European Jewish leaders were left holding their breath this week, after far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen made it through to the final round with pro-European centrist Emmanuel Macron.
The head of French Jewry, who has called Le Pen the “candidate of hate,” spoke of “concern” that she had progressed to the last two, but of “satisfaction” that Macron had garnered more votes. He now seems the favourite to win.
Francis Kalifat, president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, said he was “worried to see [Le Pen’s party] making it to the main event of French democracy,” but “satisfied to see [Macron] in the lead”.
Kalifat called on the country’s half a million Jews to help 39-year old Macron into the Élysée Palace, ahead of the final vote on 7 May, as a broad coalition of anti-FN parties looked to come together to thwart her bid for power.
Le Pen’s anti-immigration party Front National (FN) takes a harsh line on 4.7 million Muslims, advocating stronger punishments for incitement as well as limits on religious freedoms, including religious clothing and adornments in public.
Since she took over as party leader from her anti-Semitic father in 2011, she has been at pains to sweet-talk French Jews, some of whom have responded favourably to her strong stance on the threat of violent Islamists.
European Jewish Congress head Moshe Kantor said it was “extremely regrettable that more than one in five French voters voted for Le Pen,” saying an FN victory would be “a prize for extremism and intolerance”.
He added: “Especially on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), we are painfully aware, as Jews, of the history of those who cloak themselves in the mantle of democracy but whose agenda is divisive, racist and anti-Semitic.”
Earlier this month, Israel’s Foreign Ministry condemned Le Pen for saying that her country is not responsible for Vel d’Hiv, an infamous mass round-up and deportation of 13,000 Jews to death camps in 1942. An Israeli government statement said her version of events was “contrary to historical truth”.
Kantor added: “Le Pen has made comments against the historic record of the Holocaust, which makes her no less dangerous than her Holocaust-denying father who she has tried to hide, but whose agenda remains with her and her party.”
Despite Macron getting 8.4 million votes to Le Pen’s 7.6 million, French Jews were left in a state of unease this week after analysts disagreed over who those voting for defeated candidates Francois Fillon and Jean-Luc Melanchon would now back.
“They could vote for Le Pen,” warned Paris-based Rabbi Moché Lewi, who argued that another terrorist outrage could swing it for the FN leader. “In the next two weeks, everything could change.”
Meanwhile, Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar called on French Jews to flee if the FN gained power, saying: “If Marine Le Pen is elected president of France, the Jews must leave.”