Tablet reports on how blind love for Zionism and hatred of Islam has become a toxic mix:
Since its inception in the 1970s, the Front National has wrapped itself in the repellent rags of traditional French anti-Semitism. The series of outrageous dérapages, or verbal slips, of the movement’s founder and longtime leader Jean-Marie Le Pen—Marine’s father—are legion, ranging from his remark that the Holocaust was a “detail” of history to his rhyming of crematory (crématoire) with the name of a Jewish politician Michel Durafour. Thus the question of whether anti-Semitism was incidental or central to the Front National’s ideological essence was, from the perspective of French Jewry, entirely settled.
Until now, that is. Since she assumed its leadership at the beginning of 2011, Marine Le Pen has worked to “modernize” her father’s party—a diplomatic word for purging its most reactionary elements. Nolwenn Le Blevennec, a journalist for the news site Rue89 who reports on the Front National, notes that Le Pen has demoted party figures like Christian Bouchet, a notorious fan of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and expelled Alexandre Gabriac, who gave a Nazi salute at a party rally. She’s also distanced herself from Alain Solal, a prominent anti-Semite previously identified as one of Front National’s intellectuals. Even more notably, by making her father the honorary president of the Front National, Le Pen has effectively made him a figurehead shorn of actual power.
At the same time, Marine Le Pen has made a series of dramatic overtures to the Jewish community. Her trip to the United States in early November largely passed under the radar of the American media, but it was widely covered by the French press. At first, the visit wobbled between the surreal and slapstick. At one point, Le Pen’s handlers tried to bar the pack of French journalists from following her into the U.S. Capitol; once inside, the reporters found that Le Pen’s strenuous efforts to meet with a U.S. politician—indeed, any politician at all—ultimately yielded only a furtive 10-minute chat with Rep. Ron Paul. But then, days later, Le Pen pulled off a coup de théâtre: Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, attended a gathering she hosted at the United Nations. Despite the subsequent announcement from Israel’s foreign ministry that the meeting was based on a “misunderstanding,” all the press releases in the world can’t undo the image of a smiling Prosor standing side-by-side with a beaming Le Pen.
French Republicanism—the doctrine that affirms the equality and liberty of citizens and requires that the public sphere be entirely free of ethnic or religious claims—is the crossroads at which the Front National and French Jewry seem slated to either collide or collaborate. Upon their civil emancipation during the French Revolution, French Jews embraced republicanism, particularly its emphasis on a secular society, as their own.
But that might not be the case for much longer. The national debate over immigration and national identity—issues that involve the 5 million Muslims, mostly of North African origin, living in France—seems shriller by the day. The urban riots that convulsed France in 2005, followed by the appalling death of Ilan Halimi, a young French Jew tortured and murdered by several youths of North African background, have had an especially powerful impact on French Jewry. It may well be that the community has reached a point no less pivotal than 1967, when the Six-Day War, followed by Charles de Gaulle’s notorious remark that Jews were an elite and domineering race, ignited French Jewish self-consciousness.
According to Jean-Yves Camus, the political scientist, at least 5 percent of Jewish voters will support Le Pen in 2012. While he and other specialists debate the precise number—there are no surveys on the question—they agree that France’s Jewish community has been moving steadily toward the political right and, indeed, to the extreme right. Clearly, a Jewish Le Pen supporter is no longer the oxymoron it once was. Richard Prasquier, of the Jewish council, worries about this potentially tectonic shift, suggesting that French Jews are increasingly “receptive to and tempted by Le Pen’s discourse.” Perhaps the most immediate reason for this evolution is, that “for the first time since World War II, French Jews are afraid,” said the intellectual Alain Finkielkraut.
Against this background, Le Pen’s effort to seduce the French Jewish community takes on even greater significance. It is only by channeling popular fear and loathing at Muslims that the Front National has made room under its “republican” umbrella for its previous bête noire: the Jews.