Jewish World Review April 24, 2002/ 13 Iyar, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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A horse laugh on our dear friends | You don't have to be an anti-Semite, a racist or even a jerk to enjoy the squirming this morning among our dear friends the French.

We've earned our schadenfreude. Every good American is entitled to smile a bemused smile at the wringing of hands, the gnashing of teeth and the sheer humiliation of the French at the hands of the 17 percent who voted for Jean-Marie Le Pen in the first round of the election of the president of France.

Frenchmen took to the streets in cities across France to proclaim their shame, their mortification, their disgrace. The utter ignominy of it all. One young man even put on a mask inscribed with the message that he's "ashamed to be French." (He should hold on to the mask for use on later occasions.)

Rarely has 17 percent of anything so frightened a nation, indeed a continent. The spokesman for the Spanish foreign ministry calls the outcome "terrible news for France and all of Europe." A government minister in Rome calls the vote "a collapse of the left which is heading for Euro-disaster." Neil Kinnock, Britain's European commissioner, says the vote "throws a great dirty rock into the European political pool." He did not say how we can tell the difference between this rock and a lot of others in the European political pool.

Not all the schadenfreude is being enjoyed on this side of the Atlantic. The newspapers in England and across the continent are full of bemused commentary. London's Daily Telegraph, while taking pointed note that "Mr. Le Pen is a venomous racist," nevertheless applauds the vote because it will be read as a rejection of "corporatist Euro-correctness" and it has "horrified" the rest of the European Union. In Prague, Mlada Fronta Dnes observes that now not only French politicians but the pointy heads of the media will have "something to learn from the extreme right's success."

The frenzied reaction across Europe is not so much a rejection of the French, who as we all know are warm, cuddly, tolerant, generous and loyal ("when the going gets tough, the French usually get going"), but merely taking a little pleasure at seeing them get their comeuppance. Many European commentators, noting that the descendants of Lafayette are always the first to find fault in others, recall that it was France that was the most outspoken advocate of sanctions against Austria when Joerg Haider's hard-right Freedom Party joined the ruling government coalition after it won a similar unexpected victory a decade ago.

Taking pleasure like this is actually harmless stuff, because Mr. Le Pen did not, after all, win an election - he only got enough votes to get himself in position to take a good country licking in the runoff against Jacques Chirac. All that the first round of voting actually demonstrated was that 17 percent of the voting population stand with a man of anti-Semitic beliefs. This is even reassuring if we can take the Le Pen vote as credible evidence that only 17 percent of Frenchmen hate Jews. Most of us thought it was a lot more than that. Burning synagogues has become the latest fad in the nation that regards itself as the arbiter of fashion.

It's reassuring as well that much of the rest of Europe appears to be taking the Le Pen vote as a caution in their own precincts. In Brussels, where throwing rocks at Jews has become fashionable in the wake of the Israeli campaign against Palestinian terrorists, Louis Michel, the foreign minister, warns that anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant sentiment can be taken as a threat to public stability. "We must stop trivializing these xenophobic and racist trends," he said yesterday. "We must stop thinking that our democracies are safe from these dangers. They are not safe."

But the Le Pen vote may auger something else as well. Sometimes well-intentioned voters, deprived of any other weapon at hand, use their ballot as a club to get attention from leaders who aren't paying attention. It might be that some of the Le Pen voters are sending a rough but nevertheless valid message to the Eurocrats in Brussels.

Many of these voters, riven with legitimate fear of crime and disturbed by the waves of Muslim immigration that have altered the character of the nation, may have concluded that there's not a franc's worth of difference between the two big parties. Neither Mr. Chirac nor the pathetic Lionel Jospin made any attempt to address their concerns, treating the concerns and those who hold them as beneath contempt.

Difficult as it may be to imagine a French national leader as arrogant, many voters nevertheless imagine they are, and gave the rest of us a good horse laugh.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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