Francois Fillon, a leading contender in France’s presidential election next year, accused Jews of not wanting to respect French law before they successfully assimilated.

Fillon, a former prime minister who this week won the first round of the presidential primary election within France’s center-right The Republicans party, made the assertion during an interview Wednesday for Europe 1 radio, in which he cited Jewish settlement in France as proof that Muslims may yet become better integrated.

“I think that sectarianism is increasing today within the Muslim community and that the sectarianists are taking that community hostage,” said Fillon, who knocked out former president Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of the party primaries on Monday, and will face off against Alain Juppe, another former prime minister, in the second round next week.

“We need to combat this sectarianism and we need to do it as we have in the past,” Fillon continued. “We fought against a form of Catholic sectarianism or like we fought the desire of Jews to live in a community that does not respect the laws of the French Republic.”

Fillon neither elaborated nor said when he believed French Jews did not wish to respect the law.

CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jews, addressed the issue indirectly on the group’s Twitter account.

Illustrative photo of Jews in Paris, January 12, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/JOEL SAGET)

Illustrative photo of Jews in Paris, January 12, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/JOEL SAGET)

“The law of the land is the law – a Talmudic saying which requires Jews since antiquity to respect the laws of the land where they live,” a CRIF spokesperson wrote on Twitter shortly after the airing of the interview.

The winner of the second round of the primary election of the Republicans — the new name of the center-right UMP party of former presidents Jaques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy — is widely believed to be in a favorable position to win the presidential election in May.

Polls predict that President Francois Hollande, a Socialist, will receive 18 percent of the vote — seven to eight percent less than Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front party.