(JTA) – There is a “real danger” that France’s democracy will be destroyed by its next president, the leader of the country’s federation of Jewish communities warned ahead of the elections.
Francis Kalifat, the president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, sounded the alarm during an interview Friday with the RJC Jewish radio station ahead of the first round Sunday of the presidential elections.
Polls show Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, is in a tight race for the lead in the first round on April 23 with the centrist independent candidate Emmanuel Macron. They had 23.5 per cent of the vote each in an Ifop poll from April 19. The same poll had François Fillon, leader of The Republicans party, with 19.5 per cent of the vote followed by the communist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon. CRIF has flagged both Melenchon and Le Pen as “candidates of hatred.”
“We are in a real danger of seeing the arrival to power of someone who will only use democracy to destroy it,” Kalifat said. “We are in a state of total chaos. There is a real sense of urgency that all should be aware of us, and we should all assume our responsibility to go and vote to exclude these candidates, these parties of hate from reaching power.”
Marine Le Pen recently said France “was not responsible” for the murder of Jews whom French police helped round up for the Nazis. She has also vowed to ban kippahs and the right of French citizens to have an Israeli passport – prohibitions she said were necessary to enforce similar limitations on Muslims.
She has however softened the National Front’s image since taking over in 2011 the leadership from her father, the party’s founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is a Holocaust denier and inciter of racial hate against Jews.
Jewish support for National Front rose from negligible levels under Jean Marie Le Pen to 13.5 per cent in 2012, according to a poll.
Kalifat in the interview flagged the rise in support for National Front by Jews who fear Islamists as particularly worrisome.
“I am deeply concerned. I see the polls but I also hear the discussions of people around me who say, ‘why not give him – or her – a chance, perhaps she has the solution,” Kalifat said. “But the enemies of our enemies are not our friends, not this time.”
But Kalifat did not single out Le Pen outright, referring to “dangerous candidates” in a reference to Melenchon.
During a speech about Israel and French Jews in 2014, Melenchon said: “We do not believe that any people is superior to another,” adding: “France is the opposite of aggressive communities that lecture to the rest of country.”
A supporter of a blanket boycott of the Jewish state, in 2014 he praised participants of violent protests against Israel, calling their behaviour exemplary despite the fact that some of them tried to burn down several synagogues. He condemned French Jews who demonstrated peacefully in support of Israel, suggesting their actions were tantamount to taking up arms “for a foreign country.”