Macron and His French Jewish Supporters May Be on a Collision Course
May 8, 2017
Jews may have voted en masse for Emmanuel Macron in the final round of
France’s presidential elections, but that doesn’t make him their dream
many other supporters of the 39-year-old former investment banker, who on Sunday
became the youngest French president in recent history, Jews voted for Macron mainly
to block his far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen. The centrist won with
65 percent of the vote to 34 percent for Le Pen.
of French Jewry said
they were relieved and even “happy” to see Macron elected — but the
honeymoon may be short lived.
self-declared progressive with a foreign policy rooted in human rights, Macron
even during the campaign demonstrated that like his Socialist predecessor,
Francois Hollande, he is willing to clash over Israel and Islamism with the
conservative and pro-Israel mainstream of French Jewry.
be sure, the youthful-looking Macron has charmed many voters, Jews and
otherwise, on his own merits. He is known for an energetic oratory style, a
profound understanding of finance and a passion for inter-European
cooperation, and he promises to heal France’s deeply divided society by
building a post-partisan consensus based on tolerance.
good looks, coupled with his apparent devotion to his wife – his former
high school teacher, who is 24 years his senior – have endeared him
to women especially, according to
in a town hall meeting on March 22 with hundreds of Jewish voters Macron,
an independent politician who had served for two years as Hollande’s industry
minister, showed why he and the Jewish mainstream may be on a collision course
over Israel and Muslim extremism.
the first 90 minutes of the meeting, sponsored by the the CRIF Jewish
federation, Macron discussed his economic vision lucidly and in great detail.
Juggling data and well-chosen anecdotes, he was clearly in his element as he
explained his support for free-market labor reforms, greater cooperation with
Germany and no new taxes on corporations’ revenue-producing capital.
then he turned to foreign policy — a weaker subject for the wunderkind
who became the first candidate in decades to win a presidential election in
France without the support of its main political parties.
policy is to continue the current line of French diplomacy,” Macron told the
crowd of 700.
his evident surprise, the promise of continuity did not sit well with his
listeners, whose hisses and booing forced him to pause.
no?” he mumbled in surprise when the booing started. “Perhaps it’s not
your policy, but it is mine,” he said in the unapologetic style that helped
him through debates with more seasoned speakers, including former Prime Minister Francois
Fillon of The Republicans and the fiery far-left candidate, Jean-Luc
attempts to appease the audience by proclaiming his attachment to Israel’s
security “as well as to the two-state solution” did not seem to have a
particularly mollifying effect.
unwittingly, he touched one of the raw nerves of French Jewry under Hollande,
who has led a firm line — and according to some critics at times even a
hostile one – on Israel.
of French Jewry were especially angry when France voted last year in
favor of at least two resolutions by UNESCO, the cultural body of the United
Nations, that ignored Judaism’s attachment to Jerusalem. Unusually, the
country’s chief rabbi, Haim Korsia, issued a
written condemnation of the votes.
condemned France’s failed bid earlier this year to stage a Middle East peace
conference in Paris without Israel’s support. Hollande said France was
organizing the conference out of a commitment to peace and as a “friend of
Israel,” but CRIF President Francis Kalifat clearly had his doubts.
pretend to be Israel’s friend, but there is no such thing as friendship: There
are proofs of friendship,” Kalifat said at a protest rally in January against
the summit in front of Israel’s embassy in Paris.
refusal to attend the conference ultimately led the Palestinians to pull out.
CRIF called the ensuing summit a “grotesque” event in light of
international inaction on the wholesale slaughter of civilians in Syria.
Jewry’s mainstream also objected to France’s leading role within the
European Union in singling out Israeli West Bank settlements and their products,
and to Socialist Party lawmakers who supported a unilateral declaration of
the town hall meeting, Macron said that like Hollande, he would recognize a
Palestinian state only after a negotiated settlement agreed upon by Israel and
there are fears that Macron’s tolerance-driven agenda is too accommodating to
Muslim fundamentalists. Many French Jews perceive Islamism as the main
threat facing their communities following a string of deadly jihadist attacks on
Jewish and non-Jewish targets.
platform, he speaks of “fighting with determination against all
radical streams that distort the values” of Islam. But whereas Le Pen and the
right-of-center Fillon proposed concrete punitive steps, including revoking the
French nationality of radicals and deporting them, Macron has remained vague,
proposing to conduct the fight by “helping French Muslims to achieve the
[restructuring] of their institutions.”
he was losing the audience’s affection, Macron told the CRIF crowd, “Hang
on, I can return to the UNESCO vote, which is a different matter.” He added:
“It’s a mistake and I condemn it.” But Macron also insisted that the
UNESCO vote was a technical glitch, provoking more dismissive boos and laughter
from dozens of listeners and an intervention by Kalifat.
but there were two votes, Mr. Macron,” Kalifat said. “They were definitely
also infuriated prominent members of the French Jewish community when he visited
a Holocaust monument during the last stretch of the campaign. Although the visit
was meant to draw a contrast with the Holocaust denial roots of Le Pen’s
party, the prominent French-Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut said
Macron’s actions turned the genocide into a “campaign argument.”
of their differences, Macron is nonetheless someone French Jews can respect,
according to Philippe Karsenty, a French Jewish politician and pro-Israel
activist who supported Fillon in the first round but switched to Macron against
disagree with him on many issue — Israel, his vision of French history,”
Karsenty told JTA. “I think he’s too naïve, like former U.S. President
Barack Obama or Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But his background is in
banking, in business. He’s accomplished. And he understands the power of