French Jews Just Helped Vote Down Le Pen. Now They Have Another Fear Under Macron

Why Jewish voters in France say Macron's victory is a lot like 'choosing between the plague and cholera'

A French national living in Israel stands in front of a poster depicting Emmanuel Macron, a candidate in the 2017 French presidential election, at a polling station in Jerusalem May 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

Clients and personnel of France’s best known and archrival kosher falafel restaurants cheered together when they discovered Emmanuel Macron was elected president.

“5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Yeeees!” shouted people in the Mi-Va-Mi restaurant while watching the giant screen set up on top of the Ace of Falafel’s front entrance, across the narrow street. “More than 65%!” said personnel members, a mix of waitresses and cooks of Jewish and foreign descent, comforted by Macron’s higher-than-expected result.

In Paris’s historic Jewish quarter Rosiers St. most people seemed relieved although not thrilled.

>> Le Pen may have lost, but the fight is far from over | Macron’s triumph stops the march of malice | Stop talking terrorism and four other lessons Macron can teach politicians everywhere <<

“Macron was the best choice we had. His program isn’t good, he’s definitely not a statesman but he seems smart enough to make crucial decisions when necessary,” said Guillaume.

French president-elect Emmanuel Macron greets supporters in front of the Pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris on May 7, 2017, after the second round of the French presidential election.
THOMAS SAMSON/AFP

“We didn’t really have a choice now did we?” said Murciano’s chief baker. “Macron was facing Le Pen so I didn’t hesitate to vote for him and my clients told me similar things. But many complained that we had to choose between plague and cholera, meaning both options were bad.”

The expression came up repeatedly throughout the week in the Jewish community, at times dividing families and friends, even more than in previous elections. Though the far right candidate is seen as harmful to Jews and other minorities, Macron’s plan to fight terrorism and increase security were considered weak.

“We had to vote for Macron. What other choice did we have as Jews?” said Dan walking with his family and his friend, Mendel.

“I disagree,” Mendel chimed in. “Both candidates had bad and good aspects. Le Pen could have brought some control over illegal immigration and she could have brought more security. Security is important too! So I abstained.”

In this Jan. 13, 2015 file photo, French soldiers patrol next to a Jewish school, in Paris.  If far-right candidate Marine Le Pen wins upcoming presidential election, she plans to ban religious symbols from French streets, which would impact on  Jews who would no longer be allowed to wear their kippa head-coverings, and Muslims who would no longer be allowed to wear headscarfs in public which may dramatically alter the country's urban landscape. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)
Thibault Camus/AP

The vote comes as the Jewish community reels from the news of a suspected anti-Semitic murder of  a Jewish women in April. Gruesome new details of the death of Sarah Halim in her Paris apartment emerged in the local Jewish press and appear to support suspicions she was murdered because of her religion; a case that was downplayed on national media and that Jewish voters have often alluded to in recent days.

Congratulating Macron for his victory Jewish community leader Joel Mergui urged the president-elect to tackle terrorism.

“In the name of all the Jewish communities who have supported him and mobilized in his favor, I wish him success in his difficult task of leading a new spirit of Resistance. He has to address many challenges that we are all facing: and the first one of them is the fight on terrorism and all those who back it,” wrote Mergui.  

In his own message of congratulations, France’s Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia called on Macron to unite the country.

“Knowing that so many voters turned to the National Front’s candidate I call on all political leaders to take their anger and shouts of despair into serious consideration by adapting their political platforms to regain the support and enthusiasm of the people before the upcoming legislative elections.”

National turnout in the second round was the lowest in 48 years, according to French media. And many voters chose blank ballots, which are not included in the abstention figure.

After the result of her defeat came in, Marine Le Pen said her party now represents France’s biggest opposition power.