(JTA) — Éric Zemmour, a French-Jewish writer and former television commentator who captured the attention of a large swath of right-wing French voters for months without launching a political campaign, has officially announced that he is running in the 2022 French presidential elections.
Zemmour made the announcement in a 10-minute YouTube video released Tuesday that he filmed at his desk. Over dramatic music, Zemmour digs into topics that he has discussed for years in his many books and TV appearances: identity politics, France’s influx of Muslim immigrants and what he sees as the country’s fading national identity.
“The time for reforming France is over, it needs to be saved,” he says in the video.
“You feel like you no longer live in the country that used to know,” Zemmour adds. Immigration, he says, “is not the cause of this, but it exacerbates” the problems.
Zemmour, 63, becomes the first major Jewish presidential candidate to run in France’s post-war Fifth Republic era. He will run as an independent without a political party and only in the presidential race, not the separate election for seats in parliament.
In the elections, Zemmour will chiefly compete for right-wing votes with Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Rally far-right party. Recent polls show Zemmour enjoying a 13% approval rating, trailing only Marine Le Pen’s 19% and the 23% for Emmanuel Macron, the centrist incumbent.
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Zemmour has been convicted of inciting hatred for calling French Muslims “invaders” and saying that most drug dealers are Arab or African. His past remarks prompted calls for Cnews, the television channel where Zemmour used to work as a commentator, to fire him. They suspended Zemmour in September, leading him to resign.
He has been touring France promoting his latest book, “France Has Not Said Her Last Word,” holding rallies and speeches that led to rampant speculation that he would run in the spring elections.
Zemmour has also raised controversy in French Jewish circles, which tend to be conservative. He has defended a theory that posits that France’s Vichy government which collaborated with Nazi Germany, sacrificed foreign Jews to save local ones. Accepted by some historians, it is hotly contested by others, who say the Vichy government also betrayed Jews with French citizenship.
Earlier this year, Zemmour said that Alfred Dreyfus, the French-Jewish army captain of German descent whose prosecution on specious espionage claims was widely condemned as antisemitic, may have been targeted “for being German, not for being Jewish.”
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The leaders of prominent Jewish groups in France, including CRIF, the Consistoire and BNVCA, have condemned Zemmour’s rhetoric. French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia said that Zemmour, the son of Jewish immigrants from Algeria who also has a Jewish wife and children, is an antisemite.
Zemmour, who goes to synagogue occasionally, called Korsia’s remark “grotesque and absurd.”
Multiple prominent French-Jewish journalists and community leaders have defended Zemmour from some of the criticism leveled against him by Jewish community leaders. They have accused the French-Jewish groups and communal representatives who criticized him of meddling in politics to please a left-leaning political establishment.