National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen has turned warning against the dangers of Islamist extremists into the centerpiece of her platform, and has been telling anyone who would listen that France is not adequately controlling its own borders. Friday’s attacks can’t but lend weight to her message. Her foes fear that in the upcoming regional elections—due in three weeks—the FN could make historic gains.
Marine Le Pen on Monday demanded an “immediate halt” to the flow of migrants into France, in light of the deadly Islamist attacks in Paris. Le Pen’s party released a statement alleging one of the attackers had arrived in Greece last month “among the mass of migrants who flow into Europe each day.”
France’s next Regional elections will be held on December 6 and 13, 2015. At stake are the presidencies of the Regions of France, of which there are 18: 12 on continental France, 1 in Corsica and 5 overseas. The regional presidents don’t legislate, but they manage significant budgets. Also, these regional elections are viewed as a kind of mid-term opinion poll, reflecting the chances of presidential candidates.
The party was already leading in several regions before Friday the 13th. Now they could do better. Marine Le Pen has been leading in the polls or coming in a close second—depending on the pollsters—now she’s probably going to gain a Trump-like edge, at least temporarily. The presidential elections are in April 2017, and then the runoff is in May.
French Jews are not particularly ecstatic about the prospect of an FN win. Newsweek interviewed Jews in Paris’ Le Marais district, the historic Jewish “Pletzle,” and several expressed concerns at Le Pen’s momentum. Marine Le Pen’s father is virulently anti-Semitic, and ran his party along those points of faith, complete with crematorium jokes. A 51-year-old Jewish shopkeeper named Jerome told Newsweek about a video he’d watched on YouTube, showing Le Pen rubbing her hands together in satisfaction over Friday’s mayhem.
Marine Le Pen is boycotted by mainstream French Jews. The Ukraine oligarch Vadim Rabinovich, founder of the European Jewish Parliament, met with the FN leader last July, only to be condemned by the European Jewish Congress, whose president, Moshe Kantor, said in a statement: “That any European Jew would ever consider themselves available to fig-leaf racists and anti-Semites is shocking in the extreme.”
An old FN supporter told Newsweek, “The attacks were a catastrophe for the country, our government is a catastrophe, it doesn’t control our borders.” For him, and for millions of others in wounded France, Le Pen represents a willingness to rid the country of Islamists, and to make sure no one new comes in. How she would define the difference between a terror-harboring Islamist and just a swarthy guy going to shul is what frightens Parisian Jews.
French President Francois Hollande after the attacks has been trying to out-Le Pen Le Pen, describing the attacks on Saturday as “an act of war,” launching a 30-sortie attack on ISIS in north-eastern Syria, where they keep their de facto capital, and on Monday sending over a French navy aircraft carrier to the Syrian shore.
It’s never easy to call these things a year and a half in advance, but the experts predict Marine Le Pen will be in the runoff election in May, 2017. And it’s not at all certain that the incumbent, Hollande, will have gathered enough votes to qualify.