Throughout the summer, American Jewish Committee (AJC) experts have been deeply focused on the elections across Europe. Find insights below.

AJC is a 501(c)3 not for profit organization and does not endorse political candidates for elective office.

U.K. General Elections 

The Labour Party, led by Sir Keir Starmer, scored a resounding victory in Britain’s general election on July 4th. Its majority is the largest won by any government since 1997. The party flipped seats in all corners of Britain, defeating Conservative candidates in constituencies that had been blue since the 19th century.

Labour’s victory was as much the Conservatives’ defeat. The Conservative vote collapsed by 20 percentage points, the largest decline by any governing party in British political history. Voters abandoned the party in all directions—not just for Labour but for the Liberal DemocratsReform UK, and the Green Party. Plenty also stayed at home: fewer than three-fifths of eligible voters turned out to vote, the second-lowest turnout in the past century.

The Liberal Democrats, led by Sir Ed Davey, took 60 seats held by the Conservatives. The party increased its representation in the House of Commons from eleven seats in 2019 to 72, its largest haul since 1923. Seats in which the Lib Dems were competing against the Conservatives saw substantial tactical voting to oust the governing party. In these seats, the Tories’ vote share fell by an average of 24 percentage points, while that of the Lib Dems increased by 12. The Conservatives only managed to cling on to 20 of the 79 seats where the Lib Dems were their principal opponents.

Reform UK, a Eurosceptic, pro-Russian, and anti-immigration party led by Nigel Farage, was the biggest beneficiary of the Conservative collapse in terms of vote share. Reform UK achieved 14% of the vote nationwide, up by 12 points compared with the “Brexit Party,” as Mr. Farage’s vehicle used to be known, in 2019.

The election did not go entirely to plan for Labour, though. The party lost seven seats in total, including two seats held by members of its prospective cabinet. There was a sizable backlash among Muslims over Labour’s stance on Gaza. Five independent pro-Palestine candidates, including former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, won seats in the election.

Taken together, the results show the fragmentation of the British party system. After this election, the electoral map will be less dominated by Labour-vs-Conservative races. In 92 of the country’s 650 constituencies, Labour and Reform UK were the two largest parties; in 84, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives came first and second; in 41, Labour and Green; and in 41, Labour and the Scottish National Party.

Going forward, and considering the election results, the key question is what Starmer’s policies will be and what they will mean for Britain’s Jewish community, the second largest in Europe. Since taking over Labour leadership from Jeremy Corbyn in 2019, Keir Starmer has made addressing antisemitism a top priority. One of his first actions was a public apology to the Jewish community, calling antisemitism a “stain” on the party that needed to be eradicated. This marked a clear shift from Corbyn's leadership, which organizations like the AJC and the Board of Deputies of British Jews had consistently criticized.

Before Starmer's tenure, notable Jewish Labour MPs like Luciana Berger and Louise Ellman left the party, condemning it as institutionally antisemitic due to Corbyn’s policies. Both MPs cited a hostile environment and a failure to address antisemitism under Corbyn. However, their return to the party under Starmer’s leadership and their endorsement of Labour in the recent election signal renewed confidence in the party's direction.

Starmer’s early leadership saw decisive actions aimed at eliminating antisemitism. This included removing leading Corbyn ally Rebecca Long-Bailey from the frontbench for endorsing an interview containing antisemitic conspiracy theories and suspending Jeremy Corbyn from the parliamentary party over his response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report on Labour antisemitism. These actions highlighted Starmer’s commitment to a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism within the party.

On a personal level, it should be noted that Keir Starmer’s wife is Jewish and actively involved in Jewish communal life. The couple has brought up their children Jewish and are part of a synagogue in London.

Starmer’s acceptance of the EHRC’s findings and his commitment to implementing its recommendations were also pivotal in his leadership. In February 2023, Labour was taken out of special measures by the equalities watchdog, marking a significant step forward in tackling antisemitism within the party. This was widely seen as a validation of Starmer's efforts to reform the party and restore its credibility on issues of discrimination and hate speech.

However, the Rochdale by-election exposed ongoing challenges. Labour initially supported candidate Azhar Ali despite his controversial comments about Israel, which suggested that Israel allowed the October 7 attacks to justify its actions. Although Labour eventually withdrew support for Ali, the incident underscored the complexities of managing antisemitism within the party.

Concerns also surround Labour Deputy leader and now Deputy Prime Minister Angela Rayner, who apologized for praising a book by Jewish anti-Zionist Norman Finkelstein and a social media post perceived as downplaying antisemitism. Rayner’s actions, though defended by her as misunderstood, added to the scrutiny Labour faces in proving its commitment to combating antisemitism.

Additionally, Diane Abbott, a long-time Corbyn ally, was allowed to stand as the Labour candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington despite making antisemitic remarks. Abbott’s comments, which likened the prejudice faced by Jews to that faced by people with red hair, were condemned as deeply insensitive and antisemitic. This decision raised questions about the consistency of Labour's stance on antisemitism under Starmer and the party’s ability to uniformly enforce its zero-tolerance policy.

Candidates appealing almost exclusively to Muslim voters and campaigning on Gaza had a significant impact across the country, far greater than predicted. Shadow Paymaster General Jonathan Ashworth lost his Leicester South seat, and Blackburn, Birmingham Perry Barr, Dewsbury, and Batley were all won by independents focused on Gaza. Shockat Adam Patel, who defeated Jonathan Ashworth, dedicated his victory to Gaza. In Blackburn, Adnan Hussein, the Workers Party candidate, also focused on Gaza and came third. Around a third of Blackburn's residents are Muslim. Jeremy Corbyn won as an independent in Islington North, having stated before the election that “Palestine is on the ballot paper.” Analysis shows Labour’s vote dropped by over 14% in constituencies where the Muslim population exceeds 15%. There are 37 constituencies with a Muslim population over 20% and another 73 seats with a Muslim population between 10% and 20%. The Muslim vote has always been important, but it has now split from the mainstream into candidates using divisive campaigns targeting Muslim voters exclusively.

In terms of policy, Labour’s manifesto commits to maintaining the Conservative government’s funding levels for AJC’s allies from the Community Security Trust, which provides security for Jewish communities and institutions. This pledge is seen as essential for ensuring the safety and security of Jews in the UK.

The manifesto also includes a commitment to “reverse the Conservatives’ decision to downgrade the monitoring of antisemitic and Islamophobic hate,” referencing changes made by former Home Secretary Suella Braverman. These changes, which altered guidance to police on so-called non-crime hate incidents, were criticized for potentially undermining the ability to track and respond to hate speech. Labour’s commitment to reversing these changes aligns with its broader strategy to enhance protections against hate crimes.

However, Labour’s education policy, particularly its plan to remove VAT exemptions for independent schools, has raised concerns among Jewish schools about potential closures due to financial strain. The removal of these exemptions is part of Labour’s broader strategy to generate revenue for public education, including the recruitment of additional teachers.

On international issues, Starmer’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been scrutinized. In the aftermath of the October 7 attacks, Starmer condemned Hamas and affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself. However, his comments about Israel needing to comply with international law and his support for International Criminal Court (ICC) investigations into Israeli leaders have drawn criticism from both sides. Starmer’s nuanced stance seeks to balance support for Israel’s security with adherence to international legal standards, a position that has proven contentious within the party. Foreign Secretary David Lammy has repeatedly said in the past that Labour would seek to implement an arrest warrant against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu if one was issued by the international criminal court.

Labour's manifesto also proposes recognizing a Palestinian state as part of a renewed peace process aimed at achieving a two-state solution, a policy consistent with the Conservative government's stance over the past 14 years. Some see this recognition as a necessary step towards peace, while others question its feasibility without reforms within the Palestinian Authority.

Regarding Iran, Labour plans to create a mechanism to designate state-based actors such as Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as terrorist organizations. Their strategy includes updating the government's counter-terror approach and establishing a joint Home Office and Foreign Office unit to address threats posed by state entities.

In summary, Keir Starmer's Labour Party has a solid base, yet faces scrutiny from political adversaries across the spectrum. Nervous Labour MPs may anticipate competition from the Green PartyReform UK, or independent candidates in the vein of Jeremy Corbyn. Despite Labour's efforts to tackle antisemitism and develop policies that resonate with the Jewish community, it confronts numerous challenges amidst an increasingly polarized political environment and the more assertive and radical stances emerging within Muslim constituencies.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Second Round of France’s Parliamentary Elections

In a result that took France wholly by surprise, the left-wing New Popular Front (NFP), dominated by Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s “Unbowed” party, became the biggest bloc in parliament after final-round voting at legislative elections closed on July 7th. Official final results gave the NFP 182 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly. However, a majority requires 289 seats. This is why these elections have resulted in a badly hung parliament, and France is now set for a period of uncertainty and political maneuvering as the country tries to learn how to act as many other European countries already do and possibly forge a majority coalition.

Marine Le Pen’s hard-right National Rally and friends, which polls had suggested would top voting, ended up as the third-biggest parliamentary bloc. They secured 143 seats, gaining 50 seats compared to the last elections, which is still a major progression for the party. For President Emmanuel Macron, who called this election against the advice of his close allies, the result comes as something of a relief. Ensemble, his centrist coalition, will hold on to 168 seats, down from the 250 it held in the outgoing parliament. Though painful, this is not quite the calamity that had been widely expected.

There now seem to be three possible scenarios. The logical first option would be to ask the left-wing alliance, the New Popular Front (NFP), to try to form a government. But the constituent parties of the NFP disagree on many things, including who the prime minister should be. Discussions are ongoing behind closed doors. Before the election result, the alliance had been incapable of putting forward a single candidate for the job of prime minister. Many within the NFP are deeply unhappy with Mélenchon’s self-promoting dominance and are eager to sideline him. A name could emerge in the coming days. The Socialists are closely behind the Unbowed in seats and could insist on taking the lead instead, which would make forming a coalition with the centrists a little easier. Among the Socialist members who will sit in the new assembly is none other than François Hollande, the former president who was once Macron’s boss.

An alternative for Macron, who wants to see a stable government put in place, would be to hold out for a cross-party alliance—reaching from the moderate left, including the Greens, to the moderate right—capable of commanding a majority.

A third option would be a “technical government.” Run by a civil servant or technocrat, similar to Mario Draghi’s government in Italy, this would be designed to keep the machinery of government running rather than to enact significant reforms, and to last until fresh elections. Under the constitution, these cannot take place for at least another 12 months.

While many in the Jewish community and beyond felt a sigh of relief that the extreme right did not end up governing the country, the New Popular Front has been problematic from the beginning due to the presence of the Unbowed. The latter have built their entire campaign not only on Gaza but many of the members have held very radical antisemitic positions. Even as the French government has reported a surge in attacks on Jews — including more than 360 incidents in the first three months of 2024, a 300% increase from 2023 — Mélenchon called antisemitism in France “residual.” The Republican Left, instead of looking to the center to win, chose without hesitation an impossible alliance with the Unbowed, which has made many French Jews feel betrayed. The reality is that Jews are very scared in the face of the explosion of anti-Jewish hatred since October 7th, paralleled by the accelerated disappearance of sufficient space for moral and political clarity, leaving French Jews without a political home.

For those who have not made, do not want to make, and will not make the choice to link their destiny to any ideal other than what the country was supposed to offer them, the disarray is profound. The history of French Jews is intimately linked to that of the French Republic. It is not surprising that Jews and Israel are at the heart of this turmoil. AJC has long been sounding the alarm, saying that the rise of antisemitism is always a symptom of a much deeper problem in our society. As the country seems to be falling apart, this is now becoming more obvious than ever.

Thursday, July 4, 2024 

First Round of France’s Parliamentary Elections

Sunday, the French Republic entered a new political era as a result of the historic turnout for the extreme right party of Marine Le Pen, National Rally, in the Lower House’s first round of elections. With 33.15% of the votes, the party became the leading political force in the country and has never been so close to governing. The change in popularity of the party is astonishing: at the last legislative elections in 2022, the National Rally gathered more than four million votes. Sunday’s election saw the National Rally win more than ten million votes.

Beyond that, we are seeing a worrying fragmentation of the rest of the political spectrum. The New Popular Front (NFP) – a disparate coalition of left-wing parties – received the second most votes on Sunday, rallying 28.14% of the votes. As we approach the second round of elections on July 7, NFP leaders want to turn this “Popular” front into a “Republican” one - a front that would prevent the extreme right from gaining an absolute majority in a few weeks and therefore rule the country.

However, we do not foresee such a united front because of the anti-Republican, authoritarian, and antisemitic elements that were constitutive of the NFP from the beginning. As a result, centrists – including President Macron’s centrist party which received a crushing blow on Sunday, receiving the third-most (20.8%) votes – have not fully rallied behind the NFP.

The result of Sunday’s elections speaks to the failure of President Macron’s centrist political project and the beginning of a new extreme polarization era for France, which is as worrying for the future of France’s democracy as it is for French Jews and Israel who were placed at the center of this political turmoil.

The majority of the French Jewish community is very worried about what the future holds for Jewish life in France, and, given the extreme right’s strong sympathy for Putin’s Russia, for France’s stance vis-à-vis Israel and the “free world.” According to this year’s AJC Survey on Antisemitism in France, 30% of French Jews say they would leave France if Marine Le Pen is elected president, and 92% of French Jews believe that the radical left party “La France Insoumise,” which is a part of the NFP coalition, is the party that contributes the most to the rise of antisemitism in France.

Regardless of what happens on July 7, France lost a piece of its unique universalist, Republican, democratic soul this weekend.


European Elections: June 2024
Results and AJC Perspectives 

American Jewish Committee's offices across Europe closely followed the 2024 European Parliament (EP) elections, which took place June 6-9. The results have shown significant progress for extreme right parties across Europe, which was a major concern for Jewish communities around the continent in the lead-up to the election, as the situation for European Jewry had already been dire in recent months due to an unprecedented rise in antisemitism following Hamas’ October 7th terror attacks against Israel.

Progress of the Extreme Right

Centrist European parties maintain their position as the largest bloc in the European Parliament, this includes the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), as well as center, left, and liberal political groups. These groups, which include the national mainstream parties, have been more or less supportive of Israel. Three of the political parties—EPP, S&D (Socials and Democrats), and Renew—often collaborate to pass legislation in order to avoid working with the far-right or far-left.

FRANCE | While the centrist parties maintain the majority, the results of these elections have been marked by critical gains for the extreme right. This is notably the case in France, with a significant victory for the National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen. While Le Pen’s party has tried to normalize itself, particularly by wanting to appear as the protector of Jews against Islamism and the far-left, and by taking rather pro-Israel positions, it is nevertheless concerning given the party’s roots (founded by former Waffen-SS members) and Marine Le Pen’s continued, albeit hidden, entourage of extremist individuals. The party’s rather pro-Russian stance should also be regarded as problematic.

GERMANY | In Germany, the right-wing extremist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) gained ground. Having previously received 11.0% of the vote in 2019, it is now in second place with 15.9%—a historic high, albeit lower than interim poll results. The newly formed left and rather anti-Israel, anti-American, and pro-Russian party Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht (BSW), led by former Left Party member Sahra Wagenknecht, achieved 6.1% from a standing start. This is the first election in which the BSW has participated. The Left Party emerged from the election with major losses, achieving 2.7% (down from 5.5% in 2019).

ITALY | In Italy, Giorgia Meloni, the charismatic leader of the Italian Right, has presented the party favorably to much of Italy and the rest of the world, despite the many neo-fascists still holding important roles within the party. 

CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE | In Central and Eastern Europe (the V4 and the three Baltic States), which hold 137 seats out of 720 in the European Parliament, the far-right has made significant gains. Even though the center held its ground with Civic Platform winning for the first time in a decade in Poland, or Progressive Slovakia leading Robert Fico’s Smer party to victory, Fidesz and Tisza dominated in Hungary. Populist and radical right parties won in Hungary and Czechia. In Czechia, the ANO Party list of populist billionaire Andrej Babiš won the election with 26.14% and seven seats in the European Parliaments, ahead of the SPOLU (the center-right political alliance) list, which collected 22.27% and six seats. Populist parties exploit security concerns to build anti-immigrant narratives and emphasize national sovereignty, opposing further integration of the EU. This resonates with some Central and Eastern European countries with historical experiences of external control.

Further south, in the Balkans, the results of the elections align with the overall European trends. In Bulgaria, the pro-Russian, nationalist party Revival, known for occasional antisemitic discourse and actions, will have three seats.

Progress of the Extreme Left

The European group "The Left," containing some of the most anti-Zionist parties, fell from 41 to 39 seats and remains the smallest group in the EP. However, in some countries, the far-left progressed in a troublesome way. This is the case in France, where the far-left party under Jean-Luc Mélenchon (“La France Insoumise”) rose from six to nine seats. Despite its relatively low success in the European parliamentary elections, it has convinced other left-wing parties to ally. This means that the moderate left is now associated with the obsessively anti-Israel and frankly antisemitic part of the left. The notion that antisemitism would be a red line has been entirely disregarded, sending a terrible signal not only to the left, but to society as a whole.

Upcoming Elections in France: The Peril for France, the EU, NATO, and the West

(As of Friday, June 28, 2024)

Right after the European elections, President of France Emmanuel Macron announced snap elections following the far-right's sweeping victory and his party’s defeat. The next steps involve new parliamentary elections on June 30 and July 7. This extremely risky move might bring the far-right and far-left even more to the center stage of French politics.

Both blocs are polling ahead of Macron’s centrist bloc. The far-right bloc, led by Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and her potential 28-year-old candidate for Prime Minister, Jordan Bardella, is polling at 36%. On the other side of the political spectrum, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s far-left party has managed to convince other left-leaning parties (SocialistsGreens, etc.) to form a bloc, which is now polling at 29%, pulling them further to the left.

Dramatically, Jews have become a central focus of this election, being instrumentalized by the far-right to normalize their party (which positions itself as against antisemitism and anti-Zionism). On the other hand, the far-left strategy has been to use the issue of Israel and Jews to push the far-right into power, aiming to then become the only viable opposition party. Both sides are ultimately aiming for the same goal. In this context, the results of the last AJC Survey on Antisemitism in France, published in April 2024, have been extensively referred to by French media, especially to explain the root causes and origins of the current rise in antisemitism in the country and to illustrate the fear of French Jews to see the extremes (mostly the far-left) rise to power. 

France’s leadership position in the EU, its seat on the UN Security Council, and its military reach as a global power make this almost as much of a “world election” as Biden vs. Trump in November.

The National Rally has faintly criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Before that, Marine Le Pen took a large loan from a Russian bank and then one from a bank connected to Hungary’s Putin-sympathizing PM Viktor Orbán. She has said Russian interference in Syria was “good for the world.”

It is also worth recalling—because it tends to be forgotten these days—that the history and much of the present of the Lepenist movement is viscerally anti-American. Marine Le Pen has said in the past she wanted to leave NATO's military wing, the integrated command, which she sees as an instrument of American hegemony.

At this stage anything is possible. The far-right could win, forcing President Macron to appoint Jordan Bardella as Prime Minister, potentially creating unrest in the country (the left would certainly go to the streets). Another possibility is the lack of a clear majority, which could provoke an institutional crisis. This instability could lead France, Europe, and the world into significant disruption, benefiting those like Russia’s Putin who seek to undermine Western values and alliances.


AJC is a 501(c)3 not for profit organization and does not endorse political candidates for elective office.