Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's far-right National Front party, received unexpected support from an Israeli source this week, propelling the French politician to declare her presidential candidacy against President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Le Pen was one vote shy of the required 500 signatures enabling her to run for France's next president, when Sylvain Samchon, a Jerusalem resident with dual citizenship, decided to offer his John Hancock.
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Samchon, 66, has been living in Israel with his wife for the past 20 years. Until recently he served as the Israeli representative of Sarkozy's right-wing party, Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP).
After Samchon met with Le Pen in Paris last week, he decided to cross political lines and support Sarkozy's rival.
He said many Israelis with French citizenship plan to vote for Le Pen and passed this information to Le Pen, who he claims was surprised to learn of the support she has in Israel and expressed her desire to visit the country.
Samchon explained he chose to back Le Pen despite her family ascendancy. Her father is far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, convicted several times for inflammatory comments on race and World War II history.
"They are two separate people," Samchon claimed. "There is a lot of unjust prejudice about her and about her campaign. She's never made an anti-Semitic remark and has also confronted her father many times… She repeatedly said she doesn't agree with his opinions."
Samchon added his support of Le Pen was intended to preserve France's "democratic spirit." According to French law, anyone who wishes to run for president – can.
"If they wouldn't have allowed her to run it would have been a scandal. There are some eight million people in France that support her, and they shouldn't be taken out of the political-democratic game," he concluded.
Samchon explained he has no intention of supporting Sarkozy again. "He promised to take balanced political steps, but he took the Palestinians' side."
Lior Zilberstein contributed to this report
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