Far-right French Party Works to Sell Le Pen and National Front to Jews

Though political party was once synonymous with anti-Semitism, ahead of presidential election proponents hope to increase support from local Jewish community.

The leader of France's far-right National Front party, Marine Le Pen, gestures at a meeting in Milan, January 28, 2016.
Alessandro Garofalo, Reuters

Jewish activists close to Marine Le Pen said they have formed an organization designed to market her far-right National Front party to France’s Jewish community ahead of the 2017 presidential elections.

Michel Thooris, a French Jew who once worked as Le Pen’s consultant on police issues, told the Le Lab news website that he will head the new nonprofit when it becomes active this summer.

Le Pen told the news website that the group, reportedly to be called the Union of French Jewish Patriots, or UPFJ, will not be an official organ of the National Front, whose charter and ideology go against frameworks built around ethnicity or other special characteristics.

French far-right Front National former leader Jean Marie Le Pen speaks with journalists during the 15th congress of the party, France, Nov. 29, 2014.
AP

“It’s an association of patriots that adhere to the Israelite faith which existed already in 2012 and in which Thooris already had a role,” she is quoted as saying in reference to the now inactive Union of French Jews.

National Front’s founder is Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has been convicted of Holocaust denial and inciting racial hatred against Jews. Marine Le Pen last year expelled him from the party as part of her rejection of his openly racist rhetoric and has courted French Jews in a move that many observers said was designed to rehabilitate the party’s name.

A February poll by Ifop-Fiducial projected Le Pen could win a record 25 percent to 28 percent of the votes in the first round, and take National Front for the first time to the second round of presidential elections.

There are indications her plan was working even before she kicked out Jean-Marie Le Pen and stripped him of the title of honorary president of the party. In a 2014 poll among 1,095 self-identified Jews, the National Front earned 13.5 percent of the vote in 2012 presidential elections, more than doubling its share from the previous presidential contest five years earlier.

Marine Le Pen has insisted repeatedly that the real enemy of French Jews is not the National Front but Islamic fundamentalism, against which she has claimed the party is “your best shield.”

But CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities, said the party remains an illegitimate political entity because of the presence of anti-Semites within its ranks, such as Holocaust denier Bruno Gollnisch, who represents the party at the European Parliament.

Thooris told Le Lab that one of his association’s goals is to “contend against the representational dictatorship of CRIF on National Front,” adding that CRIF “represents no one but itself and does not fight for the interests of the French Jewish community.”

CRIF maintains Jewish National Front voters are a minority within the community. The umbrella group’s leader, Roger Cukierman, said a rising far right will only augment the community’s current problems.