Marine Le Pen hit the jackpot. She invited about 100 diplomats to a luncheon last week during a visit to UN Headquarters in New York. Four accepted: There were the envoys from Trinidad and Tobago, Armenia and Uruguay, who obviously are of no concern to her at all. But the entrance of the fourth guest, Israeli UN Ambassador Ron Prosor, made the event a sensation and worth her whole trip.
No official American representative agreed to meet with France's extreme-right leader. Neither did any leader of the Jewish community. She failed in her attempt to stage a photo op at the Holocaust Museum, and skipped the visit. The French ambassador to the UN sent a sharp message that she is persona non grata in the United Nations building. But the Israeli envoy? He shook her hand and spoke of the importance that must be accorded to a wide variety of opinions.
"We flourish on the diversity of ideas," Prosor said. "We talked about Europe, about other issues and I enjoyed the conversation very much," Prosor was quoted as saying. Even before he went into the hall where the luncheon was being held, he told shocked reporters that he was a "free man."
The Foreign Ministry now claims there was a misunderstanding; the ambassador "thought he was attending an event hosted by the French UN delegation. When he realized his error, he skipped the meal and left." User comments on leading French news websites over the weekend were derisive, including all the French equivalents of LOL and ROFL in response to the explanation.
No one believes it was a coincidence. Prosor is a proven professional. He would certainly want to forget the fact that he became the first representative of the Jewish state to meet with a leader of the National Front. He would probably be happy to smash the camera that documented the smiling encounter. But his mistake did not happen in a vacuum. It has the odor of a symptom. The odor of a very unholy alliance being formed between members of the Israeli right-wing and a number of the most nationalistic and anti-Semitic figures in Europe. Over the past year, among visitors to Israel were the populist Dutch leader Geert Wilders, the Belgian racist Filip Dewinter and the Austrian successor to Jorg Haider, Heinz-Christian Strache.
These politicians, like Le Pen, have exchanged the Jewish demon-enemy for the criminal-immigrant Muslim. But they have not really discarded their ideological DNA. The Israeli seal of approval they seek to get is intended to bring them closer to power. Le Pen herself has decided to leave behind the anti-Semitic scandals of her father, Jean-Marie. She wants to make the National Front a popular and legitimate party.
She is already popular (19 percent in the polls). Legitimate? In two interviews she gave to Haaretz in the past, she attacked President Jacques Chirac for his historic 1995 declaration in which he took, in the name of France, responsibility for Vichy war crimes. She adamantly refused to denounce French fascist crimes and showed that she cannot really disengage from her father, his heritage and her party's Vichy and anti-Semitic hard core.
It is easy to guess what would happen to an Israeli ambassador if he found himself at an event hosted by the "disgraced" Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas - or, perish the thought, at a Hamas or Hezbollah event. The earth would tremble. Even tar and feathers would not be enough under such circumstances. But Le Pen is blonde and she has blue eyes. Oh, and she hates Muslims.
Let us hope the incident at the United Nations will not give her votes that will allow her to repeat her father's sensational results in the 2002 French presidential elections, and go on to a second round in the upcoming French elections.
We must see a complete and public disavowal by Israel to prevent an ostensibly minor incident from becoming an accident of history.
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