French voters moving on from Toulouse, but Jews can’t let go (TIMES OF ISRAEL) By CNAAN LIPHSHIZ 04/20/12)
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Jewish support for Sarkozy expected to surge after school shooting,
but non-Jewish voters focused on economic worries
PARIS (JTA) — If Isaac Sitrin is worried about being targeted by Jew-
hating thugs, then he is hiding it well.
After determining that a fellow train passenger is Jewish and willing
to lay tefillin, he ushers the passenger to the center of Gare du
Nord train station. Praying aloud, Sitrin performs the ritual
ceremony as his wife and daughters wait nearby.
“We feel safer now. [President] Nicolas Sarkozy put cops everywhere
and got the killer right away. Many Jews will vote for him after
Toulouse,” Sitrin says in reference to the slaying of a rabbi and
three children last month by a Muslim radical at a Jewish school.
Police killed the suspected murderer, Mohammad Merah, two days later
in a gunfight. And authorities upped security around Jewish
institutions, banned some radicals from entering France and made
dozens of arrests.
The Toulouse attack will have a “decisive effect” on how Jews vote in
France’s presidential election, says Michel Zerbib, news director at
Radio J, the French Jewish station. “We can expect even greater
Jewish support for Sarkozy than in 2007.”
Meanwhile, Zerbib says, the non-Jewish electorate has shifted its
attention to the central issue of the race: the French economy. “But
Jews see what happened as an existential threat,” he says. “They
cannot let go.”
Influential members of the French Jewish community praise Sarkozy,
leader of the center-right UMP party, for his performance. Yet many
feel let down by Sarkozy, once their undisputed favorite. Influential
French Jews balk at the Socialist attitude to “new anti-Semitism” and
harsh criticism of Israel, and say they have few alternatives to
That’s good news for the extreme right, now under softer leadership
and hungry for Jewish approval to upgrade its public image.
On April 2, the Jewish umbrella group CRIF organized a meeting in
Paris for the community with Pierre Moscovici, national secretary of
the Socialist Party and a campaign manager for Socialist presidential
hopeful Francois Hollande. Moscovici, a Pris-born Jew, says Hollande
is “friendly to Israel and strict but fair with its government — out
of commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state.”
“In addition, the Socialist Party has other rigorous men and women of
principle who are both friendly and demanding when it comes to
Israel. They firmly oppose anti-Semitism,” he says.
CRIF President Richard Prasquier believes “many Jews will vote for
the Socialists.” But opinion shapers and Jewish community leaders
also judge Hollande on the actions of some of his party members
before and after the Toulouse shooting.
“Hollande is seen as responsible for the left’s unwillingness to face
the new Muslim anti-Semitism in France,” Zerbib says — anti-Semitism
that leads extremists to stage reprisals on French Jews for Israeli
Professor Shmuel Trigano, an expert in French Jewry and lecturer at
Paris-Nanterre University, speaks of “a near total silence of the
Socialist Party on hundreds of anti-Semitic attacks” and complains
of “disproportionate criticism of Israel.”
In January, Socialist parliament member Jean Glavany wrote a
parliamentary report accusing Israel of “water apartheid” and theft
in the Palestinian territories. CRIF called the document biased.
Regardless of their misgivings about the Socialist Party, many Jews
are displeased with Sarkozy. The Cevipof study of Jewish voters shows
they are more disappointed in the president than is the general
In the past two years, Sarkozy’s approval rating has dropped 19
percentage points among Jews — from 62 percent in 2007-09 to 43
percent in 2009-11. Among non-Jews, Sarkozy’s popularity fell 14
points, to 32 percent in January. The study was based on a
questionnaire filled out by 173,000 French voters, including 1,000
who identified themselves as Jews.
“There isn’t a single candidate the Jews can wholly welcome,” says
Philippe Karsenty, a Jewish-French politician and media
analyst. “Sarkozy has some responsibility for what happened in
Toulouse because he let anti-Zionist propaganda of the French public
media outlets grow.”
Karsenty, who has long claimed that a France 2 television report on
the killing of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohammed al-Dura, in
Gaza in 2000 was doctored to blame his death on Israel, accuses
Sarkozy of “helping Al Jazeera spread the kind of radicalism that
caused the Toulouse massacre.”
Last year, the Al Jazeera network bought media rights from the Union
of European Football Associations to screen most championship soccer
matches in France. The deal came at the expense of the previous
rights owner, the French pay-television channel Canal+. The French
government has considerable clout over UEFA.
“The same imams Sarkozy banned deliver their message to France
through Al Jazeera in Arabic,” Karsenty says. “The French government
should not be encouraging that.”
Sarkozy has disappointed the French Jewish community in other ways,
too: the French vote in favor of Palestinian membership in UNESCO,
condemnations of Israeli settlements and when he called Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “liar.”
That disappointment may partly explain an apparent shift in how some
Jews view the National Front, France’s largest right-wing party. The
anti-Muslim party with a history of anti-Semitism is led by Marine Le
On March 27, the French branch of the Jewish Defense League publicly
expressed support for the National Front for the first time.
“An important National Front delegation visited the Grande Synagogue
de la Victoire in Toulouse,” the branch’s website said. “Bickering”
among Jewish institutions will “surely ensue.”
Founded in the 1970s by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, JDL is considered
a terrorist group in the U.S. but is legal in France. Amnon Cohen,
JDL’s Paris spokesman, says it has dozens of activists.
Cohen says the National Front “isn’t perfect but isn’t dangerous.
We’ll work with those willing to fight the Islamic threat.”
Since assuming the leadership of the National Front last year, Le Pen
has distanced herself from the anti-Semitic rhetoric of her father
and predecessor, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has called the Holocaust
a “detail in history” and been convicted several times in France for
Holocaust denial. He also said the German occupation of France
was “not particularly inhumane.”
Marine Le Pen, by contrast, has reached out to French Jews and
Israelis, describing them as “natural allies.” Even before that, in
2007, the National Front received nealy 5 percent of the Jewish vote.
Zerbib, the Jewish radio journalist, says the Toulouse shooting could
bring more Jews to vote Le Pen.
“They would be protest votes by Jews who feel abandoned,” he
says. “More Jews feel like that after Toulouse and they are seriously
thinking about emigrating to Israel.” (© 2012 THE TIMES OF ISRAEL
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