Despite the long lines evident outside polling stations around Israel on Sunday, figures made available by French diplomats in the country show that voter turnout among French-Israelis in the first round of the presidential election was no higher than usual and that the conservative Republican Francois Fillon was by far the preferred candidate among the four main contenders.
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According to the results, Fillon, who didn’t win enough votes in France to make it to the second round, captured just under 60 percent of the French-Israeli vote. Emmanuel Macron, who, by contrast, did make it to the second round along with the far right leader Marine Le Pen, won 31 percent of the French-Israeli vote. Although her National Front party is perceived as hostile to Israel and to Jews, Le Pen won close to 4 percent of the French-Israeli vote. Jean-Luc Melenchon, the radical left candidate, barely captured 2 percent of the vote, and the rest of the ballots were split among a host of other candidates.
Altogether, 11.526 French citizens in Israel (as well as a small number of Palestinians from the West Bank) exercised their right to vote on Sunday – representing just over 15 percent of the total number eligible to vote. The turnout in the 2012 French presidential election was almost identical.
Dov Maimon, a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, whose area of expertise is French Jewry, had been convinced early on that Fillon would be the favored candidate among Israelis with French citizenship. “He takes a much more hardline position against Islam than Macron,” he said, “and many French Jews in Israel are concerned about their friends and relatives in France because of the rise of radical Islam there. Many of them also still maintain businesses in France, and Fillon was seen as a more desirable candidate because of his party’s economic platform, which is friendlier to business.”
Another reason French-Israelis might have been weary of Macron, said Maimon, is that he had no party behind him. “He was kind of an unknown quantity,” he said, “and that worried French Jews.”
In the second round of the presidential election, Maimon predicted that Macron would beat Le Pen by a landslide among French-Israelis.
Ariel Kandel, the chairman of Kalita, an organization dedicated to assisting French immigrants in Israel, was not surprised by the results either. “I think one of the key issues for French-Israelis was the threat that they might have to give up their French citizenship under Le Pen and maybe, as a result, their pensions as well,” he said. “About 40 percent of the French Jews who’ve immigrated to Israel in recent years live off their French pensions. So it was important for many of them to come out and vote against Le Pen. To many, it was clear that Fillon would never touch the pensions of French nationals living abroad.”