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What Emmanuel Macron’s Victory Means for the Jews of France

What Emmanuel Macron’s Victory Means for the Jews of France

A Conversation with French Jewish leader Stéphane Beder

French candidate Emmanuel Macron against a blue background

Stéphane Beder is the president of the Assemblee du Judaisme Liberal, vice chairman of the European Union for Progressive Judaism, and senior vice chairman of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. We spoke with him as France heads for the upcoming parliamentary elections on June 11 and 18. It was reported that 90% of Jews voted for Emmanuel Macron and 10% for Marie Le Pen. What do these numbers say about the politics of the Jews of France?

Stéphane Beder: In France, conducting election polls based on religious affiliation is illegal, so we do not have conclusive data. I would estimate that less than 5% of Jews voted for Le Pen, and most of them live in Israel. During her campaign, Marine Le Pen tried to make the case that Jews were more open to her platform, which includes a rejection of Arabs – but that argument apparently held little sway among Jewish voters in France.

Did Reform Jews in France take a stand in this election?

Yes. Though Liberal Jews are diverse in our political opinions and have a tradition of being nonpartisan, we made an exception. The Assemblee du Judaisme Liberal officially supported Emmanuel Macron through a public press communique, as well as a joint initiative with numerous other Jewish associations and the mainstream magazine, l’Express. The risk of Le Pen’s extreme-right, populist movement rising to power in France posed too great a risk to the nation and the Jewish community in particular. We dared not remain silent.

Macron has not previously held an elected office. Without a track record, what can you expect from his administration?

It is too early to know what Macron’s actual policies and priorities will be, but from his previous statements and actions, we regard him as a man of reason who is committed to French secularism. He has a balanced position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, supporting a two-state solution and opposing unilateral recognition of Palestine as an impediment to a negotiated peace process.

If his party wins a majority in the upcoming parliamentary elections, we’ll get a better idea of what he will do in response to anti-Semitism. We hope he will fight it with the same iron-clad determination as did outgoing President Francoise Hollande.

What are the greatest risks to Macron’s presidency?

Regardless of who’s in power, terrorist attacks are likely to continue for quite some time, fanning the flames of right-wing extremism. While there was a deep sense of relief that Marcon won by a large majority, we are nevertheless alarmed by Le Pen’s unprecedented showing: Nearly a third of voters (more than 10 million people) backed her xenophobic platform of hate and division. If Macron is not successful in his first term, it will be a slam dunk for Le Pen in the next presidential election.

Jews have been leaving France in large numbers during the past few years. How do you think Macron’s victory might affect this exodus?

One should be cautious about accepting this sensational narrative. While it is true that the number of Jews leaving France has increased dramatically these past few years, they represent only a tiny portion of the community. At its peak in 2015, those making aliyah (moving to Israel) represented less than 1% of the French Jewish population. In the past two years, the number of French Jews leaving to go to Israel has decreased significantly, and some French Jews are now returning to France from Israel.

What is your reaction to the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s explicit call for French Jews to make aliyah?

It is always nice to feel welcome in Israel, but there is a future for Jews in France. People should be able to make their own calculations about where they feel safe and choose for themselves where they want to live their lives.

Can Jews abroad play a role in supporting French Jewry?

We could use some concrete help in exposing fake sensational news that regularly circulates on the Internet and via email, such as supposed recent anti-Semitic attacks that were allegedly not covered by the French media. Given our real concerns, having to constantly rebut misinformation is a waste of time and energy. The irony is that these false news reports often conclude with a call to boycott France – which is the exact opposite of what we need.

Finally, visits and exchanges, as individuals, families or congregations, give us a sense of belonging that is priceless for our communities. When times are difficult, knowing that you are part of a larger family that cares makes a real difference.

Aron Hirt-Manheimer is the Union for Reform Judaism’s editor-at-large. He is former editor of Reform Judaism magazine (1976-2014) and founding editor of Davka magazine (1970-1976), a West Coast Jewish quarterly. He holds an M.A. and honorary doctorate in Jewish education from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. His books include Jagendorf’s Foundry: A Memoir of the Romanian Holocaust (HarperCollins, 1991) and Jews: The Essence and Character of a People (HarperCollins, 1998) with Arthur Hertzberg.

Photo credit: Rose Eichenbaum

Aron Hirt-Manheimer
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