Forbearance for Le Pen

Concern about the impact of Muslim immigration to Europe can't continue to be swept under the politically correct carpet - or dismissed as racism and xenophobia.

The National Front party congress that handed over the reins of leadership from Jean-Marie Le Pen to his daughter Marine last weekend convened in the symbolically significant French city of Tours. It was at Tours in 732 that Charles Martel and his Frankish army proved victorious and saved Western Europe from Muslim conquest. In Tours, too, the French Communist Party was founded in 1920. Both these historical events should be recalled in the shaping of the Jewish and Israeli response to Marine Le Pen.

Islam no longer needs to dispatch armies to Europe: It can suffice with waves of immigrants who are called "pioneers" by the likes of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the revered authority on Muslim sharia law. Concern about the impact of Muslim immigration can't continue to be swept under the politically correct carpet - or dismissed as racism and xenophobia.

It is crucial to distinguish the current immigration from previous cycles. The current waves have nothing in common with the interwar immigration of Eastern Europeans westward during the 1920s and 1930s, encouraged as part of an official policy to replenish the population of the millions slaughtered in World War I. There was a time when immigrants would effectively sever their ties with the Old Country. Today's waves of Muslim immigrants, though, have proven unassimilable because, in this age of rapid transport and Internet communications one can, virtually - in both senses of the word - live simultaneously both in one's country of origin and in Europe.

Despite French President Nicolas Sarkozy's pretensions, France is no longer in the age of Richelieu or Napoleon, when it could have forced the formation of a gallicized Islam that, like the Church and the Jewish community, would have to bend to the French state.

It was the chief rabbi of Britain's United Hebrew Congregations, Baron Sacks, who correctly pointed out that Muslims have never had the experience of being a religious minority. Islam also has little respect for what it perceives to be a decadent and overly permissive society, and therefore sees no reason to adopt in order to coexist.

These burgeoning Muslim communities in Western Europe are responsible for the uptick in Western European anti-Semitism, and for terrorizing Jewish students and would-be supporters of Israel on the campuses. The recent Jewish exodus from Malmo, Sweden, coupled with former Dutch politician and Eurocrat Frits Bolkestein's warning last month to identifiable Dutch Jews that they should flee the Netherlands, are harbingers of things to come. After all, the intolerance for non-Muslims exhibited recently in Baghdad, Alexandria and Pakistan doesn't stop when Islam reaches Europe.

Ideally, I would want European Jews to move to Israel. But they should do so of their own volition and not because of violent Muslim pressure and the cravenness of the political establishment at home. Therefore, in this sense, we are revisiting the 1930s era when, essentially, parties of the left, including communists, offered solace to the Jews and furnished effective barriers to fascism. It was therefore understandable then that Jews swallowed their misgivings and welcomed their benefactors on the left.

Today the situation is reversed, with the left appeasing Islam and the hope coming from the right. If the new right can stiffen the spine of the political establishment and help protect Jewish communities, it should be encouraged.

It was Winston Churchill who once said, "If Hitler invaded hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons." Therefore, if Marine Le Pen is sincere about a new relationship with the Jews and with Israel (even though her comments about Israeli policies to Adar Primor, in Haaretz English Edition of January 7, 2011, were more attuned to the thinking of the Israeli left than to mine ), then such overtures should not be rejected outright.

Ms. Le Pen, who wants to modernize her party, should be accorded the same benefit of the doubt accorded to Euro Communism five decades ago.

It was Francois Mitterrand who claimed that the only way to overcome the weakness of the French left was to engage the French Communist Party. If that party felt part of the system it would emerge from its political ghetto and counter-society, and loosen its subservience to the Soviet Union. And indeed, in 1981, even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the French Communist Party became part of the socialist coalition.

Le Pen is not content with playing the political spoiler like her father; she wants to be part of the system, so that her party can share power. She will pay the price and shape her party's evolution accordingly.

This approach has succeeded to the fullest in Italy, where Gianfranco Fini (the man whom Yossi Sarid wanted Israel to boycott as late as 2003 ) succeeded in transforming his neo-fascist party into the post-fascist National Alliance. As foreign minister, deputy premier and president of the Assembly, he has become one of Israel's and Italian Jewry's most reliable friends. Having broken with Silvio Berlusconi, Fini was even accused last September by a colleague of the premier of "ordering a kippa" as a token of his betrayal.

It is precisely from Israeli liberals, who perform perfect grade 10 intellectual gymnastics in an effort to identify and accredit Palestinian moderates, despite their tawdry record, that one could expect a similar degree of forbearance for parties of the European right.

Dr. Amiel Ungar, a political scientist, is a regular contributor to Haaretz English Edition.