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Jewish Leader Stokes Fear of Sarkozy Opponent

Richard Prasquier, the president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewry, reiterated concerns that a Francois Hollande presidency would boost the anti-Israel left.

Speaking to reporters Monday before a meeting at the French Consulate in New York, Prasquier said, “We know that some of the parties who are supposed to be partners of the coalition in favor of Francois Hollande are not friends of Israel. The place they will play [in a Hollande administration] we will see.”

Prasquier, who is president of the representative council of French Jewish institutions, came under fire over the weekend for an April 25 column he wrote in Haaretz in which he appeared to express more concerns about a Hollande presidency than a second term for the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Hollande and Sarkozy will face off in a second round of French voting on May 6. Hollande, of the Socialist Party, leads Sarkozy, of the Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP, by 8 percentage points, according to a poll by Ifop conducted April 26-29.

At the news conference in New York, Prasquier denied having expressed a preference for Hollande in his Haaretz column, saying that both Hollande and Sarkozy were friends of Israel and share the same views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But, he added, Hollande is untested when it comes to Iran, and there are closer ties between the Socialist Party and the anti-Israel far left than there are between Sarkozy’s party and the xenophobic far right represented by Marine Le Pen’s National Front.

The problem, Prasquier said, is not with Hollande or the people close to him, but with the adamantly anti-Israel parties that are supporting him.

“It is clear that the Left Front has declared that they will vote for Francois Hollande,” Prasquier said.

“If Francois Hollande is elected president, I do not expect the far left would be given the position of foreign minister, but if they have more visibility there might be an increase in demonstrations against Israel in the public society – BDS and so on – and we will have to face them. But we will have to face the demonstrations, not the government.”

By contrast, he said, if Sarkozy is elected to a second term, Le Pen will not have a stronger voice.

“If Nicolas Sarkozy is elected, she will not have a voice because there are no relations between her and the president,” Prasquier said.

In France’s first round of voting on April 22, Le Pen’s party captured 18 percent of the vote while far-left parties, including the Green Party, the French Communist Party and the Left Party, captured less than 15 percent of the vote.

Prasquier said he was not happy about the strong showing by Le Pen, but he does not believe that her support is comprised wholly of anti-Semites. Rather, he said, “the new category of Jew-bashing comes from those who present themselves as being anti-Zionists” – namely, the far left.

“Those people who stigmatize, who vilify on the very precise and unique way the State of Israel instead of stigmatizing the other countries,” he said, exhibit “behavior very similar to the behavior used in the past to pinpoint Jews as responsible for everything.”

Prasquier said he does not believe France is an anti-Semitic country. He said the way to prevent attacks like the shooting in March at the Jewish school in Toulouse that resulted in four deaths is to increase security. The perpetrator in the attack, Mohammed Merah, who was killed after a standoff with police several days after the shooting, was a Muslim extremist.

“I do not see any possibility of preventing another action of this kind without increasing the level of security,” Prasquier said. “It’s not a question of reaching out. We are trying to reach out as much as possible to the Muslim community. We should not mix up the Muslim community with the awful deeds of this murderer.”

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