The efforts of Marine Le Pen to organise an alliance of Eurosceptic parties to disrupt the European parliament have been damaged by her father’s latest anti-Semitic remarks on the Front National website.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder and president-for-life of the party, embarrassed his daughter’s sanitised far right movement at the weekend by addressing a Holocaust-mocking jibe at a popular French Jewish singer. Mr Le Pen, who will be 86 later this month, reeled off a string of insults against celebrities who had criticised the FN’s success in the European elections last month. When he came to the French Jewish actor and pop singer Patrick Bruel, Mr Le Pen, said: “We will organise an oven for him next time”.
Mr Le Pen used the word fournée, attempting to make a word-play on tournée, which means concert tour. Fournée can mean “baker’s oven” or “batch” – but oven is the only word the makes sense in the context. The video was withdrawn from the FN site on Saturday night. The party’s vice-president, Louis Aliot, described Mr Le Pen’s use of the word as “politically stupid and disturbing”.
The reaction is doubly significant. Mr Aliot is not only the party’s number two. He is also the romantic partner of the FN’s leader Marine Le Pen, who has made strenuous efforts to clean up the party’s public act in the past three years. SOS Racisme, a French pressure group, announced yesterday that it would be making a criminal complaint against Mr Le Pen in the next few days. it said the comment was not a “simple overstepping of the mark but an example of the filthiest anti-Semitic thinking”.
Mr Le Pen’s remarks come as a young French man of North African origin, Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, is being investigated on suspicion of murdering four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels two weeks ago.
Mr Le Pen angrily denied that fournée was anti-Semitic. He dismissed those who suggested otherwise – including his daughters’ partner, Mr Aliot – as “imbeciles”.
The founder of the FN has several convictions in France for making anti-Semitic or Holocaust-minimising remarks. In 1988, he made a similar jibe against a Jewish politician, Michel Durafour. He called him “Durafour crématoire” – or “cremation oven”, a reference to the incineration of the bodies of Jews at Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps.
The target of Mr Le Pen’s latest attack, the actor and pop singer Patrick Bruel, 55, said on his Facebook page: “I not distressed for myself. I am distressed for the memory of six million (victims of the Nazi holocaust).”
Like the reformed Nazi in the movie Dr Strangelove whose right arm salutes of its own accord, Jean-Marie Le Pen finds it hard to free himself of old habits. Lowly FN members have been suspended or expelled for making similar, or milder, racially loaded comments since Ms Le Pen became president in 2011. Will she now be consistent and expel her own father? Past form suggests she will just limit herself to giving him a severe ticking-off.
Ms Le Pen is reported to have been “incandescent” when her father said, just before the European poll, that immigration problems could easily be solved by a plague of ebola.
His latest comment comes at an awkward moment for his daughter. She is seeking partners from other EU countries to try to form an extreme nationalist and Europhobic group in the European Parliament. She has already been rebuffed by Eurosceptic politicians from several other countries, including Nigel Farage of Ukip. He said that he would not go into an alliance with a party which has “anti-semitism” in its DNA. He has since indicated, however, that he might cooperate in a “broad” coalition with FN to disrupt EU legislation.
Le Pen senior’s comment could also be damaging to his daughter’s ambitions to convert her first place (on a low turnout) in the European election last month to a serious challenge for the French presidency in 2017. With mainstream parties of centre-left and centre-right unpopular and riven by quarrels, Marine Le Pen believes she has a window of opportunity to persuade people to take the FN seriously.
Opinion polls suggest, however, that a “blocking majority” of at least 60 per cent of French voters are unconvinced by her efforts to “de-demonise” the FN.
Mr Le Pen’s remarks also coincide with increasing concern about the rise of new forms of anti-semitism. The FN’s founder comes from a tradition of gut anti-semitism on the French right going back a century to the Dreyfus case and beyond.
This kind of prejudice is declining but still exists. It has been making strange alliances in recent years with the new kind of left-leaning anti-semitism, represented by the black comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. He and Mr Le Pen, once sworn enemies, have become friends.
The overtly anti-Semitic polemicist Alain Soral, a former FN official and now an adviser to Dieudonné, has also been trying to establish links between the old far right and the anti-semitism of many young people of North African origin.
Why should Mr le Pen knowingly (and not for the first time) undermine his daughter’s successful attempts to rebuild and rebrand his party?
Some FN-watchers suggest that Mr Le Pen is licensed by Ms Le Pen to please the party’s core membership, by throwing them the occasional hunk of red meat.
FN insiders say that, au contraire, he is jealous of his daughter’s success and disapproves of some of the changes that she has made. At a rally last month, he dismissed her wider electoral alliance – “le mouvement bleu Marine” – as “only for the lukewarm”.
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