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French Jews Upset by Right-wing Gains, but Confident in Conservative Alliance

French Jewish leaders said they were concerned about the dramatic gains made by the far-right in nationwide parliamentary elections this week, but insisted they have good relations with the conservative parties that appeared to win by a landslide.

The big losers in the first round of elections held Sunday were the ruling Socialists, who won only 19 percent of the vote.

A coalition of two conservative parties garnered about 40 percent of the vote, but seats in the 577-member National Assembly will only be parceled out after a second round of voting next week in those districts where no one candidate won 50 percent or more of the ballots.

After the two conservative parties — the Union for France and Gaullist Rally for the Republic — and the Socialists, the nation’s third-largest political force became Jean-Marie Le Pen’s right-wing National Front, which won a resounding 13 percent of the vote.

Le Pen’s racist and anti-Semitic National Front party is mostly known for its campaign against immigration.

Jean Kahn, head of CRIF, the umbrella organization representing the French Jewish community, said after the results: “Too many people were going around saying that the National Front was losing ground. I did tell them they were wrong. I’m sorry to be proven right.”

Kahn added: “But I cannot believe that over 13 percent of the French are racists and anti-Semites. I think that most of those who voted for the National Front did so as a protest against the current economic and political situation.”

However, despite the fact that Le Pen’s party won 13 percent of the vote, it will most likely win only two or three seats in the Parliament because the party’s vote is spread out over many districts.

The Communists, although they came in behind the National Front at 9 percent, might pick up anywhere from 10 to 25 seats in the National Assembly because their supporters are highly concentrated in certain districts.

FOCUS ON SECOND ROUND NEXT WEEK

The country’s left wing, as well as Jewish leaders, urged voters to shore up moderate forces in the second round of elections, to be held Sunday.

Kahn said that “one just cannot sit on his hands. This week we will have to strengthen the moderate right-wing candidates in the opinion that they can win without the help of the National Front.”

Political commentators were predicting that Edouard Balladur, a close friend of Jacques Chirac, head of the Gaullist Rally, could become France’s next prime minister.

Last week, Kahn said he had met Balladur on several occasions and that the Turkish-born politician has visited Israel twice.

Balladur “is well aware of the situation there (in Israel), and he has learned about the Jewish community here. Our relations are very good,” Kahn said.

For the time being, according to observers here, the National Front does not constitute a danger for the Jewish community, as long as the moderate conservative parties stick to their policy of not cooperating or making political alliances with any of Le Pen’s people.

France’s bleak economic situation appeared to be the cause of the Socialists’ downfall.

On the eve of the elections, there were 3 million people unemployed, or over 10 percent of the work force.

When first elected in 1981, Socialist President Francois Mitterrand and his party promised to “Change Life.”

“They did,” say the cynics. “For the worse.”

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