(JTA) – Leaders of French Jewry expressed relief at the defeat of the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the presidential election but concern that she received more than a third of the vote.
Le Pen, whom the chief rabbi of France and the CRIF umbrella of Jewish communities have decried as dangerous to democracy and minorities, received 34.2 per cent of the vote compared to the 65.8 per cent for the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, according to a report by Le Monde based on exit polls from Sunday’s final round of the elections.
“I am happy with the result of Emmanuel Macron being elected president, which constitutes a veritable relief for all our nation and for the Jewish community of France,” Joel Mergui, the president of the Consistoire, wrote Sunday evening in a statement by his group, which is responsible for providing religious services to Jews.
Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia, who is employed by the Consistoire, also spoke of his satisfaction from the vote. But in his statement, Korsia also referenced concerns over the support shown to Le Pen – a nationalist who seeks a ban on wearing Jewish and Muslim religious symbols in public, ritual slaughter and the provision of pork-free meals in school cafeterias.
The vote was the best electoral result ever obtained by her National Front party, which was established in the 1970s by her father, the Holocaust denier Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has multiple convictions for inciting racial hatred against Jews. He clinched 18 per cent of the vote in the 2002 presidential elections – the first time that National Front made it to the final round.
“Well aware that many voices have been raised in favor of the candidate of the National Front, the Chief Rabbi calls on all political leaders to take seriously the voters’ cry of despair and anger in order to review their platforms and to regain the enthusiasm and support of the citizens,” the statement by Korsia’s office read.
Francis Kalifat, president of CRIF, called the victory “incontestable” and congratulated Macron on it. “Everything starts right now,” Kalifat, who has lobbied intensively in favour of Macron in recent days, wrote optimistically on Twitter.
The president of European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, said in a statement: “We remain extremely concerned by the still large support for parties of the far right, not only in France but across Europe.” He also wrote in a statement that the result was “a victory against hate and extremism” by the French people.
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said in a statement that while Macron’s election is “extremely encouraging,” his group is “concerned that a third of the French population voted for a dangerous political leader.” This, he said, is part of a “worrying political landscape in Europe and the increase in far-right rhetoric which has swept the continent.”
Macron’s positions on Israel, its conflict with the Palestinians and the Middle East in general correspond with those of the government of France’s outgoing president, François Hollande, Macron told a predominantly Jewish crowd in March during a town hall meeting organized in Paris by CRIF.
Hollande is one of France’s least-popular presidents. Citing dismal approval ratings, he had withdrawn from the presidential race to better the chances of his party to remain in power.
The economic policies of Macron, a former banker who at 39 will be the youngest president in the history of the Fifth Republic of France, differ significantly from those of the Socialist Party. A believer in free-market economy, he is calling for an economic reform opposed by labor unions and advocates of France’s relatively generous welfare amenities.
This has alienated many left-wing voters in what could explain a historically low turnout in Sunday’s vote.
According to Le Monde, a quarter of registered voters did not show up to vote, making the turnout of 75 per cent the lowest recorded in any final round of the presidential elections since 1969.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not address National Front’s gains in the vote in a standard statement congratulating Macron. He said that one of the greatest threats facing Israel and France “is radical Islamic terror which has struck Paris, Jerusalem and so many other cities around the world,” adding he was sure the two countries “will continue to deepen our relations.”
U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated the “people of France on their successful presidential election.” Trump, who said last month Le Pen was “the strongest candidate on borders,” added: “We look forward to working with the new President and continuing our close cooperation with the French government.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also congratulated Macron on his victory.
“On behalf of the Government of Canada, I would like to congratulate Emmanuel Macron on his election as the next President of France,” said Trudeau in a statement.
“Canada and France share a warm and historic relationship, rooted in our common history, deep cultural ties, people-to-people connections, and strong economic partnership. We also closely collaborate on important international issues as strong allies and partners with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, G7, G20 and La Francophonie.
“I look forward to working closely with President-elect Macron in the years ahead as we work together on a progressive agenda to promote international security, increase collaboration in science and technology, and create good, middle class jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. This also includes implementing the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.”
The Ottawa Jewish Bulletin contributed to this report.