In January, the 82 year old neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen resigned as leader of the far rightist National Front party and was succeeded by his youngest daughter Marine. At the beginning of March, the French political system underwent a major shock. A Louis Harris poll showed that Marine Le Pen would score highest in the first round of the 2012 presidential elections. She would receive 23% of the votes as opposed to 21% each for President Nicolas Sarkozy of the right of center UMP and the socialist leader Martine Aubry.
This shock is not due to the fear that the younger Le Pen will become France’s president. This is highly unlikely. What caused it was that this would mean either Sarkozy or a socialist candidate would not be present in the second round of the election, as only the two candidates with the highest score in the first round participate. It reminded the French of April 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen confronted President Jacques Chirac in the second round of the presidential elections. Le Pen was heavily defeated and got only about 20% of the votes.
Another recent poll gave the largest number of votes in 2012 to Dominique Strauss Kahn, the socialist Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, who is Jewish. DSK, as he is commonly called, came ahead of Le Pen and Sarkozy. It is not clear though that he is willing to be a candidate.
A further shock for the UMP was the results of this week’s first round of local elections, in which the party barely preceded the National Front.
Opposition to immigrantsThe rise of both the extreme Right and populist parties in several European countries has one dominant driving force: Opposition to immigrants, mainly Muslims. Many millions of non-Western immigrants have been allowed into Western Europe in recent decades. In France they represent about 10% of a population of 65 million. The massive immigration process into Europe became possible due to a profound lack of understanding by governments of both their own nation’s culture and those of the immigrants.
The increased opposition against Muslims has two basic motives. One is xenophobia. In Europe there have been since time immemorial large numbers of citizens who were suspicious of, despised or hated “the other.” Nobody knows that better than the Jews, who were historically the quintessential outsider. Many founding fathers of European thought were anti-Semites.
The second motive is the behavior of part of the Muslim population. A substantial number of them do not want to integrate into the host societies, or are unwilling to make efforts to do so. There is not only a significant percentage of anti-Semites among them, but also of anti-white racists. This has been shown in an important book from 2003 with testimonies from teachers about racism in French schools, titled The Lost Territories of the Republic.
In this partly failed immigration process, French Jews were the indicators of things to come. There was a huge rise in anti-Semitic incidents at the beginning of this century, which was intentionally ignored by the then socialist government. The bureaucracy often classified anti-Semitic incidents as acts of hooliganism. Many North and West African immigrants who had seen the government’s lax reaction to the aggression of a weak community, the Jews, learned lessons from it. In autumn 2005, major riots took place. They targeted French society at large without specifically aiming at Jews. For a few days, the government lost control of the events.
Using Jews to gain legitimacyThe 350,000 French Jews are far less than one percent of the country’s population. Yet in recent decades, they have often been instruments in French politics. Now Marine Le Pen wants to use them in order to become acceptable to the French mainstream. Her father, a Holocaust denier, has been condemned for historical revisionism. The younger Le Pen, however, has distanced herself from his statements. She recognizes that the Holocaust has taken place. Still, the National Front has many anti-Semites among its members and adherents.
An important step for Marine Le Pen in gaining greater legitimacy as a democrat was supposed to be an invitation from Radio J, a Jewish radio station. However, it was cancelled due to heavy pressure from the Jewish community. One important opponent was Richard Prasquier, the President of the CRIF which is the umbrella body of French Jewish organizations. He said that Marine Le Pen “was more dangerous and smarter than her father.”
The National Front was a declining force under Jean-Marie Le Pen. Yet the present political climate in France is more favorable to the party’s ideas the way Marine Le Pen presents them. It is quite possible that she will reach a substantially higher percentage of the vote in the presidential elections than the 20% her father received in 2002.
If so, a second round runoff between refurbished far Rightist Le Pen and the presently most popular socialist candidate Strauss Kahn would be a serious possibility. France has never had a Jewish president, though it has had a number of Jewish prime ministers: Leon Blum, René Mayer and Pierre Mendès-France. Another one, Laurent Fabius, is the son of Jewish parents who converted to Catholicism during the Second World War. It would be a fascinating quirk of circumstances if in the second round of the 2012 presidential elections France will have the choice between a Jew and an extreme rightist. In that case DSK will most likely be the winner.
Manfred Gerstenfeld has published 19 books, several of which deal with European politics
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