Behind the Headlines the Jewish Electorate in France’s Presidential Campaign

France is preparing for a hotly contested Presidential election campaign, and, as usual, one of the questions posed is how the Jewish electorate will vote. The question, in its broadest terms, is of vital interest not only to the candidates who are wooing Jewish voters, but also to the Jewish community. The major issue this year for the Jewish community is France’s current policy in the Middle East.

Some 400,000 Jews, close to 1.5 percent of the electorate, are expected to cast their ballots in the two-round Presidential election scheduled for April 24 and May 10. There are four major candidates running in the first round: President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, Socialist Francois Mitterrand, Gaullist Jacques Chirac, and Communist Georges Marchais. Giscard and Miterrand are running neck to neck in public opinion polls. In 1974, Giscard won by only 340,000 votes and this year the margin could be even slimmer, according to most

political analysts. Public opinion polls show that a majority of the Jewish voters, 53 percent, will support Mitterrand, compared to 23 percent who favor Giscard. In 1974, a majority of the Jewish electorate voted for Giscard who ran on a platform pledging French solidarity with Israel and a change in the pro-Arab policies that had been pursued by former Presidents Charles de Gualle and Georges Pompidou. An overwhelming majority of France’s 700,000 Jews belong to the middle class and in 1974 were opposed to radical social and economic changes advocated by the Socialist-Communist coalition.

ATTITUDE OF JEWISH LEADERS

Regarding the direction of the Jewish electorate in the current election, Baron Alain de Rothschild, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Organizations in France (CRIF), told a press conference several days ago that each Jewish voter will have to decide for whom to vote “according to the dictates of his own conscience.” As far as CRIF’s role is concerned, he said it will adhere to its traditional role and refrain from playing an active role in the electoral campaign despite French Jewry’s “anxiety” over France’s current policy in the Mideast.

Claude Kelman, chairman of CRIF’s executive council, said the Jewish community is split like the general population between the various political tendencies and parties and “each Jew will have to decide on how to vote on the basis of his personal inclinations and the candidate’s stand on matters of concern to the community.”

Kelman warned, however, “We will closely watch both the campaign and the policies carried out by the winner and we shall not tolerate the continuation of France’s current biased policies. “He refused to say, however, what the community could or would do if the next Administration’s policies are similarly biased.

The traditional Jewish leadership is also split between the various candidates. Jean Pierre Bloch, president of the international League Against anti-Semitism and Racism, is supporting Giscard; Paris Deputy Claude Gerard Marcuese is for Chirac; and former Premier Pierre Mendes France has called for Mitterrand’s victory.

An anti-establishment Jewish organization, Jewish Revival, which is critical of the current Jewish leadership in France, has called on the nation’s Jews to cast a “protest vote” against the incumbent administration. Henri Hajdenberg, leader of Jewish Revival, said that “any candidate, with the exception of the Communist, is better than Giscard. “But Rothschild and other CRIF leaders affirm that the community leaders will not give any directives to the community and they do not believe there is such a political entity as a “Jewish vote.”

CANDIDATES GENERALLY MUM ON MIDEAST ISSUE

This year, due to a number of factors, but mainly due to the split between the Socialist and Communist Parties and the general Jewish dissatisfaction with the present Administration’s Mideast policies, a majority of Jews are expected to vote for Mitterrand. The Socialist leader has recently paid a number of visits to Israel and is a staunch supporter of the Camp David agreements.

The four major candidates running in the first round are all actively courting the Jewish vote but have until now avoided all-binding or detailed promises or declarations on the Mideast.

All four, including Marchais, have made only vague pledges of good will and have carefully avoided any commitments. The general press and television have also avoided questioning the candidates on the subject of the Mideast. Rothschild, at the press conference, said half in jest and half seriously: “I wonder whether there is a sort of gentlemen’s agreement between them to avoid the issue.”

The major parties are advertising in the Jewish news media and representatives of the four main candidates are regularly holding “explanation sessions” in areas with strong Jewish populations or debating each other at meetings organized by various Jewish communities and organizations.

The French section of the World Jewish Congress intends to call on each of the candidates to hear his views. Rothschild said that CRIF will send them its “Declaration of Principles” adopted last week which reiterates its views on Israel, the Camp David agreements and the fate of Soviet Jewry.

Spokesmen for the major parties told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that their candidates will elaborate on their stands before the elections, but political circles believe that most of them will try and confine themselves to generalities as they have done up till now. All seem to feel that they can harvest a large share of the Jewish vote by keeping silent and by trying to draw attention to the stand of their main competitions. Each of the four has a “dark side” to his image, as far as the Jews are concerned.

NEGATIVE ASPECTS OF THE CANDIDATES

Giscard rolled to victory with the help of a large percentage of the Jewish vote. But several months after his election he sent Foreign Minister Jean Sauvargnargues to Beirut to meet Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat, authorized the opening of a PLO bureau in Paris, freed Palestinian terrorist leader Abu Daoud, adopted a lukewarm attitude toward the Comp David agreements and grossly mishandled popular reactions to the bombing of the Rue Copernic synagogue last October.

Chirac was the main initiator of the Franco-Iraqi nuclear agreement when he served as Prime Minister and advocated, at the time, a rapproachment between France and the Arab states.

Mitterrand has a “clean slate,” but many fear that he will have to coexist with the Communist Party if elected and will also have to take into consideration the pro-Palestinian elements within his own party’s left wing.

Marchais is Europe’s most pro-Moscow Communist Party leader and has generally adhered to the line as laid down by the Kremlin.

For France’s Jews, many of whom are now playing an ever greater role in the nation’s socioeconomic policies, the electoral choice will be difficult and may, in some cases, prove excruciating.

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