French Jewish leader: Our country’s democracy is in ‘real danger’

(JTA) — There is a “real danger” that France’s democracy will be destroyed by its next president, the leader of the country’s federation of Jewish communities warned ahead of the elections.

Francis Kalifat, the president of the CRIF Jewish umbrella group, sounded the alarm during an interview Friday with the RJC Jewish radio station ahead of the first round of the presidential elections on Sunday.

Polls show Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, in a tight race for the top with the centrist independent candidate, Emmanuel Macron. Each candidate had 23.5 percent of the vote in an Ifop poll released Wednesday. The same poll had Francois Fillon, who heads The Republicans party, with 19.5 percent followed by the communist candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon. CRIF has flagged both Melenchon and Le Pen as “candidates of hatred.”

“We are in a real danger of seeing the arrival to power of someone who will only use democracy to destroy it,” Kalifat said. “We are in a state of total chaos. There is a real sense of urgency that all should be aware of, and we should all assume our responsibility to go and vote to exclude these candidates, these parties of hate from reaching power.”

Le Pen recently said France “was not responsible” for the murder of Jews whom French police helped round up for the Nazis. She has also vowed to ban kippahs and the right of French citizens to have an Israeli passport – prohibitions she said were necessary to enforce similar limitations on Muslims.

She has, however, softened the National Front’s image since taking over its leadership in 2011 from her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is a Holocaust denier and inciter of racial hate against Jews.

Jewish support for National Front rose from negligible levels under Jean Marie Le Pen to 13.5 percent in 2012, according to a poll.

Kalifat in the interview flagged the rise in support for National Front by Jews who fear Islamists as particularly worrisome.

“I am deeply concerned. I see the polls, but I also hear the discussions of people around me who say, ‘why not give him – or her – a chance, perhaps she has the solution,” Kalifat said. “But the enemies of our enemies are not our friends, not this time.”

But Kalifat did not single out Le Pen outright, referring to “dangerous candidates” in a reference to Melenchon.

During a speech about Israel and French Jews in 2014, Melenchon said: “We do not believe that any people is superior to another,” adding that “France is the opposite of aggressive communities that lecture to the rest of country.”

A supporter of a blanket boycott of the Jewish state, in 2014 he praised participants of violent protests against Israel, calling their behavior exemplary even though some of them tried to burn down several synagogues. Melenchon condemned French Jews who demonstrated peacefully in support of Israel, suggesting their actions were tantamount to taking up arms “for a foreign country.”

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