Marine Le Pen: A frenemy almost worth supporting!

Only days away from the first round of the French Presidential elections, the usual choice of candidates spreads across the political spectrum from extreme right to extreme left. France seems disillusioned with the last Hollande five-year term. The country is a very unique blend of cultures that have never integrated very well in the French republic. France is both the country with the most Jewish people after Israel and the USA (500,000), as well as the largest Muslim community of Europe(5 to 6,000.000.)

France is also not immune to the current refugee crisis that has plagued much of Eastern and Western Europe in the last two years. The open borders of Europe according to the Schengen Agreement are making things hard if not impossible to manage. The governments of Germany and Sweden are struggling to maintain order in the midst of a constant flow of un-vetted and unmanageable migrants. It is impossible to assess how many refugees come through these countries and even harder to keep track of those who just pass through to land into another European country, not to mention those who adhere to an agenda of terror.

Few are those in Europe who are bold enough to speak-up, as if The Old Europe was resigned to no longer fight for freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press. Cultural euthanasia seems to be looming over parts of Europe, so it is not unreasonable for people to look for candidates with an agenda focused on the national security of France. Enter Marine Le Pen!

The "Front National" party (FN) has been somewhat of a thorn in the flesh of France since its founding in 1972 by Marine's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. It is a far-right populist party with anti-immigration, euro-sceptic and antisemitic views. Jean-Marie Le Pen was fined several times for saying that the Holocaust was a"detail of history." He also claimed that the Vichy government run by Maréchal Pétain during the Second World War was not inhumane in its help provided to round-up over 78,000 Jews out of France. In spite of all this, he actually made the elections run-off in 2002.

In 2011, After he had promised to retire, Jean-Marie was replaced by his daughter Marine at the head of the party. She immediately started to work on changing the xenophobic image of the FN in an effort to gain more popularity amidst the French voting bloc. Politically, France had always been characterized by a right/left polarization usually leading to alternating power every presidential election. Marine's desire to put the FN on the French political map was somewhat successful. In the 2012 presidential election, she garnered 18% of the French vote which was the most the FN ever got. Then in 2014, during the European Parliament elections, the FN got 22 of France's 74 seats at the European Parliament. Then, in August 2015, Marine Le Pen expelled her father from the FN altogether.

Many people in France are actually anxious about the outcome of the 2017 elections. The FN current agenda is attractive to many because of its push on ending immigration, fighting Radical Islam, and even pull France out of Europe in a Brexit style move. Marine Le Pen vows to reinstate and close French borders if elected. What 's wrong with such an idea? The last few years have seen France be the victim of several major terrorist attacks resulting in over 230 deaths. Promises were made by François Hollande to fight terrorism and antisemitism but in the end, very little was accomplished. Nobody knows where, when or even how the Islamic State will strike next.

Le Pen promises to keep France safe, keep it French and keep it going. She is currently neck-to-neck with Center-Left Emmanuel Macron. She insists that Jewish people should have nothing to fear if she is the next president. There are actually some Jewish people who believe that she would lead France in the right direction, and like them, I believe that she has something good to offer. Yet, the image that she has been working so hard at re-creating in the last decade might turn out to be a very thin veneer. Her true colors are not deep under that veneer.

She recently stated that France shouldn't be held responsible for the Vel d'Hiv roundup and the French Militia that fed Hitler and the Nazis almost 80,000 Jews. She tried to back pedal, but it was too late and the memories of Jean Marie Le Pen's antisemitic remarks of yesteryear were back haunting France and its Jewish community. How can one say that France was not involved in the Vel d'Hiv roundup? Saying that the French government was in exile in London is accurate, yet there were plenty of French officials and sympathizers who stayed behind and became some of Hitler's willing perpetrators at worst or detached bystanders at best. Even if most of France was made of bystanders during WWII, they greatly facilitated the work of Hitler's willing murderers.

Marine Le Pen might make it through the first round of the elections on April 23, and possibly with votes from French Jewry. If she wins–and it is unlikely– France might benefit from some of her policies. Then again, Donald Trump won against all odds. While I am not comparing his administration to that of a Front National government, Marine Le Pen could win in the biggest upset in French history. Unfortunately, I am not convinced that Jewish people would become safer in France under a Le Pen administration.

Don't ban the kippah, but let's think twice before wearing it!

It was an outrage but not much of a surprise when French extreme right Front National leader Marine Le Pen announced this week that France should pass a law to ban the wearing of the kippah (Jewish skullcap.) In her defense, her position on the wearing of religious symbols doesn't only include the kippah. She is also in favor of banning the hijab and veils. France did pass a law in 2011 to ban the burqua and hijab in public. It is also unlawful to wear a kippah or burqua on public school property. Additionally, the recent attempt by some French mayors at banning the wearing "burkinis" on French beaches was also very controversial.

Miss Le Pen says that she speaks in the name of equality. She claims that to be fair, if the Muslim covering is banned, the Jewish covering must be banned as well. She also says that she has no issue with kippot but that we must be "fair" by banning both. One can appreciate Miss Le Pen's apparent  desire to be balanced, but I don't think that her comparison between Muslim and Jewish religious symbol is a fair assessment of the problem at hand. Marine Le Pen still carries with her some of her father's racist and antisemitic baggage. It has been rebranded in a postmodern, social justice infused package, but it is still racism.  Additionally, there are valid reasons to ban some of the most extreme Muslim garb.

Needless to say that the reaction from the French government was quite negative, across the whole political spectrum. The Jewish community also reacted very strongly. Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt (head of the Conference of European Rabbis) said that Le Pen's proposal, “takes us straight back to the times of state-sponsored anti-Semitism under the Vichy regime.” I couldn't agree more!

Yet, Le Pen is experiencing a bittersweet relationship with some of the French Jewish community. Some Jewish people are actually considering voting for her in the next presidential elections. The wave of migrants into France and much of Europe as well as France's Muslim community–the largest in Europe with between 6 and 7 million–are making French Jews feeling increasingly insecure. Charlie Hebdo, the Kosher Market and the Bataclan Club are just a few examples of the frailty of France when it comes to protect her citizens, let alone her Jewish community. But Le Pen is a political time bomb that could detonate onto the Jewish community in ways that nobody would have expected prior to the elections. French Jews have no business even considering Le Pen in the next presidential elections.

Her desire to pas a law to ban the kippah is in line with her party's xenophobic tendencies and should be denounced. This being said, and the kippah remaining a choice for each and every Jew to wear in public, we should exercise caution. The French government has recently advised religious Jews not to wear a kippah in public or to cover it with another hat, and that is very wise. It is sad to have to hide religious symbols, but there are areas of Paris and other large French cities like Marseille where wearing a kippah is simply dangerous.

In the current France of 2016, the reality is that the Jewish community is shrinking. Aliyah to Israel was the highest in 30 years in 2014 and 2015. French Jews are scared to go out in some areas, or even to walk to synagogue or Jewish schools. Their fears are very justified. France lost about 50,000 Jews to Israel in the last 16 years. That is about 10% of the total 500,000 Jews of France (still the third largest Jewish community after Israel and the USA.) At this rate, France will lose its Jewish community and its third place in world Jewry within less than 20 years.

The banning of the Muslim head garb never was as result of Islamophobia. While there might be some people who hate Muslims and/or Arabs (and I am not one of them), the honest reason behind the banning of Muslim religious symbols was and continues to be security. Proper identification cannot be performed if one's head is entirely covered. If the Muslim community feels unjustifiably targeted, maybe they should bring their grievances to the imams and radical Islamic leaders who support and promote radical apocalyptic Islam. Islam's reputation has definitely been stained by Islamic terrorism and the Islamic State. But please do not put the veils and the kippot on equal footing!

If Miss Le Pen was truly a proponent of the French "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" motto, she would leave the kippah alone and allow Jews to use common sense in wearing it in public. I am afraid that the France she seeks is a France without Arabs, without blacks and without Jews. This would indeed look like "Vichy Regime 2.0" Even if the current government strongly rebuked Miss Le Pen, it remains to be seen if the rest of more liberal and humanistic France will brush her off as a xenophobic fringe politician or if they will carry her further in a position of power. French Jews have enough on their plate as it stands!