Louis Aliot - Olivier Fitoussi - 13122011
Louis Aliot, vice president of the French far-right National Front party, in Jerusalem on Monday to curry favor with Franco-Israeli voters. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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The National Front has its roots in French fascism and it has always had a racist and anti-Semitic image, but one of its representatives is in Israel to recruit supporters.

Louis Aliot, the partner of National Front presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, is in the country trying to persuade those eligible to vote in the French presidential election to give her their vote in this spring's balloting and to boost her image en route to the Elysee Palace.

"For us this visit is a precedent," Aliot told Haaretz. "This is the first time a National Front leader has visited Israel. It's true that relations were tense for a time, but it's time to warm up the atmosphere."

Aliot is on a 48-hour trip and on Monday visited the Western Wall.

The visit was first reported on the website JSS News.

On Monday, he also met with "a few elected officials and political figures who prefer not to be named." When pressed, he confirmed that none of the elected officials were Knesset members. On Tuesday he plans to visit churches in Bethlehem.

The high point of Monday's activities was his meeting in a Jerusalem hotel with 40 French Jews he said had invited him in order to hear Le Pen's platform. Marine Le Pen is the daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, a far-right nationalist and former presidential candidate who periodically made xenophobic, anti-Semitic statements.

"They invited me so they could hear our worldview and Marine Le Pen's platform, particularly in the face of the Arab Spring," Aliot said. The group comprised "Frenchmen who live in Israel, many of them of Algerian origin."

What did he think of them?, we asked. "What was interesting was that it's not important what position you have on Israeli politics, you will always have strong ties to the land. We share that position," he said. "Just as the Jews are defending their right to Israel, we in France are fighting to defend our identity and our land.

"We don't always see eye-to-eye on Israel's foreign policy but we have the same position on the dangers posed by radical Islam, which exists in Europe and also threatens Israel, which we call 'the western island,'" Aliot said.

Does he think that Jews are antagonistic toward the senior Le Pen and his ideas? "Marine is a different person," Aliot replied. "She belongs to a generation that never knew war, any war. Her perspective is different from that of people who went through wars.

"Today there is a global problem of immigrants, and here there is a specific problem of the rise of religion, what we call Islamization. Here there are deep differences of opinion. Alain Juppe, France's foreign minister, argues that there is a moderate Islam, while others argue that there is no such thing as moderate Islam.

"The Frenchmen we met in Israel all strongly believe that Marine is not the monster they might have thought. They share our stance with regard to immigrants in France," he said.

"By contrast, we have a very balanced position on the peace process, while the French people we met in Jerusalem are far more nationalistic. Sometimes they say things that we can't say in France.

"But I must say that we don't live here, we don't have the same pressure, we don't face the same dangers. It's natural that they should say things that are more defensive. We are strangers here," Aliot said.