Marine Le Pen - AP
Marine Le Pen. Photo by AP
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PARIS - Heavy snow began to fall a few hours ago, covering the smiling face of Marine Le Pen, which adorns the front of the prestigious weekly L'Express, under a glass case in a newspaper kiosk. She's seen everywhere. On France's television screens, in its newspapers, at party conventions, on billboards.

We meet in the new headquarters of the National Front in Nanterre, a western suburb of Paris. It's a cold, metal building on a small side street. Were it not for the French flag in front and the inevitable statue of Joan of Arc alongside it, no one would guess that this is the headquarters of the party founded in 1972 by Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine's father and the "great demon of French politics."

She is wearing stylish jeans and a striped blue-and-white knit shirt. Around her neck is a cross studded with glittering stones. Her mother has dubbed her "the clone." "Le Pen [the father] with more hair," she once said of herself. Her large build, her square face, her raspy voice, her light eyes - "the National Front with Cinderella hair," one of the papers once wrote.

Since joining her father's presidential campaign over eight years ago, Marine, today 42, has become almost the exclusive face of the party. In a week from now, according to the surveys, she will easily defeat her father's veteran deputy, Bruno Gollnisch, and take over the leadership of the Front, after almost 40 years of the founding father's one-man show.

In the context of the "de-demonization" effort that she is leading, Marine decided to cleanse the party of her father's anti-Semitic provocations. She wants to lead the Front out of its racist ghetto and turn it into a legitimate mass party. The surveys give her between 17 and 27 percent support of the general public.

"Never in the history of the Fifth Republic has there been an extreme right-wing party that was so popular with the middle classes," observed one newspaper. "The National Front is liable to be a genuine threat in the 2012 presidential elections." "They're afraid," was more or less the headline of an article recently published in Le Monde. "They" are both the left and the right. According to one school of thought, "We must not surrender to the agenda she is dictating for fear of increasing her popularity"; according to another, "It's impossible to ignore the problems she raises that are preoccupying the French."

Liberation warned that "Marine Le Pen's 'new look' is already opening new horizons for her and is bringing closer the connection from the Front and the right-wing establishment, which until now was considered impossible."

In a comprehensive interview with Haaretz, Le Pen says that the surveys show that the decades-old boycott that the establishment imposed on her party has already been overcome: "It's a fact that the surveys show that 53 percent of UMP voters [Le Mouvement Populaire, the ruling party of President Nicolas Sarkozy] agree with me."

Her father shocked France and the entire world when he managed in the 2002 presidential election to defeat Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin in the first round, and to continue to the second round opposite incumbent Jacques Chirac; Chirac crushed Le Pen subsequently, with more than 82 percent of the vote.

Greater upheaval

For her part, the daughter promises far greater upheaval in the future. "A dynamic is being created here that is making our political rivals tremble," she says, adding that ultimately "the unworthy ruling political echelon" will be defeated and she, Marine, will enter Elysee Palace.

The commentators in France say you have changed the tone in the party but not the content, that you're playing a double game. For 80 percent of the French there's no difference between you and your father. So who is the real Marine Le Pen?

Marine Le Pen: "Today everyone is discovering - very belatedly - that our platform with all its clauses was already justified when it was introduced 30 years ago. Therefore, we have no reason to change it. We were the first to sound the alarm and to warn of the consequences of the policy that led to massive immigration, and from there to the flourishing of radical Islam that refuses to accept the laws of the French republic. We were the first to oppose the transfer of sovereign powers to the institutions of the European Union, the first to reject the Maastricht Treaty and the establishment of the euro, which is now collapsing before our eyes. If we were right about that, why should we change?"

When your father claimed in 2005 that "the Nazi occupation was not particularly inhumane" you slammed the door and were about to leave the party. On the other hand, you yourself aroused a tremendous uproar when you recently compared the prayers of Muslims in the streets to the Nazi occupation. A Freudian slip or a deliberate declaration?

"It wasn't a Freudian slip, but a repetition of things I had said several days earlier at a press conference, which I headlined 'Sarkozy the Debacle.' I compared the situation today to 1940 because, first of all, we are now under German monetary control; and second, entire regions of our territory are in a state of occupation, whether because [Islamic] religious laws are being implemented there, or because Mafia law is being implemented. My intention was to present the problem of secularism versus radical Islam, the problem of funding the mosques and the fact that we don't have enough information about the content of the sermons of many of the imams in France. My intent was to demonstrate that the laws of the republic and France's national sovereignty are gradually disappearing. The discussion that was sparked surrounding my words is positive. For the first time in the history of the National Front, the political establishment is not uniting against us, but is running after us. It's just that they're not proposing any solution to the problems that we are presenting."

Don't you consider the recent legislation banning the burka and the niqab a type of solution?

"Today's political leadership lacks courage and vision. It dealt with these items of clothing, but should also have forbidden the wearing of a head scarf in public; after all, it's a political statement, as are the mass prayers in the streets. In the past the government permitted the closing of only one street in France for prayers. Now there are 15 such streets, and in the future there will be 100. In the past they didn't have loudspeakers; now the prayers can be heard at full volume. It's impossible. There should have been a section introduced into the constitution that anchors the principles of secularism more strictly."

Several of your senior colleagues on the European far right visited Israel recently, invited by the settlers and groups on the Israeli far right. What is your opinion of this alliance?

"The shared concern about radical Islam explains the relationship ... but it is possible that behind it is also the need of the visitors from Europe to change their image in their countries ... As far as their partners in Israel are concerned, I myself don't understand the idea of continuing to develop the settlements. I consider it a political mistake and would like to make it clear in this context that we must have the right to criticize the policy of the State of Israel - just as we are allowed to criticize any sovereign country - without it being considered anti-Semitism. After all, the National Front has always been Zionistic and always defended Israel's right to exist."

Does the fact that people once seen as blatant anti-Semites are now cloaking themselves with the label of Islamophobes prove that anti-Semitism no longer pays in present-day Europe?

"There's no anti-Semitism today in Europe. This expression of hostility disappeared after World War II. The growing [Islamic] anti-Semitism in our territory is related to the Is raeli-Palestinian conflict. As I've already declared in the past, today in France there are entire regions where it's better not to be a Jew, a woman, a homosexual or even an ordinary white Frenchman."

In that connection, the former EU commissioner, Dutchman Frits Bolkestein, declared that the Jews in his country have to emigrate to Israel or to the United States because it is no longer possible to protect them. What about the Jews of France?

"The Jews of France are Frenchmen, they're at home here, and they must stay here and not emigrate. The country is obligated to provide solutions to the development of radical Islam in the problematic regions."

A Jewish president?

According to the surveys, one of those Jews, International Monetary Fund president Dominique Strauss-Kahn, may be the next president of France. Is a Jewish French president a possibility?

"Of course. Strauss-Kahn claimed that 5 percent of Frenchman will never vote for a Jew. I replied that there are probably also 5 percent who will never vote for a woman. As opposed to France's image, it's one of the least racist countries in the world. People aren't judged here according to their color or their religion, but according to their qualities. That's called a meritocracy; it's a very important and precious principle for the French. As opposed to the Anglo-Saxon culture, French culture is influenced by Christianity, which judges people, not communities."

And a Muslim president, is that also conceivable?

"Anything is possible. There are 10 million Muslims in France [5-6 million according to the French Ministry of the Interior]. The Muslims - when they're Frenchmen, of course - don't vote as a community, but like the rest of the population. If in the wake of the strengthening of radical Islam a candidate tries to represent the Muslim community exclusively, that would be a grave development."

Rabbis in Israel have published a declaration calling on Jews not to rent apartments to Arabs. Do you identify with that?

"Those Arabs are Israeli, aren't they? And in that case, they should be treated the same way as all the citizens. The country must decide if it is granting citizenship to its inhabitants or not, but from the moment it has done so, they must be treated equally."

And as a person who keeps track of the phenomenon of migrants and infiltrators to Israel, what is your opinion of the way Israeli society is handling the problem, and specifically of the idea of building a fence on the Egyptian border and a detention camp in the south?

"If we were to say in France a thousandth of what they say in Israel on the subject, we would immediately be thrown into prison for incitement to racial hatred. In practical terms, the country must adopt a preventive and effective immigration policy, which would include putting the employers of foreigners on trial and imposing heavy fines on them. You also have to implement the idea of national preference, and abolish all the incentives that attract migrants, for example social welfare, education for the children, health and housing services. Other means, such as deporting the immigrants back to their homeland, won't work. As long as they have temptations, they'll continue to come. I understand them: Even if they're unemployed here, because of the benefits, they gain much more here than if they had stayed to work in their countries. Once they have no reason to emigrate, they simply won't come any more."

In your first-ever interview together with your father [published in Haaretz in 2004], you denounced President Chirac for his historic declaration in 1995 in which he accepted responsibility in the name of France for the crimes of the Vichy regime. Are you willing today to denounce the regime of Marshal Philippe Petain and the crimes of French fascism?

"Definitely not, sir. First, I don't intend to speak badly of my country. Second, I believe that Jacques Chirac made a mistake. It was not France that was responsible, and not the French state, but the regime. I also object to constant and systematic mea culpas. We have to accept our country as it is, with its good and bad moments, with its periods of magnificence and its less glamorous periods, with the failures and the mistakes, with the dramas and the unfortunate events. French history is very long. Fairness requires that it be treated as a whole, and not be sliced like pieces of salami without any connection, in order to try to look better politically."

Mark of Cain

“Le Pen is Le Pen and Marine is Marine. I’ve already declared 8,293 times that I don’t share his view of history,” says Marine Le Pen about her father’s scandalous declarations. But from her responses to Haaretz it’s clear she is torn between her wish to create a new, decent image and her inability to disassociate herself from her party’s anti-Semitic old guard.
Several attempts by Marine to come to Israel, including as part of a delegation from the European Parliament, were torpedoed by the Israeli government. The same is true of attempts “to turn a new leaf” with the Jewish community in France. “My conclusion was that Israel is suffering from a surplus of friends,” she laughs bitterly.

Richard Prasquier, president of CRIF, the umbrella organization of the French Jewish community, believes that, if only because of the success of her “de-demonization” effort, she is more dangerous than her father. The Israeli Embassy in Paris shares his opinion that as long as she doesn’t reject and condemn the statements of Jean-Marie Le Pen, there should be no contact with her.

But Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut has said in the past that, although he has “not a drop of sympathy for the far right in France,” what worries him is actually the far left, “where today they are recruiting the new anti-Semites.” The philosopher, author of the book about anti-Semitism “In the Name of the Other,” has also observed that “the anti-Semitism of the far right is finished. Le Pen is anti-Semitic, but his daughter is definitely not.”

Two former presidents of CRIF, Henri Hajdenberg and Theo Klein, say that, as someone born in 1968, Marine does not bear the historical marks of Cain on her forehead − collaboration with the Vichy regime, the struggle for “French Algeria” and the accusations of torture in Algeria that haunt Jean-Marie. But while Klein believes therefore in the need to “feel the way toward her and examine the possibility of conducting a dialogue with her,” Hajdenberg worriedly concludes that Le Pen “can attract the moderate right electorate, and that there is a genuine potential danger here.”

Prasquier’s fears are even more profound: “The circle of her voters is liable to be joined by Jews who are disappointed by Sarkozy, who bear a grudge against him for intervening in the peace process and for the pressures he is applying to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” he says.

Actually, Le Pen has already managed to forge ties with the Kahanists in France, members of the Jewish Defense League, who consider the leaders of the community “traitors who deserve to die.”

Facts about Marine Le Pen

Le Pen is a lawyer by training, 42 years old, twice divorced, a mother of three, and the partner of the former secretary general of the party, Louis Aliot.

She ran for the leadership of the Ile-de-France region in the local elections in 2004 and won 12 percent of the vote.

A member of the European Parliament since 2004, she has served on the committee that deals with ties with Israel.

At the age of 8, she was injured in an assassination attempt against her father.
Her motto: “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”

Her mother, Pierrette, left home in 1984 after 25 years of marriage to Jean-Marie Le Pen. Pierrette called her husband “a sexist pig,” and three years later she was photographed in the nude for Playboy, in an ostensible effort to take revenge against him for this character trait.

Her father says that she is “the right woman in the right place. A large and healthy blonde − an ideal physical specimen.”

Mark of Cain

“Le Pen is Le Pen and Marine is Marine. I’ve already declared 8,293 times that I don’t share his view of history,” says Marine Le Pen about her father’s scandalous declarations. But from her responses to Haaretz it’s clear she is torn between her wish to create a new, decent image and her inability to disassociate herself from her party’s anti-Semitic old guard.

Several attempts by Marine to come to Israel, including as part of a delegation from the European Parliament, were torpedoed by the Israeli government. The same is true of attempts “to turn a new leaf” with the Jewish community in France.

“My conclusion was that Israel is suffering from a surplus of friends,” she laughs bitterly.

Richard Prasquier, president of CRIF, the umbrella organization of the French Jewish community, believes that, if only because of the success of her “de-demonization” effort, she is more dangerous than her father. The Israeli Embassy in Paris shares his opinion that as long as she doesn’t reject and condemn the statements of Jean-Marie Le Pen, there should be no contact with her.

But Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut has said in the past that, although he has “not a drop of sympathy for the far right in France,” what worries him is actually the far left, “where today they are recruiting the new anti-Semites.” The philosopher, author of the book about anti-Semitism “In the Name of the Other,” has also observed that “the anti-Semitism of the far right is finished. Le Pen is anti-Semitic, but his daughter is definitely not.”

Two former presidents of CRIF, Henri Hajdenberg and Theo Klein, say that, as someone born in 1968, Marine does not bear the historical marks of Cain on her forehead − collaboration with the Vichy regime, the struggle for “French Algeria” and the accusations of torture in Algeria that haunt Jean-Marie. But while Klein believes therefore in the need to “feel the way toward her and examine the possibility of conducting a dialogue with her,” Hajdenberg worriedly concludes that Le Pen “can attract the moderate right electorate, and that there is a genuine potential danger here.”

Prasquier’s fears are even more profound: “The circle of her voters is liable to be joined by Jews who are disappointed by Sarkozy, who bear a grudge against him for intervening in the peace process and for the pressures he is applying to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” he says.

Actually, Le Pen has already managed to forge ties with the Kahanists in France, members of the Jewish Defense League, who consider the leaders of the community “traitors who deserve to die.”