Should Europe’s Jews fear the Front National’s victory in French regional elections? Read the news, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that a generation of Gallic neo-Nazis in suits had just been swept to power. The truth, as always, is far more subtle.
The party now led by Marine Le Pen was founded by her father, 87, a racist anti-Semite getting worse with age. He has now been expelled from the FN, which is increasingly embarrassed by its association with him, but the old man is hanging around.
These days, he can be found mostly on Twitter, ranting against gays or anyone else he doesn’t like, but his views on Jews, Israel and the Holocaust are far removed from those of the party today. Gradually, Jews are coming to see that.
However, it could be argued that a Le Pen does not change its spots and, just because the party has changed the focus of its rhetoric, it does not make its central tenets any more palpable.
Marine Le Pen has repeatedly and publicly condemned anti-Semitism, particularly after January’s attack on a kosher deli, and has gone out of her way to meet and reassure Jewish groups.
Some have accepted her invitations, others not. “She made very positive declarations in a closed meeting about the Jewish community and Israel,” admits Dr Simon Samuels of the Wiesenthal Center, who is certainly no FN fan.
Le Pen’s line is now against the wave of Muslim immigration into France over recent years – and it is understandable if Jewish opinion is hardening, given the fatal attacks on the community.
However, caution is advised against a party that has its roots in racism and nationalism. We know well what political posturing against immigrants can cause.