French Jewish leader Roger Cukierman's remark to Ha'aretz that the election success of Jean-Marie Le Pen sends "a message to the Muslims to keep quiet" has created an uproar among France's Jewish community.
Cukierman, the president of the umbrella group of French Jewish organizations (CRIF), made the comment Sunday night in an initial reaction to the right-wing candidate's success in reaching the French presidential election's second round. Cukierman was criticized for suggesting that Le Pen's success was a positive development for the Jewish community.
"It's hard to believe that the president of CRIF said these things," Henri Hajdenberg, a former CRIF president, told Le Monde. "Apparently his words were misunderstood or not interpreted correctly."
Michel Zaoui, a member of CRIF's executive board, added that "if the quote attributed to Cukierman accurately reflects his words, then they stand in opposition to all of the values that CRIF has fought for since its establishment."
The president of the French Jewish Liberal Movement, Rabbi Daniel Farhi, was more blunt. "Words like these just sow dissension between the various communities. We know very well how to relate to Le Pen's ideology. In his eyes, the Jews and Muslims are in the same boat."
Cukierman also told Le Monde that his remarks were distorted, attributing it to translation problems. (His comments were translated from English to Hebrew and then back to English.) "There is no way to make a mistake about your enemy," Cukierman said to Le Monde. "French Jews are not being fooled by a racist and anti-Semitic party."
Nonetheless, not only did Cukierman say what he did on Sunday night, he also made similar comments in an interview with Ha'aretz five days before the elections during a visit to Israel.
"You have to admit that there is now a common interest of the Jews and extreme right [versus the wave of Islamic violence], though Le Pen is still our enemy and the king of anti-Semitism," he said.
At the World Jewish Congress meeting in Brussels this week, Cukierman also said he understood Le Pen's achievement, explaining that what happened Sunday proves that the public decided it is time to stop the violence. Only later did he add that, "It's a disaster that 20 percent of the voters in France support a fascist leader."
Meanwhile the CRIF issued a statement yesterday saying that "French Judaism must confront the new danger posed by the presence, in the second round of the presidential election, of the representative of exclusion, xenophobia and anti-Semitism." The statement called on all voters to support Jacques Chirac in the runoff election. "No voter should abstain. This is about the future of France and of the Jewish community in France," the statement said.
France has about 600,000 Jews, the largest community in Europe.
Le Pen, the 73-year-old National Front party leader, once called the Nazi gas chambers a "detail" of history, but denies he is anti-Semitic.