Muslim Council ballot results prove ominous for French Jews

PARIS — French Jews may have been hoping that the election of the first council to represent France's 5 million-strong Muslim community would act as a moderating influence on its members.

They received a rude awakening earlier this month.

Representatives from more than 900 mosques across France who cast their ballots for the new Muslim Council delivered a stinging slap to moderate candidates backed by the government.

The result was a personal defeat for the man seen as the modern face of French Islam, Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of Paris' Grand Mosque.

The main winner was the National Federation of French Muslims, a group closely linked to the large Moroccan community in France and which receives financial and political backing from Rabat. The Moroccans are regarded as more conservative than the more integrated Algerians although they are more mainstream than the fundamentalist French Union of Islamic Organizations.

Candidates from the union established themselves as the second largest grouping with 14 seats.

Trailing behind came candidates backed by the Paris Mosque, which only succeeded in placing six of its supporters on the council.

The result is particularly troubling for the Jewish community, since it comes as anti-Semitic incidents are at their highest level in more than a decade, and the vast majority are carried out by Muslim youths.

French Jews and government officials had hoped the election of moderate elements to the council would provide Boubakeur with increased authority to take on the more radical elements within the Muslim community.

For the government and the Jewish community, the most worrying sign was the second-place showing by the French Union of Islamic Organizations, an organization with strong links to the Muslim Brotherhood fundamentalist group.

Such fears were exarcerbated by the union's reaction to the election. In fact, union officials said, the group's success was even greater than it appeared.