Jean-Luc Melenchon, France's populist left-wing leader, blasted French President Emmanuel Macron for his admission that the Vichy government was indeed the French government during World War II, and that it – and not the Nazis – were responsible for deporting French Jews.
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In an angry 2,000-word blog, Melenchon took the newly-elected president to task for a range of policy missteps, but saved the bulk of his wrath for the remarks Macron made in the presence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Denying or hiding France's role in World War II is a disgrace, Macron had said on Sunday in the presence of visiting Netanyahu at a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the deportation of Jews from Paris. "We have a responsibility to realize where and when we have failed," Macron said. "There are those who say Vichy wasn't France," he noted. "It's true that Vichy wasn't all of France, but Vichy was the government of France and the French establishment It was responsible for deporting French Jews, and not the Germans."
In his blog, Melenchon didn't deny the involvement of French citizens in rounding up Jews for deportation, but in an echo of remarks during this year's election campaign by the leader of the far-right National Front, Marine Le Pen, Melenchon declared it "totally unacceptable" to say that "France, as a people, as a nation, is responsible for this crime." In April, during the French presidential campaign, Le Pen sparked controversy for saying: "I don't think France is responsible for the Vel d'Hiv,"– a reference to the Velodrome d'Hiver stadium where thousands of Jews were rounded up before being sent to Nazi death camps.
Some 13,000 Jews were deported by French police on July 16-17, 1942, many of whom were first detained in harsh conditions at Paris' Vel d'Hiv. In all, about 75,000 Jews were deported from France to Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Only 2,500 survived. Although the Vichy government was only in full control of southern France after the German invasion, it had nominal control of the entire country.
The French republic, Melenchon asserted, had been abolished and the legitimate French government was in exile in London at the time. "Never, at any moment, did the French choose murder and anti-Semitic criminality. Those who were not Jewish were not all, and as French people, guilty of the crime that was carried out at the time! On the contrary, through its resistance, its fight against the [German] invader and through the reestablishment of the republic when the [Germans] were driven out of the territory, the French people, the French people proved which side they were actually on."
And then taking aim more directly at Macron, who roundly trounced Melenchon and his party in presidential and parliamentary elections this year, the left-wing parliamentarian added: "It is not in Mr. Macron's power to attribute an identity of executioner to all of the French that is not theirs. No, no, Vichy is not France!"
In his remarks Sunday, Macron also condemned Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism in France today, saying that it has taken a new shape, and that anti-Zionist and anti-Israel expressions should be opposed. "It's a new type of anti-Semitism," he said. That also riled Melenchon.
Casting doubt on a possible connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, Melenchon said there have been those who have made such a connection, "but this is the first time that this argument has been made official by the president of our republic."
Saying that it is no small matter to link a political opinion and a criminal offense in France, meaning anti-Semitism, Melenchon asked how Macron could make such a statement "in the name of the entire country without a second of discussion by anyone, based on the sole fact that the Prince," a reference to Macron, "had decided that way."