F rance is on the verge of a major political change thanks to the dismal failure by the candidates of both mainstream political parties — the Socialist Party and Republicans — to reach the second round, scheduled for Sunday, May 7.

That battle will feature the top two finishers in Sunday’s first round — centrist Emmanuel Macron versus nationalist Marine Le Pen.

Le Pen’s relatively weak second place finish (21.7%) settles stomachs among French Jews worried that her far-right National Front party was on the rise. Le Pen is the daughter of the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, a Holocaust denier who once called the gas chambers a “detail” of World War II, and who has been convicted of racism or anti-Semitism a half dozen times.

Macron, 39, a former investment banker, who served as the economy minister under outgoing Socialist president François Hollande, resigned last year to create his own political party, En Marche! (“Onwards!”)

He supports President Hollande’s policies on Israel, which include France playing a prominent role in cajoling Israel and the Palestinians to the peace table, although he has stated his opposition to the BDS movement and has refused to commit to French recognition of a Palestinian state.

However, Macron is considered a symbol of big money, special interests, and multiculturalism by many, including anti-Semitic elements in anti-establishment political parties on both the left and right.

Those parties’ candidates may not have advanced to the second round, but together, the radical Parti de Gauche (the Left Party), led by Jean-Luc Melenchon, and the National Front received 40% of the vote. They and their voters, who oppose liberal democracy, the European Union, and a free-market economy, will pose a formidable opposition to Macron, who supports EU membership, maintaining sanctions on Russia, and has called for significant economic reforms, including loosening some long-standing labor market policies.

The fact that Melenchon — whose economic policies probably position him to the left of Bernie Sanders — polled 19% of the vote means that a significant proportion of voters from the Socialist Party that has ruled France for the past five years took a decidedly radical tilt.

Melenchon’s open support for a Palestinian state and other so-called “freedom causes” around the world attracted Muslim voters, and was seen as a danger by the Jews.

So far, Melenchon’s shocking refusal to ask his supporters to vote against Le Pen in the second round is worrisome. His unexpectedly strong showing represents a threat to the Jewish community, and the common interests between him and Le Pen may provide for some very unpleasant rantings before the May 7 runoff. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 657)