Israel’s French community on Friday reacted with dismay and defiance after far-right leader Marine Le Pen said Jews would be forced to choose between Israeli and French citizenship should she become president.
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Many French Jews who have immigrated to Israel told Haaretz that in such a case they would choose to remain citizens of the Jewish state, but said they fear for the physical and financial safety of those who continue to live in France or who travel between the two countries.
“My choice is made, I would remain Israeli, because Le Pen’s behavior is truly fascist,” said Agnes Hanna Goldman, a 60-year-old who works in public relations and movie production and is in the process of moving to Tel Aviv.
The National Front party leader, one of the front-runners ahead of the April 23 French presidential elections, told France 2 TV on Thursday that if elected she would not allow French citizens to hold passports from non-European nations. When asked about France’s large Jewish community, Le Pen said French-Israeli dual citizenship would not be allowed.
“I am convinced that Le Pen will win, I have feared this for a long time and that’s why I chose to leave France,” says Nathalie, a fashion industry worker who moved to Israel four years ago and lives in Ashdod.
Nathalie, who asked that her last name not be used, said that many French immigrants struggle to find jobs in Israel, due to language difficulties and other barriers, so they continue to depend on income they receive in France.
“It will be a difficult decision for all French-Israelis, but especially for those who live and work between the two countries or receive French pensions,” she told Haaretz in a telephone interview.
One of those at risk would be Alain, a 70-year-old Parisian who has lived in Tel Aviv since 2014.
“It would be a catastrophe because I rely on my French pension to live,” said Alain, who added that he would still choose to remain an Israeli citizen.
Alain, who also asked that his last name not be published, said that Le Pen’s proposal is at odds with her stated desire to distance herself from the controversial, often openly anti-Semitic, views of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the National Front.
Alain said Le Pen’s idea reminds him of how, during World War II, the Nazi collaborators of the Vichy government stripped many Jews, including his Polish-born parents, of their French citizenship.
“So when Marine Le Pen says she does not want to apply the fascist ideas of her father, she is lying,” he said.
With her proposed ban on dual citizenship, Le Pen may have shown her true colors and damaged her chances of capturing part of the Jewish vote in the elections despite her promises to fight radical Islamists, said Illana Attali, a 32-year-old French-born PhD student at Tel Aviv University.
“It’s pretty common today to hear Jewish people saying they would vote for her,” Attali said. “Maybe this will discourage them."
Le Pen’s proposal is an “attack on our Jewish identity, because we see ourselves as connected to both France and Israel,” said Ariel Kandel, CEO of Qualita, an organization that represents and offers support to French immigrants in Israel. “We live in an age of complex identities, but Le Pen and her electorate don’t accept this: they want a homogenous France, they want everybody to be the same, so they say we have to choose between our Israeli and French identities.”
Kandel noted that a win for Le Pen, even if she does not move against holders of double citizenship, would push more Jews to immigrate to Israel, mainly because many of her policies aim to dismantle part of France’s social security system, which would hurt middle and lower class families.
Out of France’s nearly half a million Jews, some 20,000 have moved to Israel in the last three years, amid concerns over the economy and increased attacks by radical Islamists, Kandel said.
“In 2016 we saw a drop in those numbers, but the trend could quickly reverse if Le Pen wins,” he said. “Israel needs to be prepared for this.”