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Paris chief rabbi doubts Jewish future in France amid rise of far right

France is home to the largest Jewish community in Europe

The Jewish Westhoffen cemetery near Strasbourg, eastern France, where 107 graves were found vandalized with swastikas and anti-Semitic inscriptions, Dec. 4, 2019 (Photo: Panoramic via Reuters)

The chief rabbi of the Grand Synagogue of Paris recently expressed pessimism about a viable Jewish future in France.

“It is clear today that there is no future for Jews in France, Rabbi Moshe Sebbag, told The Jerusalem Post. “I tell everyone who is young to go to Israel or a more secure country.”

Sebbag's pessimistic assessment comes amid political unrest and the recent electoral success of the far-right National Rally Party, led by Marine Le Pen, in the first round of the French parliamentary election. 

Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli recently welcomed Le Pen’s political victory.

“It is excellent for Israel that she will be the president of France, with 10 exclamation marks,” Chikli said on Monday during an interview with Israel's KAN news outlet.

The diaspora minister noted that Le Pen had participated in a march against antisemitism while French President Emmanuel Macron chose to skip the demonstration.

However, Jews in France are more wary, viewing the rise of Le Pen through the complex lens of French domestic politics and socio-economic challenges. Many French Jews feel threatened by both the far-left and far-right.

The National Rally Party currently aims to be viewed as pro-Jewish and pro-Israel however, pundits are divided on whether this is a sign of genuine pro-Jewish sentiments or a political tool to whitewash the party’s problematic past of antisemitism including Holocaust denial.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party’s former leader and father of Marine Le Pen, infamously described the Nazi gas chambers as a “detail” in history. His daughter has distanced herself and the party from her father’s position. 

France is home to the largest Jewish community in Europe, numbering around 500,000 and also has the largest Muslim population in Europe, numbering between six and seven million.

Sebbag noted that French Jews identify strongly with their country, its history and culture. 

“Every country has its history, and its history is part of its identity. The moment you feel part of a country’s history, it doesn’t become another country’s history,” Sebbag said. “After generations, the French Jews are very French and feel very French.”

The majority of French Jews are descendants of Sephardi Jewish families who moved from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia in the 1950s and the 1960s.

While French Jews are divided on Le Pen, the far left increasingly embraces strong anti-Israel positions, including justification of the Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre of 1,200 Israelis and kidnapping of some 250 hostages, including dual Israeli-French citizens. 

“Many Ashkenazi Jewish (Jews of European descent) families here since before World War II couldn’t think to vote for National Rally, yet the Left has been antisemitic in recent times,” Sebbag said. “The Jews are in the middle because they don’t know who hates them more.”

By contrast, prominent historian and Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld expressed a clear preference for Le Pen’s right-wing party.

“I would have no hesitation, I would vote for the National Rally,” Klarsfeld declared. 

“Now I’m faced with a far left that’s in the grip of [France Unbowed], which reeks of antisemitism and violent anti-Zionism, or the National Rally, which has evolved,” he added.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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