The coincidental timing of two phenomenaan increase of anti-Semitic violence since October 2001 (with a peak in April 2002) and the surprise success of Jean-Marie Le Pen of the far right National Front Party in the presidential electionhas fixed in the mind of many observers the image of a fiercely anti-Semitic France. In the U.S. press, for example, France has been described as the most fertile ground in Western Europe for racism and for far right extremism. Some journalists and columnists of The New York Times and of The Washington Post have even compared contemporary France to the Vichy Regime that implemented anti-Jewish laws during World War II.1
Meanwhile, on 1 May in Paris, 1.3 million people demonstrated against Le Pen with the majority of them similarly expressing a fear of a revival of traditional French anti-Semitism and making allusions to fascism and Nazism. Various French commentators made reference to Germany in 1933 during their coverage of Le Pen's surprise showing in the election. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Melchior described France as the most anti-Semitic country in Europe while Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared that the 600,000 French Jews (the largest such group in Western Europe) might be "in great danger."2
All of these statements, both in France and abroad, assume that Le Pen's success in the first round of the presidential election and the rising tide of anti-Semitic incidents (including the firebombing of Synagogues in Marseille and Paris suburb) both stem from traditional French anti-Semitism. Should we accept the conventional wisdom that "4.5 million National Front voters means 4.5 million anti-Semitic voters?" This analysis brief will argue that the answer to that question is a firm no.
See as examples, the editorial "The return of an ancient hatred," The New York Times, 20 April 2002; Marlise Simons, "The Mideast in Marseille," The New York Times, 8 April 2002; Charles Krauthammer, "Europe and 'those' people': anti-Semitism rises again," The Washington Post, 26 April 2002; George F. Will, "'Final Solution,' Phase 2," The Washington Post, May 2, 2002.
Both are quoted in "Sharon's anti-semitism accusations 'odious'French Government," Agence France Presse, February 21, 2002.
Note: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and should not be attributed to the staff, officers or trustees of The Brookings Institution