The challenge is daunting for Nicholas Sarkozy. The second round of the French Presidential elections will be decided by the transfer of votes. Will Nicolas Sarkozy be able to attract to his candidacy the vast majority of the voters of both the Center Party and of the National Front, who have different views on about everything except a common dislike for his personal style of government?
For the French Jewish community, appalled by the murders in the Jewish school in Toulouse, one of the key issues is how willing each candidate is to fight the new anti-Semitism that has developed under the mask of anti-Zionism.
There is no question that both contenders strongly reject any manifestation of anti-Semitism. Nicolas Sarkozy has developed strong links with the French Jewish community; he has a deep knowledge of Israel and a deep sympathy for this country, which he uses sometimes for chiding the Israeli government. France has become the major supporter of Israel in advocating a firm stance against Iran. The feelings of François Hollande towards Israel have always been clearly friendly, although they have not been highlighted so much, and his stance towards the Iranian threat remains to be tested. The two candidates share similar views regarding the major issues related to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The question arises: how will the need to think about future political coalition-building, future governing circles, affect the two men's positions, and how will the results of the first round change the outlook?
In the rather unlikely case of the re-election of the incumbent President, there is no reason to think that he might change his policies. He might become more skeptical about the Arab Spring, and less optimistic about the ongoing process of radicalization in the Muslim world and its dangers for French society.
As for the high number of votes obtained by Marine Le Pen, representing the far-right National Front, founded by her father who held anti-Semitic views: They are not expected to exert any influence on policies toward Jews in France. The Muslim community and immigration issues were at the forefront of their campaign. Indeed, Marine Le Pen even tried to attract Jewish voters as if the past of the National Front and/or the view of some of its still influential leaders had not been known. The National Front has old scores to settle with the party of Nicolas Sarkozy, and there is no possibility of a political agreement between them. It is clear however that, whatever the results of the election, the important issue of secularity will lead to difficulties in the legal adjustments to religious practices such as shechita.
The main question that arises for the Jewish community, if François Hollande becomes the President of France, is the influence that might be exerted by those socialist leaders who have negative views towards Israel's policies. Beyond the socialists, but still in Hollande's camp, are the leftist parties and the Greens who express a deep hostility towards Israel and are at the forefront of every anti-Israel demonstration, declaration and petition. The fact that Jean Luc Melenchon, the charismatic leader of the renewed Communist party, only managed a disappointing 11% result, might well reduce its impact on French foreign policy, but I expect a surge in leftist and Communist manifestations of anti-Zionism.
The French Jewish community which is, regardless of its political leanings, very close to Israel, will need to face these new challenges.
Richard Prasquier is the President of CRIF, the representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, the umbrella organization representing the French Jewish community.
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