Gaza war boosts French left among young as the EU votes

Leftists pro-Palestine message appeals some voters as the bloc chooses a new parliament

France Unbowed leader Jean-Luc Melenchon embraces candidate Rima Hassan, who vows to 'bring the Palestinian cause into the European Parliament'. AFP
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Explosive divisions over the Gaza war are the rally cry for the left in France as voters head for polls in the European election on Sunday.

France Unbowed (LFI), led by firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon, is the only political party to give the highest importance to the Gaza war.

His party currently polls fourth at around 8 per cent of the vote, far behind the far-right National Rally at more than 30 per cent, followed by centrist President Emmanuel Macron's list at 15 per cent and the socialist group at 14 per cent.

The horrors of the war in Gaza have swayed Nadia, a French professional with Lebanese roots in her 30s who lives in Paris, to vote LFI for the first time.

“There's a need to give a hierarchy to what's most important to me,” she said, asking for her name to be changed out of fear of retribution from her employer.

The urge to promote politicians ready to heighten pressure on Israel in Brussels trumps her distaste for LFI's past support for Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and his allies, including Russia and Lebanon's Hezbollah.

On Friday, just two days before the election, LFI's most vocally pro-Palestine politician, 32-year lawyer Rima Hassan, called on “bringing the Palestinian cause into the European Parliament”.

“On June 9, be on the right side of history,” wrote Ms Hassan on X to her 184,000 followers, alongside pictures of famous writers stating their support for her party. They included 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Annie Ernaux.

Yet it remains unclear how much popularity LFI will gain from its pro-Palestine stance, which critics describe as an opportunistic attempt at attracting Muslim votes.

Some analysts have said it's a risky bet because French people's main concerns lie in the economy, not foreign affairs.

Others, such as Bertrand Badie, a leading French political scientist, say that incidents such as a flagging waving protest that got a deputy thrown out of the National Assembly are the result of the government's unwillingness to engage on the Israel-Palestine conflict and its hostility to pro-Palestinian voices.

“It's not because a topic is not high in the polls that it's not present in society,” Mr Badie told The National. “It's really hard to know from polls what really interests people or not.”

“LFI cannot be defined by its position on Gaza. It's more a positioning that signals its differences with other political parties,” he said.

'Giving voice to the oppressed'

LFI rejects accusations of opportunism and says it has a moral obligation to raise awareness about what it describes as an ongoing genocide in Gaza – which Israel denies.

Ms Hassan, who was born a Palestinian refugee in Syria, has said it's important for her “to bring humanity to those reduced to subjects without a voice”.

She has been the target of criticism from the centre, the right and the far-right, who have accused her anti-Semitism and of supporting Hamas. Her supporters say such attacks are racist.

The Gaza war triggered a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in France, causing fear among the Jewish community which is still affected by deadly incidents such as the 2012 killing of three Jewish schoolchildren in Toulouse and the 2015 supermarket siege.

At the last European election in 2019, Nadia voted for the Greens and says that many of her peers who used to vote for Mr Macron's allies will vote for LFI on Sunday.

She wants a review of the EU-Israel association agreement put forward by Spain and Ireland in February to have more support in the European parliament.

“LFI can do things at European level, like putting an end to the association agreement with Israel,” she said.

She also recognises such feelings are mostly restricted to young people and those with family ties in the Middle East and North Africa.

“It's basically young people, especially those who are politicised, and Arabs,” Nadia told The National.

In a signal of how important the Israel-Palestine conflict has become in France, Mr Macron devoted close to a third of his half-hour live TV interview on Thursday night after announcing that he would deliver Mirage 2000 jets to Ukraine.

He has come under fire for refusing to follow the lead of Ireland, Spain and Norway in recognising a Palestinian state, despite one of his closest advisers on the Middle East, former defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, publicly backing such a move last week.

France supports the recognition of Palestinian statehood, said Mr Macron, but now is not the time. Pressed by his interviewers, he said that reasons included the fact that “the situation is not stable on the ground”.

Also, recognition “won't have any pressure effect [on Israel], the Palestinian Authority must undergo reforms”, said Mr Macron.

He also asked: “What Palestine are we talking about? A Palestine where you still have Hamas tunnels?”

Mr Macron criticised what he described as the prevalence of anti-Semitism in pro-Palestine protests in French universities, in a reference to an incident in March in which a Jewish student was barred from entering a conference on Palestine at the prestigious Sciences Po university.

The President also argued that France played an important role in diplomatic discussions on the future of Gaza.

“I'm the only western leader to have twice received the six ministers of the Arab contact group who are working on the day after” in Gaza, he said, in reference to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

Updated: June 07, 2024, 9:56 PM