"Our region needs something better. Our religion does too!" reads the opening line of a letter distributed in recent weeks among the Jewish community in Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, one of the largest and most important regions in France. Behind the letter is Sonia Arrouas, a 42-year-old Jewish woman, and No. 4 on the regional list of Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front party.
On Sunday, French citizens go to the polls in regional elections that are viewed as a significant test of the balance of power and the National Front's position in the country. Arrouas has been working full tilt for her candidate, Le Pen - the only person, in her opinion, who can solve France's problems, the only one who "can put an end to the authorities' incompetence in the face of anti-Semitic aggression."
Arrouas's letter continues: "Has France become an anti-Semitic state? No, but anti-Semitism is dangerously on the rise in a number of regions, including our region. We must not err in identifying the source of the evil: Those responsible for the anti-Semitic incidents, for the most part, come from the Maghreb countries. These worrisome people must not be allowed to harm our community. The Jews' faith [in the authorities] has cracked. Therefore, I decided to fight with you for our region, for our security and for our religion. Therefore, I decided to stand as a candidate in the elections alongside Jean-Marie Le Pen. Let's stop the disinformation!!! Come and sign up."
Arrouas, a jurist, businesswoman and a mother of three, was born in Paris to a traditional Jewish family from Tunisia and Algeria. She tries to come to Israel often to visit her relatives. She says she supports Le Pen because she grew up "in a patriotic family for which law and order was our daily lot;" because for her, September 11 was "very traumatic;" because the Muslim girls' headscarves affair "intensified my fears;" and because she has no intention "of being left at the mercy of the radical Muslims."
Arrouas says she became "an anti-fundamentalist and was naturally drawn to the figure who refuses to allow the radical Muslims in France to get stronger. Had they listened to Le Pen, there wouldn't be so many extremists like these in France. One must not show tolerance for those who have no tolerance."
Arrouas sees Le Pen as a repentant man who has changed his anti-Semitic views thanks to, among other things, his 1991 marriage to his second wife, Jany, "some of whose best friends, including myself, are Jews." Arrouas says she is very proud of "Le Pen's admiration for the State of Israel," adding: "He has always identified with Israel's policy of defense in the face of the aggression of the Arab world."
Arrouas, who serves as Le Pen's unofficial adviser on Jewish issues, is not afraid to be labeled "the Jewess of," noting: "I am not alone. More and more Jews identify with me and will therefore give him their vote. Many recognize that he expresses out loud what they feel in their hearts."
Jean Marie Le Pen's daughter, Marine, who is running for leadership of the Ile de France region, also speaks of increasing Jewish support for the National Front. "The Jews have started to take an interest in our manifesto. They perceive us differently. The misunderstandings of the past are fading," she told Haaretz.
Marine Le Pen says she doesn't have numbers to support this claim, but notes that from talks she has held with friends in the Jewish community, it is clear to her that "they understand that the real danger for them lies in the [Arab] immigration. The Jews are being forced to take the aggression and racism of the immigrants twice - once for being French, and again for being Jews."
Marine Le Pen calls on the Jews of France "to fight here with us against the intensifying immigration problem," and to withstand the pressure they are under to immigrate to Israel.
"The Jews have understood who is truly responsible for anti-Semitism," Jean-Marie Le Pen said in an interview with Haaretz published last week. "Some of them, therefore, are happy about the existence of the National Front, which they perceive as [a party] that can protect them."
Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut says the French Jews' support for the National Front stems from their fear of what he terms "the Islamic-extreme left-wing alliance," which is responsible today for the spread of anti-Semitism in France. The fact that Tarak Ben Ammar, a Muslim film producer, took on the task of distributing Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," Finkielkraut says, illustrates the problem: "It wasn't someone from the extreme right, from the Catholic-fundamentalist school, who became the film's distributor, but a Muslim."
Pascal Perrineau, a scholar of the extreme right and author of "Le Symptome - Le Pen," has conducted surveys in cities such as Paris and Strasbourg, which are home to large Jewish communities. "In all of those places," he says, "voting for the National Front was very low." Perrineau also points out a difference between the voting patterns of the Sephardi Jewish community, whose "anti-Arab feelings are stronger," and the Ashkenazi community. Nevertheless, he stresses, the National Front's Jewish voters are few and far between.
France's Jewish leaders do not accept the existence of a "Jewish-fascist" vote in the country. Henri Hajdenberg, former president of the Representative Council of the Jewish Organizations of France (CRIF), believes that no more than 5 percent of French Jews give their vote to Le Pen. "Even those don't really identify with the National Front and its values, but wish to voice a protest against the hatred and violence of the immigrants," he stresses.
Hajdenberg does admit, however, that the phenomenon, considered taboo in the past, is indeed a matter of concern for the leaders of the Jewish community.
Echoing Hajdenberg's sentiments is an editorial written recently by Elizabeth Schemla, editor of the Proche-orient.info Web site, which deals with issues relating to France's Jewish community and the Middle East. In her article, Schemla blasts "the many Jews who are falling into the National Front's trap" and issues a warning to them not to be misled, saying: "Le Pen and the National Front are racists, xenophobes and first and foremost anti-Semites. To forge a tactical alliance with them is tantamount to collaborating with the most dangerous of the anti-Semites."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now