Vincent Peillon announces his candidacy to succeed French president

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Vincent Peillon, a former education minister of France, announced his candidacy to lead France’s Socialist Party, where he is already receiving key endorsements from the party’s left wing.

Peillon, a lawmaker in the European Parliament whose mother is Jewish, announced his candidacy Sunday to succeed President Francois Hollande and run as their party’s presidential candidate in the election in April. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo pledged her support for Peillon Monday, according to the French daily Le Figaro.

In the Socialist primaries in January, Peillon, who opposed the ban imposed in summer against the wearing in some public beaches in France of the full-body swimsuit known as the burkini, will face off Prime Minister Manuel Valls — a hardliner who supported the ban citing what he said was its use by radical Muslims to oppress women.

Peillon’s mother, Françoise Blum, was a chief researcher for the French national institute for health and medical research. His father, Gilles Peillon, was a communist and a banker, according to Le Journal de Dimanche. Peillon was appointed education minister in 2012 and served in that position for two years.

Peillon, who rarely talks about his Jewish roots publicly, signed a petition by the left-wing Jcall group, which is the European counterpart of J Street. In 2009 he celebrated the bar mitzvah of his son Elie at a Paris synagogue, according to Jacques Benillouche, a columnist for Slater and Tribune Juive. His other son is named Isaac. Peillon is married to Nathalie Bensahel, a journalist who has written about France’s anti-Semitism problem.

In an interview with Le Monde, Peillon defended President Francois Hollande against his critics and vowed to continue Hollande’s course if he is elected president.

Hollande, who for over a year has received dismal approval ratings in polls and is considered France’s least-popular president in decades, earlier this month announced he would not seek a second term, adding others were “better suited” to lead the Socialist Party to win another term.

But Peillon said Hollande “should be proud” of his ability to lead France to economic growth following a long period of stagnation. “France’s ability to restore its public and social reserves without compromising its socialist agenda is unique,” he told Le Monde, adding he would not have run for the party’s leadership had Hollande not called it quits.

After three years of sluggish growth — 0.5 percent on average in the years 2012-2014 — France’s economy in 2015 achieved a growth rate of 1.2 percent. Also last year, the French economy created jobs in the private sector — 98,000 for the year as a whole — which has been encouraged by tax measures that cut labor costs.

However, many voters blame Hollande for failing to prevent a series of attacks by jihadists, including on Jewish targets, who have killed hundreds of people since 2012, the year Hollande was elected.

Polls project that the far-right National Front will win about 25 percent of the vote in April – a record-breaking figure for that party. Francois Fillon, the center-right candidate, was favored to win the election in polls conducted in early December.

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