Let’s look at the French National Front (FN) as a case study of an “old far right” party that claims to have cut the ties with its historical anti-Semitism. A scenario in which a far rightist becomes president of France – home of the largest Jewish community in Europe – is well within the realm of possibility, and would have a serious impact on the Jewish European future. It is critical to interrogate the paradigm shift the FN’s new leader Marine Le Pen claims to have achieved. For the last four years, Le Pen has made a huge effort to distance herself from her father, Jean Marie Le Pen, and previous party leader known for his fascist and anti-Semitic sympathies. Certainly, she seems to not share her father’s distaste for Israel and the United States, but she is still a far cry from the neo-conservative mindset of the Dutch Geert Wilders with respect to the West’s shared existential struggle. Her central message remains “national preference” within France, Europe, and the world. Some far-right intellectuals and cultural elites in France and other countries with large Muslim populations, advocate supporting Israel as an embattled front line state against what they consider the threat of Islamist expansion. However, their voters – fed by centuries of Christian anti-Semitism – are likely to distrust the Jews they know and the Israeli Jews they hear about. The harsh media reports they consume about Israel’s so-called “crimes against humanity” resonate and jibe with their inherited anti-Jewish prejudices. And indeed, as shown in diagram 3, a large segment of FN’s constituency holds strong anti-Semitic beliefs.
Anti-Jewish attitudes among far-right supporters are concomitant with their anti-Muslim attitudes. If in the Fondapol mentioned survey, 99 percent of respondents agreed that “there are too many Muslims in France,” a much smaller number (38 vs. 16 percent in the general population) agreed that “they are too many Jews in France.” The political analyst Jean Yves Camus asserts that relations with Judaism and with Islam have become a point of conflict within the European far right, which is divided into three opposing ‘families.’12 In some countries, one trend is dominant, while in others, such as France and the United Kingdom, the three opposing strands coexist within the far right.
One considers Islam to be an ally in the fight against the West, which includes opposition to Israel and the Jews, who are seen as controlling U.S. policy – and that of other countries as well.13
Another strand is strongly Islamophobic and considers Israel and Diaspora Jews allies in the fight against the Islamization it alleges.
A third group thinks that the interests of both the Muslim world and of Israel/Judaism are alien to, and in conflict with, those of Europe.
If these parties were to hold political power, what would become of their attitudes toward Jews and Israel? Answering this question is not easy, especially with respect to protest parties that have never been in power. Mainly concerned with domestic issues, and interested in not alienating Jews, FN’s political leaders rarely mention the Middle East. In general, leaders of the populist parties who seek power keep a discrete profile on non-European controversies. When interviewed by the Israeli or Jewish media, they pledge protection of the citizenship rights of European Jews and express fair attitudes regarding Israel. Yet, a closer look at the FN’s platform reveals their plan to proscribe both the Islamic veil and the Jewish yarmulke in public spaces, and to prohibit both Jewish and Muslim slaughter. They also plan to stop all public funding of Muslim and Jewish institutions.
Let’s imagine for a moment that Marine Le Pen assumes power in the May 2017 French national elections. Her promises to abandon the euro and exit the EU, which seem, at least in the short term, like unrealizable fantasies, make it even more difficult to predict what her positions on other matters might be. However, she would likely be able to make good on some promises: to limit the immigration of non-Europeans; reinstall security barriers; control capital flows: and make the relocation of French companies abroad more difficult. A critical matter for French Jews will be her relations with Muslims; many Le Pen supporters expect her to force Islam to lower its profile. Could she accomplish that? After 20 years of presidential aspirations, would she risk the eruption of violent riots all over France? Financial experts claim that Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which have been heavily invested in French real estate for some time, are becoming key players in the French economy. French terror experts assert that hundreds of jihadists have returned to France from Syria, and that there are over 100 “no-go zones” police and firefighters will not enter, and which hold formidable arsenals ready to be deployed against the government. Moreover, as 40 percent of French soldiers are Muslims, mainly recruited from these neighborhoods, it will not be easy to enforce hardline policies to quell Muslim youth violence. Any political pact with the huge, resentful, and largely disaffected Muslim population, – especially in light of the massive Saudi and Qatari investments – would likely come at the expense of Jewish wellbeing.