Amid Elections, France's Jews Debate Support of Rightist Le Pen

One supporter says told by right-wing leader that it's important that Jews participate in the National Front; Jewish journalist: Few Jews will vote for Le Pen.

Shirli Sitbon
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Shirli Sitbon

A few years ago, policeman Michel Thooris fought anti-Semitism next to anti-racist groups and now he's running for parliament for the National Front. Yet he says there’s no contradiction between the two.

“I’m not going to share with you what Crif officials told me. But my belief is that it’s natural to turn to [Marine] Le Pen when you’re Jewish. She fights crime and Islamism and that means she defends Jews,” Thooris told Haaretz.

French far right party Front National (FN) candidate Marine Le Pen as leaving a rally on the evening of the first round of the 2012 French Presidential election on April 22, 2012. Credit: AFP

Not so long ago, the whole Jewish community condemned Le Pen supporters, such as Richard Sulzer who has long worked for the Le Pens. “He was a respected professor, but when he chose Le Pen, his wife left him,” said one Jewish community leader. Yet, Le Pen’s new supporters say their own situation isn’t as tough.

“People’s attitudes have changed because the National Front has changed,” said Thooris. “Marine Le Pen expressed her horror at the holocaust. Jews know that.”

Another Le Pen supporter Michel Ciardi, who created an association supporting Le Pen, said his family wasn’t as supportive.

“My children told me they don’t share my views, but I don’t share theirs either,” said Ciardi. He called his associations the French Jews Union, putting the word French first, unlike most Jewish groups.

“I created the association 6 months ago when I met with Le Pen,” Ciardi said. “I was invited to dine with her at a Jewish friend’s house and I was thrilled. She has so much ambition for our country. She told me that it’s important that we, Jews participate in the National Front.”

“We Jewish Le Pen supporters show the racist anti-Semitic National Front supporters that we belong in the party too. They must accept it,” he added.

Ciardi says his association, supported by another pro-Le Pen group Riposte Laique, has 150 members, but Jewish journalist Michel Zerbib who looked into the group says the group is an empty shell.

“I looked for people, but couldn’t find any. I think it’s an isolated initiative,” Said Zerbib, adding that he believed few Jews voted for Le Pen.

“It was absolutely no surprise that Le Pen got such a good score, but what did surprise me was that 7 or 8 percent of the Jews voted for her. It’s still a lot – but much less than the rest of the population – about a third.”

French poll institutes are not allowed to survey by communities. They can’t tell how many Jews, Muslims, Christians or foreigners voted for Le Pen, yet Jewish organisations came up with their own methods to tell what Jews vote.

“We take results in areas where there’s a big Jewish community, and analyse the figures. It’s not scientific but we realised that in Jewish neighbourhoods people voted much less for Le Pen,” said Zerbib, who has always refused to invite Le Pen to his station. “It may seem strange as journalists, but we also have a responsibility.”

The exact figures are difficult to know, but Michel Thooris himself admitted some people are still repelled by the extremist party.

“We run for Le Pen not for the National Front. It’s a way to catch some votes wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.” Like many Le Pen supporters, Thooris says he’s not certain to vote for Sarkozy in the runoff and hopes Sarkozy’s party would collapse after the election. “Hollande and Sarkozy are the same. They’re for Catherin Ashton’s Europe,” he added.



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