The 1981 French presidential election may go down in French history as the event that saw the birth of the Jewish bloc vote. A bloc vote of this kind -- so much a part of the American electoral scene -- would have been unthinkable in France just a few years ago. But in the seven years that President Valery Giscard d'Estaing has been in office, all that has changed.
The President's consistently pro-Arab Middle East policy has gone down none too well with the country's 700,000 strong Jewish community. The recent opening of a Palestine Liberation Organization office in Paris and the delivery of French nuclear equipment to Iraq have been roundly criticized by Jewish community leaders.
As far as French Jews are concerned, Mr. Giscard d'Estaing's domestic record is equally bleak: They are still smarting from the continuing series of anti-Semitic attacks of which the bombing of the Rue Copernic synagogue last October was only the most spectacular and blatant example.
Add to this the community's discontent with the failure of the authorities to produce any plausible clues -- let alone culprits -- for the synagogue bombing, and you have the makings of a powerful bloc vote that could undermine Giscard's chances of being reelected May 10 for a second seven-year term.
It is estimated that at the time of the last presidential elections in May 1974, the votes of France's 300,000 Jewish electors were more or less evenly divided between the two main contenders, Giscard d'Estaing and the Socialist veteran, Francois Mitterrand.
This time -- bearing in mind that at the last election the margin between winners and losers was a mere 350,000 votes --
France's main Jewish organization CRIF (Conseil Representatif des institutions juives de Francem ) -- in a break with its longstanding tradition of political neutrality -- has just issued a statement clearly intended as a warning to President Giscard d'Estaing. The statement called on the next president, "whomever he might be," to adopt a Middle East policy that identified more clearly with Israeli interests. And it warned that any other policy would have to contend with the "resolute opposition" of France's Jewish community.
French political pundits say the call for a "sanction vote" against Giscard is likely to have widest appeal among the young -- the militants who have organized unauthorized "defense groups" since the neofascist attacks on Jewish figures and property began in earnest a year ago.
Henri Hajdenberg, the leader of another Jewish organization, Renouveau Juif,m is among the first to admit that Jewish electors will weigh a great many issues before deciding how to cast their votes. But, he maintains, "When it comes to the crunch, every Jewish voter will remember he is a Jew."
He has said that the 150,000 Jews who voted for Giscard last time are unlikely to do so again. Then there are the 40,000 who live in Israel, retain dual nationality, and with it, the right to vote. Hajdenberg is convinced that their votes will go massively agains t Giscard.
Could seven years of Giscardian rule have turned 300,000 citizens into Jews first and Frenchmen after?