Analysis'French Jews are being sacrificed first. Who will be next?'

Macron’s implicit endorsement of ‘antisemitic,’ ‘pro-Hamas’ far left shocks French Jews

Defeats for French president’s party in the first round of the parliamentary elections prompt a controversial alliance against the far right – and, potentially, Jewish emigration

Canaan Lidor

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

France's President Emmanuel Macron leaves the polling station after voting for the first round of parliamentary elections in Le Touquet, northern France on June 30, 2024. (Ludovic Marin / AFP)
France's President Emmanuel Macron leaves the polling station after voting for the first round of parliamentary elections in Le Touquet, northern France on June 30, 2024. (Ludovic Marin / AFP)

Only two years ago French President Emmanuel Macron received the unreserved endorsement of major Jewish community groups, which regarded his centrist policies and party as the best available bulwark against political radicalism.

But now, many French Jews feel betrayed by Macron, who last week announced snap parliamentary elections that backfired and boosted the far right. And then following his party’s trouncing in the first stage of the elections on Sunday, he proceeded to implicitly endorse a party with a far-left antisemitism problem to counteract the nationalists’ ascent.

Macron, who will remain president regardless of the parliamentary electoral results, “just endorsed a party controlled by pro-Hamas” forces, Yohann Taieb, a French-Jewish journalist, wrote on X on Monday. The Jewish groups that endorsed him were “being taken for a ride,” Taieb added.

This sentiment, shared by many French Jews, stems from a series of unusual choices by Macron throughout one of the most tumultuous political episodes in France’s recent history.

It began with the European Parliament elections of June 9, in which the far-right National Rally party of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella won the largest share of the vote (32%). In a move that stunned the nation, Macron declared an early election to the French parliament to curb the far right’s ascent by uniting its rivals behind his centrist Renaissance party.

This tactic is failing spectacularly in the local parliamentary elections, whose first round was held Sunday and whose second and final one is scheduled for July 7. Not only did the far right secure a whopping 34% in Sunday’s snap elections, but Macron’s party also lost its claim to be the main alternative to the far right.

Leader of the French far-right National Rally Marine Le Pen, left, and lead candidate of the party for the European election Jordan Bardella during a political meeting on June 2, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)

That distinction went to the New Popular Front, a coalition that was hastily established for the elections through a union between the center-left Socialist Party and the far-left France Unbowed party, or LFI, of Jean-Luc Melenchon, a communist who many French Jews claim is an antisemite. The New Popular Front received 28% of the vote in the parliamentary elections, leaving Macron’s party in distant third place with only 20%.

This alliance means that in many constituencies, both far-right and far-left politicians will be arriving at the second round of the parliamentary elections with better prospects of winning than those of the ruling party’s candidate. In some constituencies, that party failed to make it to the second round altogether as it did not pass the 12.5% threshold.

Changing of the guard

The second round determines the makeup of the lower house of France’s parliament, which has 577 seats. The president is elected separately and is not facing the prospect of being unseated. However, significant gains by the far left and the far right, which both have extremely hostile attitudes to Macron and his party, would likely severely limit his ability to lead legislation and carry out some policies.

In constituencies where Macron’s Renaissance failed to make it to the second round, the party endorsed any candidate – including far-left ones — who is not from the far-right National Rally, as per a speech that Prime Minister Gabriel Attal made Sunday.

“Our objective is clear: prevent National Rally from obtaining in the second round an absolute majority” that would give the party control of the lower house of parliament, Attal said of the second round. LFI agreed to drop out of races where Renaissance had better chances of besting the far right, and Renaissance agreed to do the same for any candidate with “republican values,” Attal said, using a formulation that is widely understood to exclude the National Rally, but is also used in the media against LFI.

Attal criticized LFI in his speech. He told his listeners that the New Popular Front “will not have an absolute majority,” and that “the presence of the LFI, which has been largely rejected by the citizens of France, prevents it [the New Popular Front] from being a credible alternative.”

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal delivers a speech in the courtyard of the Prime Minister’s residence, Sunday, June 30, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)

Many French Jews do not share Macron’s apparent preference for the far left over the far right. The CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities has declared a “neither nor” policy, as it called it, rejecting equally politicians from either extreme. And prominent French Jews, including critics of the far right, said they would nonetheless vote for it to block from power the far left, which they consider worse.

Under Marine Le Pen, the National Rally has attempted to rehabilitate the public image it had under the antisemitic and xenophobic party founder, Holocaust denier Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is Marine’s father. Focusing on limiting immigration and cracking down on radical Islam, Marine Le Pen has vowed to be French Jews’ “shield” against antisemitism even as she asked them to make “sacrifices” in the fight against radical Islam. One sacrifice she asked was the wearing of traditional head coverings such as kippot in public, which she views as collateral damage in her fight to ban Muslim religious symbols.

Meanwhile, the hard left under Jean-Luc Melenchon has placed the Palestinian cause on its banner: One of the party’s most prominent figures, Rima Hassan, is a French-Palestinian lawyer who has called Hamas’s October 7 onslaught a “legitimate action.” Hassan, who was not on the ballot, stood next to Melenchon during his concluding speech of the first round. She was wearing a keffiyeh, in what many observers interpreted as a signal to Muslim voters that Melenchon’s party was their political home.

Jean-Luc Melenchon (C) flanked by French-Palestinian lawyer and MEP Rima Hassan (R) and French MP of left wing party La France Insoumise (LFI) Manuel Bompard delivers a speech after the results of the first round of parliamentary elections are announced at La Faiencerie in Paris on June 30, 2024. (Photo by Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)

Melenchon in a 2017 speech said Jews were an aggressive minority that lectures the rest of the country, which he suggested was “the opposite” of what French society was about. He has disputed claims that this was an antisemitic statement.

The scent of betrayal

The implicit endorsement by Macron’s party of Melenchon’s party felt like a betrayal for some French Jews.

”For Macron, it’s about doing everything to stay in power,” Yael-July Nahon, a French-Jewish author, wrote on X Monday. “French Jews are being sacrificed first. Who will be next?”

To Ariel Kandel, the CEO of an association that facilitates immigration to Israel by Jews, or aliyah, from France, the first round was “another step” toward a wave of aliyah by thousands, he told The Times of Israel.

Antisemitic incidents have skyrocketed in France since October 7, when Hamas terrorists murdered 1,200 Israelis and abducted 251. Some 38,000 Palestinians have died as a result of the ongoing military campaign that Israel launched to dismantle Hamas and retrieve hostages, according to unverifiable figures from the Hamas-run Health Ministry that do not distinguish between combatants and civilians. Amid the growing death toll, mass protests against Israel are held regularly in France and beyond and are widely believed to be inspiring attacks on Jews there.

“Whether the far right grows, or the far left, or both, it means life in France is changing for the worse for French Jews,” Kandel said.

About 50,000 French Jews have made aliyah over the past decade, more than double the tally of the previous one. But France has a robust welfare system and offers a relatively high quality of life that is helping to keep at home another 50,000 who are considering leaving as the political climate darkens around them, Kandel said.

“To bring them here, the [Israeli] government will need to take some steps,” including offering to cover a year’s rent; facilitating recognition of academic and professional degrees, and offering longer school days comparable to those customary in France.

“Look, French Jews are going to come in greater numbers following October 7,” Kandel said, citing Jewish Agency projections that speak of some 3,200 newcomers this year — a threefold increase over 2023.

“The steps our government takes to absorb this movement will determine whether it will be a trickle or a flood,” Kandel added.

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