Cheering Macron Victory, French Jewish Leader Remains Alarmed at Showing of ‘Populist Threat’
French Jewish leaders reacted with relief on Monday at French President Emmanuel Macron’s electoral victory over challenger Marine Le Pen, while expressing worry at the support garnered by the far-right candidate in Sunday’s ballot.
In the second round of the French presidential election, the incumbent Macron defeated Le Pen with 58% of the vote — well below the 66% he earned when the two previously faced off in 2017.
Crif, the umbrella organization representing the French Jewish community, had vociferously campaigned against Le Pen and her National Rally (RN) party, which it cast as “contrary to the republican values carried by the Jews of France.”
On Monday, Crif president Francis Kalifat told a Radio J broadcast that the election results provoked a “double reaction” the morning after.
“First of all a reaction of relief, because the National Rally has remained just at the gates of power, and this is good for our country. But it is also good for the Jewish community and for the French Jews, because we knew the program of Marine Le Pen,” Kalifat asserted.
“And it is also a concern, a triple concern. First, because the [RN], certainly, is at the doors of the Élysée [Palace], but with a very high score. A score that is, after all, historic,” Kalifat continued. The RN — previously the neo-fascist National Front (FN), led by Le Pen’s estranged father, Jean-Marie — has achieved new mainstream success under the leadership of Marine, who took 41% of Sunday’s vote.
Another worry, Kalifat said, was voter apathy signaled by a 28% abstention rate, the highest figure in 50 years.
“And then the third concern is to see that the populists in our country represent not far from 60% of the total electorate, and I believe that this is a genuine concern,” he continued.
In the first round of voting on April 10, Macron scored shy of 28% of the vote, with Le Pen’s 23% narrowly followed by the extreme-left Jean-Luc Melenchon at 22%. Éric Zemmour, Le Pen’s rival on the far right, was supported by another 7% of voters.
“We will have to find a way to reduce this populist threat, whether it is from the extreme right or the extreme left, which has been present in our country for many years, almost constantly,” Kalifat continued on Monday. “The triumph was modest and the defeat was triumphant.”
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, similarly congratulated Macron on his re-election but noted, “the fact that more than 40% voted for a far-right candidate is troubling.”
Upcoming French parliamentary elections on June 12 and 19 will present another test for Macron, whose presidential powers will be limited if his own centrist party does not triumph.