An increasing number of French Jews are turning to Marine Le Pen’s Front National, despite the party’s past reputation for anti-Semitism, as they now see Muslims as a bigger threat.
Roger Cukierman, the Chairman of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions, said the party was no longer violent and that its current leader had never used anti-Semitic language, The Times reports.
The statement comes as at least 14 percent of France’s half a million Jews look set to support Mrs Le Pen in the country’s Presidential elections in 2017.
The feisty blonde daughter of Jean-Marie has been consistently rising in national polling, but has seen a surge of support following the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket terrorist attacks earlier this year which left 20 dead.
Many Jews now see second and third generation Muslim immigrants, rather than the far-right, as the biggest threat to their community’s safety.
“The National Front is a party for which I would never vote but it’s a party which today doesn’t commit violent acts. Let’s be clear: all the violence [against Jews] is now committed by young Muslims,” Mr Cukierman said.
His comments sparked a row among French Jews, some of whom see the Le Pen family as political descendants of the Vichy regime which collaborated with the Nazis following the occupation in 1940.
Serge Klarsfeld, the celebrated French Nazi-hunter, whose father was among the 75,000 Jews deported from France to the death camps in the East, remains sceptical of the party.
“Ms Le Pen has not broken ties with her father,” he said. “She leads the National Front, whose debts include the anti-Semitic positions of her father, who is [its] honorary President.”
Jean-Marie Le Pen has a history of anti-Semitism and justifying war crimes as well as defending the Vichy regime, and while his daughter has firmly moved the party away from such a position, she has not explicitly spoken out against her father’s position or previous policies.
Instead she has shifted the focus of the party onto the danger of Muslim immigration, which France has been concerned about for many years, and was a key decision maker in the 2005 referendum on the European Constitution which supported Turkish entry.
Polling suggests the party is now making inroads into the Jewish vote, with data from the 2012 presidential elections suggesting that 13.5 percent of Jews voted for Mrs Le Pen compared with 17.9 percent of the population as a whole. This is a huge leap from when her father ran in 2007, scoring only 4.4 per cent of the Jewish vote.
She is currently topping the polls and is far less tolerant of attacks on the Jewish community than her more centrist rivals; a point underlined by Mr Cukierman when he said: “She has never made anti-Semitic comments, I have nothing for which to reproach her personally.”
In contrast, an FN candidate in next month’s local elections took to twitter to describe Islam as “The bubonic plague of the 21st century…to be fought, to be eliminated without hestiation by all possible means.”
Le Pen said the candidate Chantal Clamer, who is standing in the South of France, went too far, but refused to suspend her from the party or force her to step down as a candidate.
Commentators say Mrs Le Pen is likely to make further inroads in her attempts to woo Jewish voters amid concerns over anti-Semitic violence. However, despite his positive words for its leader, Mr Cukierman qualified his statements, saying: “I think we are all conscious in the Jewish world…that for us the National Front is a party to avoid.”
At least 7,000 Jews emigrated from France to Israel last year, more than twice the number for 2013. It is estimated that around 10,000 will make the same decision in 2015.