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NEW YORK—Assuring that he had no intent of exerting undue influence on the French Jewish community’s vote in the upcoming presidential election, Dr. Richard Prasquier, president of the Conseil Representatif des Institutions Juives de France (CRIF), indicated his clear concern about the direction a France led by Socialist candidate Francois Hollande might take.
CRIF is a body similar to the ConferenceofPresidentsof Major American Jewish Organizations. On his way to Washington to meet with U.S. congressional legislators and American Jewish leaders, Prasquier discussed the Jewish community’s status, its need for heightened security, and his position concerning the upcoming French election at a press conference at the French Consulate in New York City on Monday.
He assured reporters that his trip was not prompted by the recent tragedy in Toulouse, and responded to questions focused on the position of the Jewish community in the upcoming French presidential election.
Prasquier said he does not believe France is an anti-Semitic country. He said the way to prevent attacks—like Muslim extremist Mohammed Merah’s March shooting of a rabbi and three children at the Otzar HaTorah Jewish school in Toulouse—is to increase security.
He said Jews in France “will vote mostly according to their interests—the interests they have for the economic issues.”
“There is a fear of unemployment—a fear [similar to that] in many countries,” said Prasquier. Returning to his position statement, Pasquier said, “I do regret that the economic issues were not treated as primary” in the initial campaign.
Prasquier, who made statements in an April 25 Haaretz column appearing to indicate his voting preference for incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy over Hollande said the column “should not to be construed as an endorsement.”
“The article did not state any interest,” Prasquier said. “It was not intended to give voting advice; I would never have done that… I have always been careful to remain neutral.”
Prasquier said he “wanted to give [Israelis] an idea of what are the fears and the wishes of the French Jewish community as I know them.” He was adamant that his remarks were “intended for an Israeli audience.”
Challenged that the CRIF representative might be placing a “gauze” over the real fears of the community, Prasquier was asked at what point is Jewish communal security not only warranted, but even demanded. Prasquier answered in a later conversation, saying France was “completely appalled by what happened in Toulouse.” He called the reaction of the presidential candidates “extraordinary,” saying that all the political contenders stopped their campaigns for two days.
Sarkozy “is a friend of the Jewish community,” said Pasquier. He remarked that “we do not expect any major change” in the attitude towards Israel after the election and the “need for the two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, no matter which candidate is successful.
Two candidates are now in contention for the French presidency—Hollande and Sarkozy—and throughout Pasquier’s briefing, concern over the position that might be taken by the Socialist candidate was clear. “The most problematic part,” said Pasquier, “is that the man who is in charge sets the policy in the French government. The President of the Republic is directly responsible for the majority of French policy decisions.”
Prasquier indicated that he believed a Hollande government would allow far more influence by left-leaning parties, including those holding strong anti-Israel positions. He said, “We do expect that people in the party who may be partners in the coalition are not friends of Israel. Our concern is with those parties with which we could not have relations, [being that] they are so adamant in their anti-Israel position, who may become part of the coalition.”
The Jewish community in France, while significant in influence, is in actual numbers far smaller than the growing Arab and Muslim populations. “Fortunately, there are not so many anti-Semites in French society,” said Pasquier.
“What I know is the new category of Jew bashing comes from the position of anti-Zionism, from those who stigmatize, [those] who vilify the State of Israel,” he said.
Pasquier stressed that the French president must recognize that “the narrative of the story of the Middle East is not saying [that] only the Israel-Palestine conflict is responsible. Most conflicts in the Muslim world have no relation that conflict.”
Marine Le Pen, the far-right French presidential candidate of the National Front, received 18 percent of the vote to come in third in the April 22 first round. Sarkozy, of the Union for a Popular Movement party, trails Hollande by between 6 and 10 percent in various polls.
Asked by JointMedia News Service whether the growing influence of the far right in Hungary—voted for by 70 percent of the population in recent elections—could influence politics and policy in France, Pasquier became somewhat defensive. “We have nothing to do with Hungary,” he said. “Every country in Europe is seeing an increase in populist parties—most are far right.” He noted that Sarkozy had also taken a position against “uncontrolled immigration and illegal immigration.”
Some voices in the French Jewish community have suggested that a Jewish voice be heard in the National Front. Michel Thooris, who once worked for CRIF, is running for parliament as a member of the National Front. Thooris told Haaretz that “my belief is that it’s natural to turn to [Marine] Le Pen when you’re Jewish. She fights crime and Islamism and that means she defends Jews.”
“People’s attitudes have changed because the National Front has changed,” Thooris said, referring to the Le Pen family’s anti-Semitic past. “Marine Le Pen expressed her horror at the Holocaust. Jews know that.”
The specter of the tragedy in Toulouse was active in the room on Monday. Questioned about the murders, Prasquier said all of France should be responsible. “I do not see any possibility of preventing another action of this kind without increasing security,” he said.
“There is a small minority who are potential murderers,” Prasquier said. “We know that they are not alone. We know that there are those who indoctrinate a small minority and may lead to terrible consequences.”
“[Merah] was not a crazy man,” he continued. “He was an indoctrinated man, indoctrinated by hate ideology… an indoctrinated jihadist. When you have a man able to hold a child by the hair and to murder her by a bullet at the temple, this means that this man is totally indoctrinated.”
Pasquier add that, “It’s not a question of reaching out. We are trying to reach out as much as possible to the Muslim community. We should not mix up the Muslim community with the awful deeds of this murderer.”