French voters reject far right — but elevate left-wing alliance with history of antisemitism allegations


In a surprise outcome, French voters rejected a far-right party with antisemitic roots — but elevated a left-wing alliance that has faced antisemitism allegations of its own.

The country’s most prominent far-left politician, meanwhile, vowed in his victory speech to push to recognize a Palestinian state. 

No party won a majority in the second round of France’s parliamentary elections on Sunday, in which all 577 seats of the National Assembly were in play. According to Le Monde, the left-wing New Popular Front alliance won 182 seats while the centrist Ensemble, backed by President Emmanuel Macron, won 168.

“We will have a prime minister from the New Popular Front,” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the French far-left leader, posted on X on Sunday night. “We will be able to decide many things by decree. On the international level, we will have to agree to recognize the State of Palestine.”

The far-right National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen, won 143 seats, an underwhelming result for the party after it led the first round of voting a week ago and appeared to be in striking distance of an outright majority. Instead, centrist and left-wing candidates worked together to defeat National Rally by having their candidates drop out of races where the other party had a better chance of winning.

The result is a setback for Le Pen’s party and a relief to the many Jews who consider it radioactive. The party’s founders include Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has been repeatedly convicted of hate speech and Holocaust denial, and Pierre Bousequet, who served in the Nazi Party’s Waffen-SS. Candidates in this election had also been accused of antisemitism.

But Sunday marked a triumph for Mélenchon, the leader of the far-left France Unbowed party, who has been accused of dog whistling, echoing antisemitic stereotypes and dismissing the threat of antisemitism. Even as the French government has reported a surge in attacks on Jews — including more than 360 incidents in the first three months of 2024, a 300% increase from 2023 — Mélenchon called antisemitism in France “residual” and also repeatedly criticized those demonstrating against antisemitism.

The vote, and result, put many French Jews in an uncomfortable position. Political scientist Jean-Yves Camus said before the vote that he felt “trapped” by the far left, especially as the more moderate Socialists entered into a coalition with Mélenchon’s party. (The leader of France’s center-right party had likewise made waves by endorsing National Rally.)

“We are quite angry and disappointed,” Camus told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “As Jews, we feel betrayed and we think it would have been much better if the Socialist party had not entered into this kind of alliance with the far left.”

Many French Jews say that rhetoric from the far left has opened a door to antisemitism. According to a poll from the American Jewish Committee in Europe, 92% of French Jews believe that France Unbowed has “contributed” to rising antisemitism. 

Now, deadlock appears to be in France’s future and may domiate the remaining years of Macron’s term, which ends in 2027. Following the race, centrist Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who has Jewish roots, said he planned to step down.

French far-right National Rally party leader Marine Le Pen (left) speaks as party President Jordan Bardella stands to her side in Paris, on June 9, 2024. (Julien De Rosa / AFP)

French far-right National Rally party leader Marine Le Pen (left) speaks as party President Jordan Bardella stands to her side in Paris, on June 9, 2024. (Julien De Rosa/AFP)

The country’s Jewish community of 500,000 has been shaken since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and Israel’s ensuing military campaign in Gaza, which has destroyed large swaths of the enclave. France has also seen a spike in antisemitism since Oct. 7. In a recent incident that rocked the country, two teenage boys were charged with raping a 12-year-old Jewish girl and hurling antisemitic epithets at her. 

“Many Jews are very shocked by the events since October, but not everybody is shocked by the same thing,” sociologist Martine Cohen told JTA. “You have people who are shocked by the ongoing war in Gaza, not only by the trauma of the October massacres.”

A shock for some French Jews came in the immediate aftermath of Oct. 7, when several far-left politicians refused to explicitly condemn Hamas’ attack on Israel. Le Pen, meanwhile, has sought to detoxify her party’s image, renouncing antisemitism, denouncing the Hamas attack and pushing a pro-Israel position. The party now emphasizes anti-immigration and Euro-sceptic stances.

CRIF, an umbrella organization of French Jews, has urged the community to reject both the far right and far left. But ahead of Sunday’s vote, faced with the rise of France Unbowed, some prominent Jewish voices called for the community to vote for Le Pen’s party instead. One striking expression of support for National Rally came from Serge Klarsfeld, a French Holocaust survivor famed for hunting down Nazi criminals and pressing for their prosecution.

“The National Rally supports Jews, supports the state of Israel,” Klarsfeld, 88, said in a nationally televised interview last month. “When there is an anti-Jewish party and a pro-Jewish party, I will vote for the pro-Jewish party.”

Alain Finkielkraut, a prominent French philosopher, also said in the magazine Le Point that he would “consider the nightmare of having to vote for the National Rally to block antisemitism.” Meanwhile, a group of French Jewish community leaders met with Le Pen on Monday.

But elements of National Rally’s antisemitic history resurfaced during the election. Ludivine Daoudi, a National Rally candidate in Normandy, was forced to withdraw from the second round of voting when a photo surfaced of her wearing a Nazi cap emblazoned with a swastika — after she won nearly 20% of votes in the first round. Other candidates circulated antisemitic and racist posts on social media.

It is difficult to ascertain how Jews voted nationally, since France bans collecting data on the religion and ethnicity of its citizens. But some areas with large Jewish communities showcased the dilemma Jews faced in this election. 

The Parisian suburb of Sarcelles, for example, has both a Jewish neighborhood that has traditionally voted right wing and an immigrant neighborhood that usually votes for the left. (Many of the residents, both Jewish and Muslim, are immigrants from North Africa). Sarcelles handed 27% of its votes to National Rally in the election’s first round — less than the party’s vote share nationwide, but nearly double its support in the district two years ago. In the second round, however, a far-left candidate, Romain Eskenazi, won the area with more than 60% of the vote.

Eskenazi, who himself has a Jewish father, chose to campaign in Sarcelles even though his centrist predecessor believed it would go for the right, according to a report in La Vie, a Franch newsmagazine. He was heckled at a synagogue and told by a Jewish voter, “You are associated with evil. I voted for you two years ago, but now I won’t be able to,” according to the report.

“What if you are in a constituency where there is no moderate candidate, and you have a choice between Mélenchon’s party and the National Rally?” said Camus, the political scientist, ahead of the vote. “What do you do? Do you stay at home? Just say, ‘It’s none of my business?’”

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