veteran socialist politician Richard Ferrand. As well as having donated 2,ooo Euros to a Palestinian solidarity group in 2016, Ferrand is said to be a supporter of the BDS movement targeting Israel. Macron, for his part, has voiced firm opposition towards the BDS campaign.

Gurfinkiel said that similar concerns had emerged around former French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, another Macron ally and a frequent critic of Israel. “The big question mark is over whether he will keep these people around,” Gurfinkiel said.

Uncertainty among French Jews is not likely to dissipate over the next four weeks, as Macron begins campaigning for a working majority in next month’s parliamentary elections. Gurfinkiel said there was a possibility that the National Front would dissolve into a new party with wider appeal, meaning that Le Pen could end up “as the leader not just of the populist right, but of the entire conservative right in France.”

The coming weeks will see some clarification of the major political questions, said Gurfinkiel. “Is everybody going to flock around Macron? Is the hard left going to try and make it by itself against the National Front and Macron? Is the conservative right able to undergo some kind of resurrection?” he asked.

Maimon emphasized that the deeper dilemmas faced by French Jews would not be resolved by a single election. As well as antisemitism and the preservation of Jewish identity, he said, French Jews were worried about the economy, a decline in prosperity and, most of all, the education of the younger generation.

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