Voice of the Jewish News: Relief in France, but it won’t last long

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Voice of the Jewish News: Relief in France, but it won’t last long

Marine le Pen won more votes in Sunday's election than any far right leader in modern French history. There's plenty to be concerned about.

Marine le Pen, leader of France's far right National Rally party
Marine le Pen

Relief is a good first reaction. Concern should be the second.

It is indisputably good news for Jews and for democratic-minded Europeans everywhere that Emmanuel Macron has prevailed.

voiceThe French president overcame fears of a Brexit-style nailbiter outcome to defeat his far-right opponent by a wider margin in Sunday’s election than many opinion polls predicted. Everyone can relax.

But just for a short while. It was never only the risk of Marine le Pen becoming the country’s first extremist leader since Vichy France that alarmed so many of us, including this newspaper.

Her divisive, populist ideology threatens our way of life in many other ways. It’s worth dwelling on just three of them as we light our candles this Friday night.

The first is the immediate risk to France. Le Pen did lose, yes, but with a higher share of the vote for the far right than ever before. That could lead to sweeping gains when French people pick the new members of the National Assembly.

There isn’t a prospect — yet — of the former National Front winning enough seats to seize power, but it could become a much larger, louder minority. Those elections are barely six weeks away.

Second, this campaign has made clear that the far right is now large enough to sustain itself without being tied to a single leader. We don’t know if Sunday will prove to be Marine le Pen’s last election; she has vowed to fight on, but others are vying for her mantle.

Chief among them today is Eric Zemmour, a rival candidate descended from French Algerian Jews who has shown it is possible to be even more extreme than Le Pen and still attract millions of votes.

Another to watch is le Pen’s niece Marion Maréchal, who recently joined Zemmour’s party and — aged just 32 — has the potential to attract a younger generation. Make no mistake: the far right is growing.

Third, that rise is not limited to France. From Hungary and Poland to Germany and Spain, far right populism remains a powerful voice in particular for less affluent voters who feel abandoned by the traditional forces that governed Europe since the Second World War.

It makes an easy narrative to blame a race, or a religion for their troubles. But as Jews everywhere know, the path traced by unchecked populists can end in calamity.

We can never rest easy for long.

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