The furor that Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of France’s far-right Front National, raised with an anti-Semitic comment this week came at a critical juncture in the party’s relations with French Jews. Le Pen disparaged a French-Jewish singer with a deliberate play on the French word for oven ‘four.’
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Marine Le Pen, the current party leader, quickly disassociated herself and the party from her father’s comment, but the storm it raised strengthened those in the Jewish community who oppose any reconciliation with a party of racist, anti-Semitic roots.
Marine Le Pen attempted to soften the party’s image in recent years, and has made overtures to Jewish community figures. She referred to her father’s comment as a “political gaffe” and ordered to pull the video from the party’s website.
In the elections for the European Parliament two weeks ago the Front National won the highest vote rate – 25 percent – of all the French parties. In the local elections the FN took over 12 local authorities. These achievements renewed the debate in the Jewish community about the relations with the party. Recently, more voices in the community called to consider talks.
However, last week the CRIF, the umbrella body of Jewish communities and organizations in France, decided not to hold official talks with the FN. It made an exception for isolated areas in the party’s control where the cooperation of the local council was needed to advance issues such as the preservation of Jewish cemeteries.
But unofficial requests to meet Jewish representatives keep coming from Le Pen’s associates. “We can no longer ignore the FN once it plays such a central role in French politics,” a senior official in the World Jewish Congress said.
He said that it is to be hoped that talking to the FN would distance it from anti-Semitic elements. “We can’t say a quarter of the French people are anti-Semitic and we won’t talk to them,” he said. In any case, he said, the congress won’t do anything without coordinating with the CRIF.
Other Jewish communities in Europe experienced similar hesitations. In Britain, the community decided to cut off all ties with the English Defense League, although organization members claimed they were pro-Jewish and asked to cooperate with Jewish organizations. The boycott was based on the organization’s anti-Muslim activities and racist comments, despite the fact that these were not aimed at Jews.
In other states, Jewish communities have cooperated with far right parties such as the Dutch Party of Freedom, founded and led by Geert Wilders. He also presented himself as pro-Jewish and focused his party’s activity on fighting Islam. Recently, however, the Dutch Jewish community has been reconsidering its relations with Wilders’ party following senior party figures’ support for legislation against kosher slaughter and circumcision.