The people of Saturday and the French elections

Eighty years ago, a series of elections in the inter-war democratic Weimar Republic empowered extremist factions of right and left. Economic disaster, shattered national identity and racial scapegoating were to set the scene for dictatorship, war and genocide.

France is certainly no Weimar. Yet, at last week’s Presidential first round, some 11,000,000 French voters — almost a third of those casting a ballot — favored parties with a history and leadership that include anti-Semites, anti-Zionists or both.

Certainly, most had voted in protest at the mainstream candidates rather than in sympathy with extremist ideologies. Nevertheless, even a throwaway vote for radicalism can serve to whitewash its candidates, endowing respectability and eventually granting further entry into the power structure.

Certainly, there are figures in the mainstream parties considered unsavory by Jewish constituents, but their impact can be mitigated by party leadership condemnation, suspension or expulsion.

The National Front (NF) structure and retinue, despite its smiling reconstructionist face under Le Pen the daughter, remain intact. Tactical reformulation of ideological linguistics cannot efface its Dreyfusard, Action Directe, Vichy roots.

Their votes in the first round will carry consequences after the second-round runoff. Indeed, Marine Le Pen is, reportedly, encouraging supporters to vote Socialist in order devastate the center-right. The NF would then enter the conservative-nationalist vacuum in the “third round” June legislative elections. Next will come regional and local ballots granting responsibility for education, culture, youth and sports portfolios, and, eventually, election to the European Parliament to join brother parties of their ideological ilk.

The NF has sought Jewish support as a certificate of kashrut, and there are the “useful idiots” drawn to the anti-immigration/anti-Islam statements of the party. To paraphrase a Beirut newspaper headline during Lebanon’s 1970’s civil war, “first we kill the people of Sunday and then the people of Saturday.” In the French context, despite the troubled Jewish-Muslim relationship, Jews should realize that neo-fascism viscerally and strategically now targets first the people of Friday and then, inevitably, the people of Saturday.

The incumbent, President Nicolas Sarkozy, is well-known to the Jewish community; the Socialist leader, François Hollande, less so. The latter has made the right noises in condemning anti-Semitism and professing admiration of Israel.

There are among his cohorts those who would differ, and, reinforced by the entry of Trotskyites and Greens empowered in the first round, other very recent images come to mind. For instance, demonstrations in France and outside the anti-globalization World Social Forum in Brazil, India and its European satellites — where there is a disproportionately high French presence. I recall there the politically transvestite consortia of atheist Trotskyites, anarchists and Greens marching with Hezbollah banners, incongruously invoking “Allahu Aqbar”.

Recent polls have indicated among French Jewry an unprecedented consideration of emigration, many to Israel. If 11 million votes for radicals in the first round were a wake-up call, the political mortgages with those elements set for the second round may be the catalyst.

The late Simon Wiesenthal would often stress that “what begins with the Jews never ends with them. It becomes a scourge for all.” So it was with Nazism, so with terrorism. Certainly, the French election is not a Jewish concern, though Jews are concerned. The result, however, is of consequence for Europe and beyond.

About the Author
Shimon Samuels is Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He has served as Deputy Director of the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, European Director of ADL, and Israel Director of AJC. He was born in UK and studied in UK, Israel, U.S. and Japan.