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Le Pen’s ‘anti-Semitic’ wisecrack throws Front National into turmoil

Jean-Marie Le Pen at an FN meeting last year
Jean-Marie Le Pen at an FN meeting last year AFP

Veteran French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen hit out at his own daughter after she criticised an apparently anti-Semitic pun he made when attacking artists and athletes who oppose his party. The row is a setback for Marine Le Pen’s attempts to clean up the party’s image.

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Senior members of the Front National (FN) rushed to distance themselves from Jean-Marie Le Pen on Sunday after he declared the party would make a “batch to go in the oven” of its celebrity opponents, who include Madonna and tennis star-turned singer Yannick Noah.

One of them, French singer Patrick Bruel, who is Jewish and was named in the video, reacted indignantly, insisting the remark was a reference to Nazi crematoriums.

“I am not sorry for myself,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “I’m sorry for more than six million people [victims of the Nazi holocaust]. I’m sorry for a republic that has been fighting to impose its values since the liberation and has lost its bearings.”

Anti-racist campaign SOS-Racisme slammed Le Pen’s statement as “anti-Semitic”, insisting that it was no mere slip of the tongue.

The row is an embarrassment for Marine Le Pen, who has tried to clean up the party’s image since taking over as leader from her father in 2011.

Background: Has Marine Le Pen made France's Front National respectable?

The video, which was one of a weekly series by Le Pen père, who remains an honorary president of the FN, was removed from the party’s website and Le Pen fille told Le Figaro newspaper that “not to have anticipated the interpretation that would be made of this formulation was a political mistake", even if it was a “malicious interpretation”.

Her partner, FN vice-president Louis Aliot, said the comments were "politically stupid", while MP Gilbert Collard, who is not formally a party member but stood with its endorsement, judged them "unacceptable and intolerable".

On Monday Jean-Marie Le Pen said the "political mistake" was for the FN to adopt the dominant ideology, accusing his party critics of wanting to "resemble other political parties".

"If that's the wish of certain leaders of the Front National, they've succeeded," Le Pen told French radio RMC-BFMTV. "They're the ones who have made a political mistake, not me."

The divergence within the party comes two weeks after it took 25 per cent of the vote in European elections, for the first time putting it ahead of all other French political parties in a national election.

Background: Why did the Front National win election in France?

Jean-Marie Le Pen, who on Monday denied knowing Bruel was Jewish, has a record of making dodgy puns and questionable statements relating to the holocaust, which he once described as a “detail in the history of World War II”.

In her efforts to “dedemonise” the Front National, Marine Le Pen has tried to stamp out that sort of sally, while maintaining anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Those efforts may have won her some of the 6,421,426 people who voted for her in the 2012 presidential election but they failed to convince Britain’s Ukip.

The anti-EU, anti-Immigrant party’s leader, Nigel Farage, refused to join forces with her in the European parliament on the grounds that the FN has anti-Semitism “in its DNA”.

Background: Ukip’s Farage, Front National’s Le Pen compete for Eurosceptic leadership … and EU cash
 

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