Marine Le Pen, the president of French right-wing populist and nationalist party Front National, is a rising star in French politics. She is also seen as a leader in the populist-right political movement gaining in popularity across Europe and the United States. Her rise has been dogged by accusations of racism and Anti-Semitism.
Much of her opposition in French politics and media has went to great effort to portray her as a fringe candidate leading a political party with unacceptable views. Some of these accusations come with a grain of truth. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of Front National and Marine’s father, was a notorious political provocateur who had some problems addressing the “Jewish Question.” The party itself harbored Anti-Semitic members.
Enter Marine La Pen, modernizing and reforming Front National. Purging Anti Semitic elements, eventually removing her father from the party he founded. Their first public spat occurred in 2005 when Jean-Marie described Germany’s wartime occupation of France as “not particularly inhuman”. She briefly withdrew from the party.
In 2011, Marine Le Pen took over Front National and steered the party from her father’s controversial style of politics. Le Pen 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 also distanced herself from Alain Solal, a prominent anti-Semite previously identified as one of Front National’s intellectuals. In 2015, she publicly opposed her 86 year old father’s Anti-Semitic outbursts, finally kicking him out of the party.
These moves towards moderation have helped Front National become a competitive political party in France, but have not prevented continued accusations of Anti-Semitism. Googling “Marine Le Pen Israeli passport” results in pages of negative headlines. It is claimed that Le Pen wants to ban Israeli passports and Kipahs, a skullcap worn by Orthodox Jewish men at times of prayer.
Does Marine Le Pen want to ban Israeli passports? Le Pen’s actual position is against dual citizenship for French citizens, unless they are citizens of another European country or Russia. She said “I am against dual nationality outside Europe, so I ask to choose their nationality, that does not mean that if they do not choose French nationality, they will have to leave France.” When pressed on which nationalities would be considered European she stated that Russians would be – but that Americans and Israelis would not. Israel was never singled out, yet headlines would tell another tale.
Did Marine Le Pen say she wants to ban the Kipah? No. Her actual position is against wearing religious symbols in public, which she sees as upholding France’s tradition of secularism and fighting radical Islam. “Honestly, the dangerous situation in which Jews in France live is such that those who walk with a kippah are in any case a minority, because they are afraid,” Ms Le Pen said. “But I mainly think the struggle against radical Islam should be a joint struggle and everyone should say, ‘there, we are sacrificing something.’ Maybe they will do with just wearing a hat, but it would be a step in the effort to stamp out radical Islam in France.”
Le Pen’s position on dual citizenship is a part of her broader effort to put France first. The ban on religious symbols is also rooted in French tradition. France has a history of Laïcité, which stands for secularism in French society. This was instituted in the late 19th century in order to separate the influence of the Catholic Church from public institutions and primary schools.
Laïcité is a core concept in the French constitution, Article 1 of which formally states that France is a secular republic (“La France est une République indivisible, laïque, démocratique et sociale.”) Many see being discreet with one’s religion as a necessary part of being French. This has led to frequent divisions with some non-Christian immigrants, especially with part of France’s large Muslim population. Many debates have taken place over whether any religious apparel or displays by individuals, such as the Islamic hijab, Sikh turban, (large) Christian crosses, and Jewish Stars of David and kippah, should be banned from public schools. In short, France espouses a secular society. While radical Islamic terrorism is the country’s hot button topic, all religions are viewed as subject to scrutiny.
It is clear that Le Pen’s opponents in politics and the media are lying about her positions and inventing Anti-Semitism where none exists. This tactic will be familiar to observers of the 2016 US election. It was claimed Trump was Anti-Semitic, despite the fact that he is the first US President with a Jewish child and grandchildren.
Should Jews vote for Le Pen? In reality, Le Pen’s views are not dissimilar to those of Benjamin Netanyahu. Both want a prosperous ethnostate with secure borders; both are dealing with radical Islamic terrorism; both realize that, if left to its own devices, Islam would eventually lead to the breakdown of Western civilization and culture as we know it today.
Le Pen wants a French ethnostate like the one that Jews have in Israel. There is nothing Anti-Semitic about putting France first and distancing it from the EU. If Jews want to preserve their long-term safety in France, they should consider voting for Le Pen and Front National. Is Front National a perfect party for French Jews? No. Nor is any party outside of Israel. Are there still anti-Semitic elements within FN? Assuredly. A tiny minority that has been mostly purged by Le Pen.
What are the alternatives? Le Pen’s opponent in the second round of the French election will be left-leaning independent candidate Emmanuel Macron. After the recent terrorist incident at the Champs Elysees, Macron stated in public that: “This threat, [obliquely referring to terrorism] this imponderable problem, is part of our daily lives for the years to come.” Many feel this statement signals that Macron will not confront radical Islamic terrorism if elected.
Remember the Charlie Hebdo massacre? 12 murdered and another 11 injured because of a drawing of Mohammed. Two days later, the Hypercacher kosher superette in Porte de Vincennes was attacked. Four Jews were murdered and another 15 held hostage. The ISIS terrorist Amedy Coulibaly tried to secure the release of the Charlie Hebdo terrorists. Radical Islamic terrorism in France is an imminent threat to French Jews.
In summary, the choices for French Jews are breathtakingly simple. The election of Le Pen will advance French society under French law that actually protects against radical Islamic terror. The election of Macron will entrench the French government’s permissive immigration policies and weak-willed attitude towards radical Islam. Under the leadership of Le Pen, the return of French nationalism may prove a strong protection for French Jews concerned about radical Islamism and Anti-Semitism in general.