Anti-Semitism fears stalk Jewish voters' choice in France

The snap polls have placed France's Jews in a delicate position (Ludovic MARIN)
The snap polls have placed France's Jews in a delicate position (Ludovic MARIN)

Left-leaning Jewish associations and individual voters in France are struggling to make a choice ahead of snap parliamentary polls, with the far right expected to make massive gains and the hard left mired in allegations of anti-Semitism.

For Jewish collective Golem, "the far right is the main danger threatening Jews and French society," its spokesman Lorenzo Leschi told AFP.

But "there is obviously a big anti-Semitism problem at France Unbowed" (LFI), the hard-left outfit whose ambivalent response to Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel left it temporarily shunned by other left parties, he added.

Three major blocs are competing for votes in the two-round ballot on June 30 and July 7: the far-right National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen, President Emmanuel Macron's centrist camp, and the left New Popular Front (NFP) alliance, of which LFI is the largest member.

It was "a total shame" for France's traditional left party of government, the much-weakened Socialist Party (PS), to ally with LFI, which "makes hatred of Jews its electoral stock in trade," the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (Crif) charged.

Raphael Glucksmann, who led the PS to an unexpectedly strong result at June 9 European elections, acknowledged to an anguished voter on a phone-in show last week that the alliance places "a very difficult choice before you" -- while insisting the far-right "threat" was "infinitely too great" to renounce working with LFI.

LFI itself has always strenuously denied allegations of anti-Semitism, and the left alliance programme includes a condemnation of Hamas's attacks and a plan to tackle Islamophobia and hatred of Jews.

- 'Erasing history' -

The hard left's campaign for June 9 European elections laid massive emphasis on stopping Israel's campaign in Gaza, while its leader Jean-Luc Melenchon claimed that France today suffered only "vestigial" anti-Semitism.

Such sorties angered many Jewish people in the face of a 300-percent year-on-year surge in anti-Semitic incidents in January-March in the wake of October 7 attack and Israel's reprisal in Gaza.

This week, two teenagers from a Paris suburb were charged with the rape and abuse of a 12-year-old Jewish girl, acts apparently motivated by anti-Semitism.

Melenchon -- a leading candidate for prime minister should the left score a majority -- posted on social media that he was "horrified" by the hate crime.

But the attack offered an opening for three-time presidential candidate Le Pen to blast "stigmatisation of Jews" by "the far left".

Le Pen's party was co-founded by a former member of the Nazi paramilitary Waffen-SS and long led by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who made repeated anti-Semitic remarks in public.

Since she took over, sidelining her father and renaming the outfit, she has attempted to win over potential Jewish voters, including with vocal support for Israel.

Historian Serge Klarsfeld, who has spent decades researching the Holocaust in German-occupied France, stunned the community on Saturday by saying he would vote for the RN over the left alliance if forced to choose in the July 7 run-off.

"My life rotates around defending Jewish memory, defending persecuted Jews, defending Israel," Klarsfeld said.

"I'm faced with a far left that's in the grip of LFI, which reeks of anti-Semitism and violent anti-Zionism," he added -- traits Klarsfeld believes the RN has "shed".

"Serge Klarsfeld is... worsening confusion and outdoing everyone in erasing history, which is part of the RN's ideological programme," philosopher Michele Cohen-Halimi, writer Francis Cohen and actor Leopold von Verschuer wrote in a joint op-ed in daily Le Monde Thursday.

The RN itself and its conservative allies withdrew support for two candidates Wednesday who had made anti-Semitic posts on social networks.

- 'Don't have the choice'  -

The election is 'totally weird' said comedian and activist against anti-Semitism Emmanuel Revah told AFP.

He is leaning towards voting for LFI because "the most important thing is beating the RN".

"It's very difficult, I'm rationalising by telling myself I'd rather vote for a candidate or a party that's just a little rather than completely anti-Semitic," he added.

"We don't have the choice, we're voting for any candidate against the RN," said Brigitte Stora, author of the book "Anti-Semitism: an intimate murder".

Once the parliamentary polls are over, though, "we have to take Melenchon and his little lieutenants out of the game," she added.