(JTA) – A spokesperson for François Fillon, a leading contender in the upcoming French presidential election, sought to soften the candidate’s claim that Jews in the past did not respect French law.
Jérôme Chartier said Wednesday that criticism of Fillon was “a misunderstanding” of the candidate’s attempt to note all religions have extremists.
“François Fillon is very clear on the fact that there may occur in all religious groups sectarian streams,” Chartier said. “They exist, everybody knows it. But at the same time he has always appreciated the integration of Jews in France.”
Chartier added, “The Jews of France are French like the Christians of France are French and the Muslims of France are French, except for those who partake in Islamic sectarianism, in Islamic totalitarianism, which needs to be fought against.
Chartier’s statement came after Fillon said earlier Wednesday that France must combat Muslim sectarianism like “we fought against a form of Catholic sectarianism or like we fought the desire of Jews to live in a community that does not respect the laws of the French Republic.”
Rabbi Haim Korsia, the chief rabbi of France, called on Fillon to set the record straight, the rabbi’s office said in a statement.
Korsia “underlined that any communal insularism that might have existed in the past was neither the result of any action nor the expression of any choice by Jewish citizens, but the consequence of their non-acceptance” by non-Jewish Frenchmen.
On Monday, Fillon knocked out former president Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of primary voting for the Republicans party. He will next face off against another former prime minister, Alain Juppe, in the second round of primaries next week. The first round of the general election is scheduled for April, 2017.
CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jews, addressed Fillon’s comments indirectly on the group’s Twitter account.
“The law of the land is the law – a Talmudic saying which requires Jews since antiquity to respect the laws of the land where they live,” the group tweeted shortly after the airing of the interview.
The winner of the second round of the Republicans primary is widely believed to be in a favorable position to win the French presidency. The Republicans is the new name of the centre-right UMP party of former presidents Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac.
Polls predict that President François Hollande, a Socialist, will receive 18 per cent of the vote – seven to eight per cent less than Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front party.