Jews in France Facing ‘Unprecedented Political Threat,’ Warns Newly-Elected Community President Yonathan Arfi
The newly-elected head of the umbrella organization representing Jews in France has warned that the community faces an “unprecedented political threat” as a result of the success of political factions from the extremes of left and right in the country’s legislative elections earlier this month.
“We see two blocs which for us are a subject of concern: Both the 89 RN [far-right National Rally] deputies, but also the bloc of LFI [far-left ‘France Rising’] deputies, which for us represent an unprecedented political threat,” Yonathan Arfi, the new president of the umbrella Jewish organization Crif, said in a media interview on Sunday.
“We have never had to deal with extremist blocs which are at this level of political weight in the national assembly,” Arfi said.
Arfi was elected as Crif’s new president on Sunday, comfortably defeating his opponent, Ariel Amar, by 149 votes to 74. The 42-year-old Arfi, who hails from a Sephardic family and has spent his career in real estate and business consulting, officially takes up his post on July 26, replacing Francis Kalifat, who has headed the organization for the past eight years.
Speaking to the AFP news agency following his victory, Arfi said he was acutely aware “of the responsibilities weighing on the president of Crif in a particularly turbulent period politically.” The organization brings together some 70 Jewish associations in France, including the Union of Jewish Students (UEJF) and the Alliance Israelite Universelle educational organization.
Arfi observed that his main task will be to “lead the fight against antisemitism, by trying to make French society understand that basically, what threatens the Jews of France threatens the whole of society.”
Data gathered by Crif showed a 74 percent increase in antisemitic outrages during 2021, while a January 2022 study commissioned by the American Jewish Committee revealed that 73 percent of Jewish and 64 percent of non-Jewish respondents acknowledged that there had been a steep rise in antisemitic sentiment in France. Among the proposals that Arfi is pushing is a ban on Muslim organizations associated with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, and the bolstering of social media activists who counter “the hatred of Jews and Israel” on online platforms.
In a separate interview with French radio on Sunday, Arfi discussed the latest antisemitic scandal to hit France: a mural unveiled in the city of Avignon last Wednesday that depicted French President Emmanuel Macron as a puppet controlled by Jacques Attali, a French Jewish banker.
The mural represented an “age-old antisemitic conspiracy theory that has been completely trivialized in the minds of some French,” Arfi argued.
The work of a street artist named Letko, the mural shows Macron dressed as the children’s character Pinocchio and dangling from puppet strings wielded by the sinister-looking Attali, who has advised successive French presidents on economic affairs. The mural was removed on Friday following widespread protests from politicians and Jewish groups.