HOWARD EPSTEIN: FRENCH JEWS’ FEAR – LE PEN MAY BE MIGHTIER THAN THE WORD
You know how they say the world is composed of two kinds of people, those who believe the world is composed of two kinds of people and those who errr… well anyways, today we can safely assume that there are two kinds of French Jews: those who have undertaken Aliyah at a time of their own choosing, and those who fear that Marine Le Pen could win the second round of voting for the election of the next Président de la France. At one time, one could assume that the Front Nationale leader would be defeated in the second round run-off (as was the case 15 years ago for the founder of the party, Le Pen Père) and it is true that, after the first round, all the losers declared support for Emmanuel Macron, who beat Marine, Le Pen Fille, but, just as with Trump and Brexit, predictions are not worth the paper they are not word-processed on.
Marine knows this is her best shot at the presidency in years, past and future. Macron is something of an odd-ball, having married his former school-teacher, almost a quarter of a century his senior. Further, there are rumours about his sexual inclinations — not that matters of that sort have ever been an impediment to high office in France — and he was Minister of the Economy to the woebegone President Hollande from August 2014. One year later, he showed his over-weaningly ambitious disposition by leaving Hollande’s party. Eight months later he formed his own party: En March! (meaning “Forward!” or Kadimah!) and then ran for the highest office.
Macron’s greatest weaknesses are that he has no natural constituency in French politics (apart from the Trump/Brexit effect (his party being so new it lacks, well, members) and he used to work for Rothschild et Cie, the merchant bank most closely associated with the Jews, a point that has not gone unremarked in the French Press.
You can be quite sure that Mme Le Pen will resort to references to Macron’s lack of aversion to working for the Jews, as she will put it, however obliquely. After all, since the first round of voting she has sought to distance the French nation from any responsibility in the Holocaust. She claims that the Jews of Paris were rounded up and stuffed into the Vel’ d’Hiv (the notorious Vélodrome d’Hiver, cycle racing arena in Paris), until they were stuffed into cattle trucks, non-stop to Auschwitz by — well, not by the French. The true story was heartbreakingly rendered in the 2010 movie, Sarah’s Key, starring Kristin Scott Thomas and directed by the award-winning screen-writer Gilles Paquet-Brenner. You would have thought that he would have known better. He had the hapless Jews rounded up by French gendarmes. Such lack of research! Mme Le Pen could have told him, as she recently told the French nation, that it was the Germans, or perhaps the Nazis, whoever they were, who did it.
Well, we all know now, despite the years of seeking the Jewish vote (and reassuringly castigating Muslim immigrants), one thing for sure — just like a stick of rock confectionery, if you ran Marine through a CT scanner, the word “fascist” would appear in every slice.
She is wily, too. Since the first round, she has sought to distance herself from the Front Nationale by resigning as its leader. You and I may think that somewhat crass but Marine obviously thinks it is worth a few percentage points and she may be right. And she can build on this: since the first round, Macron’s trajectory has been down and hers has been up (see the Financial Times for April 28, 2017: https://ig.ft.com/sites/france-election/polls/) .
If she wins, it will be the biggest nightmare for French Jews (about 400,000 strong) in over 70 years. She has already stated (last February) that, if she is elected, French Jews will have to renounce their Israeli citizenship. What it means is that if you have undertaken Aliyah from France, there would be no return. It makes little practical sense, but is plain evidence as to how her mind works.
She also knows what Ben Gurion observed: that the French are the most anti-Semitic nation on earth, which is worth bearing in mind when you get desperate for votes. This observation about the French is partly based on the Vel’ d’iv nightmare, but in the context of the larger story which began with the trial of fast-rising and — unforgivably — Jewish, French Army General-Staff officer, Alfred Dreyfus, in 1894. You know the bulk of the story, but I shall speculate that you do not know the connection with Vel’ d’iv.
In my forthcoming book: Chaim Weizmann – the Indispensable Zionist, in order to show how Theodor Herzl became a Zionist alone and overnight, I refer to his covering the Dreyfus trial as a journalist, and standing amongst the Parisian crowd screaming “Death to the Jews” as Dreyfus was humiliated before them. I then tell (at greater length) the vignette of Lieutenant-Colonel Hubert-Joseph Henri, who was ultimately exposed as the traitor for whom Dreyfus did time (and lost his teeth, his health and almost everything else during his five years on Devil’s Island). After conviction, Henri was left in his prison cell with a bottle of rum and an open razor. He was found the next morning dead, with his throat cut. The Jews — several times removed from the grizzly scene and responsibility for it — were blamed for Henri’s death by the French nation, many of whom included in the envelopes with the letters of condolence for Mme Henri, gifts of money for the alleviation of her misery. Most of the letters were signed off with the words “Death to the Jews”. France had been split between the Dreyfusards and the anti-Dreyfusards and there was anti-Jewish rioting in 1898. Émile Zola left Paris for London and the Army fell from grace. All this led to the disestablishment of the (anti-Dreyfusard) Catholic Church and its hold over the French education system.
All the fault of the Jews, don’t you see? And the connection with the Vel’ d’Hiv? Pay-back for what the Jews did to the French Church, in the form of enthusiastic French officials — police and railway workers — rounding up and despatching the Parisian Jews to their gaseous asphyxiation in Poland. As Marine Le Pen well knows.
She has wrapped her canard in another vote-winner, too. As part of distancing herself from her fascist party, she has donned a Gaullist mantle declaring, as did General de Gaulle, that he, in exile in London, represented the true WWII French government, and not the fascist one in Vichy led by Pétain, doing or exceeding the bidding of the Germans, sorry Nazis. As Marine would have it, nothing that happened during the Occupation had anything to do with the French Nazi-collaborators, of course. How could it be? There were none. For the disreputable, a cloak of respectability. But a translucent one.
It’s vote-winner in nominally-Catholic and fascist-inclined France. And, all-in-all, the possibility of her being elected President means a nail-biting run up to May 7. We shall see whether Mme Len Pen is mightier than the word.
Theresa May would be happy with a Le Pen victory. Britain would no longer be the bad boy of Europe. Marine wants France out of the EU, too. What with stirrings of discontent in (anti-Semitic) Hungary and the ever-present risk of Greek fiscal meltdown, the Brits may have no-one left with whom to negotiate their exit. In that scenario, the exit with which our brethren in Neuilly-sur-Seine will be pre-occupied will be their own. It will be the return of the 1933 Berlin Question: when? When do we go?
At least today, there will be no need of a conference at Évian — yes, Évian, France — where in 1936, out of 32 participant nations, only the Dominican Republic (and later Costa Rica) offered to accept Jewish refugees, increasingly corralled against Hitler’s wall of death. Chaim Weizmann observed about Évian in The Manchester Guardian thus: “The world seemed to be divided into two parts – those places where the Jews could not live and those where they could not enter.”
Today, as everyone knows, the Jewish world is divided into two parts — those places from which Jews may have to leave sooner or later, and the State of Israel. Thanks to Chaim Weizmann.
© Howard Epstein – April 2017
Howard Epstein’s book: Weizmann – The Indispensable Zionist will be published in August.