European Elections: The Jewish Implications

European Elections: The Jewish Implications

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Over the past five days France elected a new President, Greece a new Parliament, and Great Britain selected largely pro-Labour (anti-Government) local leaders.  For the Jewish communities in Europe these results present a bit of disquietude within the particular countries as well as for European Jewry in general. It likely will also have an impact on European relations with Israel and its acceptance of Israeli moves on a peace process with the Palestinians.

In all three countries the trend was to the left. Objecting largely to the economic austerity measures which existing Governments were imposing, the voters voiced their dissatisfaction with how the continuing debt crisis was being addressed. Movements to the left as well, always tend to feed pro-Palestinian voices. In addition, it is very significant to note that in both Greece and France there was also a sizeable vote for the extreme right.

In the first round of presidential voting in France, Marine Le Pen, the leader of Front National (FN) Party came in third in the first round of the presidential election, but with 17.9% of the vote.  Despite not even being on the ballot, she held a large rally of her supporters in Paris on the day before the run-off. Meanwhile in Greece, the anti-Government vote from the left dominated the turn-out, but with hardly enough support to form a Government. At the same time, as in France, a right wing fascist group, the Golden Dome, a neo-Nazi Party gained entry into the new Parliament with over 6% of the vote. The sight of Nazi salutes and swastika like symbols made for a shuddering picture for the small Greek Jewish population as well as for Jews everywhere.  

The Socialist Francois Hollande defeat of President Nicholas Sarkozy by over 3% of the vote appears likely to produce anxiety and questions for the French Jewish community of over 500,000. They are worried that a Socialist Government would be overly sensitive to Muslim demands in France. There was an even greater concern that a new Socialist regime will encourage even more the pro-Palestinian voices which are ever-present in France. While there will continue to be a normal working relationship between Israel and France, the positive atmospherics which pervaded between the two countries under Sarkozy is likely to move to into a much more critical view of Israeli actions in the Middle East. It was also not clear whether there would be any change in how a new French Government will address the Iran sanction program and the boycott of Syria, given the focus on France’s serious economic problems.

Meanwhile in Britain, the major exception to the anti-Tory vote throughout England last Thursday occurred in the one place where there was a clear Jewish issue. The incumbent London Mayor Boris Johnson defeated the former mayor Ken Livingstone by more than 3% of the vote in an ugly campaign during which Livingstone once again demonstrated his clear pro-Palestinian position and which included some negative stereotypic comments by him about Jews and money.

For the Cameron Government overall these local elections, as was the case in France and Greece, demonstrated public dissatisfaction with the Conservative Party’s dealing with the debt crisis and austerity measures as well as the leadership of this coalition Government with the Lib-Dems. For Jews, however, despite the fact that London is traditionally pro-Labor and that Labour increased the size of its control on the London Assembly, Johnson’s defeat of Livingstone was a relief.

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