Jewish reaction was mixed to the election of the Socialist Party’s Francois Hollande as the president of France while Jewish leaders in Greece expressed concern and disappointment after the fascist Golden Dawn party was poised to enter the Greek parliament for the first time.
The European Jewish Congress congratulated Hollande, who was elected Sunday over Nicolas Sarkozy with 51.7 percent of the vote to 48.3 percent for the incumbent.
“Our recent meeting with Mr. Hollande was very constructive and touched on many areas of concern to the Jewish community,” EJC President Moshe Kantor said in a statement.
“I believe we have a sympathetic ear in the new French leadership and we look forward to continuing this relationship with the new president.”
Richard Prasquier, president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewry, told reporters Monday in New York that he was concerned that Hollande’s election would lead to a rise in the anti-Israel left.
“We know that some of the parties who are supposed to be partners of the coalition in favor of Francois Hollande are not friends of Israel. The part they will play we will see,” he said.
More than 92 percent of French nationals who voted in Sunday’s election at the French Embassy in Tel Aviv cast their ballot for Sarkozy, the center-left candidate, according to reports.
Israeli President Shimon Peres congratulated Hollande on his victory.
“On behalf of the Israeli nation, it is a pleasure for me to send my sincere congratulations on your election to the post of President of France. I am confident that under your leadership, the French people will look to the future with hope, security and a spirit of unity.”
Hollande became the first Socialist president of France in nearly two decades. Sarkozy, of the Union for a Popular Movement party, was considered the favored choice among French Jews.
Sarkozy, the ninth European leader to be ousted since the start of the continent’s debt crisis, conceded shortly after the polls closed, wishing his successor luck in handling difficult times in France and in Europe.
“Francois Hollande is the president of the republic; he must be respected,” Sarkozy said in a concession speech shortly after the polls closed.
Meanwhile, in Greece, Golden Dawn received nearly 7 percent of the vote as Greeks punished the mainstream parties they blame for the country’s financial crisis and accepting harsh European austerity measures.
“It is very disappointing that in a country like Greece, where so many were killed fighting the Germans, that a neo-Nazi party is now in parliament,” David Saltiel, president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, told JTA.
It was a major victory for Golden Dawn, whose flag closely resembles the Nazi swastika. In the 2009 elections, the party garnered just 0.29 percent of the vote. In Greece, a party needs more than 3 percent of the vote to make it into parliament.
According to the final results published Monday evening, Golden Dawn had 6.97 percent, which would give the party 21 seats in the 300-member parliament.
But with no party getting more than 20 percent, there are fears that the major parties will be unable to cobble together a coalition. The biggest party, the conservative New Democracy (18.85 percent), had three days to form a government. The runner-up Coalition of the Radical Left (16.78 percent) would get the next chance. If both fail, fresh elections will be called.
Saltiel said Golden Dawn entering the parliament was of “very great concern because they are extreme right,” but he expressed his hope that the party may now moderate its positions.
“We are looking at how the situation will be in parliament and what their positions will be,” he said.
Speaking to a news conference on Sunday, Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos warned Greece’s enemies inside and outside the country that they should be “very afraid.”
“We are coming,” said Michaloliakos, one of the party’s only nationally known leaders. He came to prominence when he won a seat on the Athens City Council in 2010 and celebrated by giving the Nazi salute at the first City Hall meeting.
The party had campaigned on an anti-austerity, anti-immigrant platform, preying on the fears of ordinary Greeks who have seen their neighborhoods overrun by the nearly 1 million immigrants who have flooded the country from Asia and Africa hoping to use it as a gateway to the European Union.
During the elections, young party supporters with shaved heads and wearing black shirts with the Golden Dawn symbol set up vigilante groups to protect Greeks from immigrants. They have been blamed for several attacks on foreigners; the party denies the charges.
The party’s election platform included plans to landmine Greece’s borders, immediately arrest and expel illegal immigrants, and set up special labor camps for legal immigrants who commit crimes.
Its manifesto does not specifically mention the country’s small Jewish community, saying only that the party would tolerate religious freedom “except in cases that affect national interest and undermine Hellenism.”
However, the party openly displays copies of Mein Kampf alongside works on Greek racial superiority at party headquarters and the party symbol has been found at the sites of anti-Semitic attacks in the past.
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