France Starting to Reckon with Its History of Anti-Semitism?

On June 7, Marine Le Pen criticized her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen -- who founded France’s National Front party in 1972 and headed it until 2011 -- for his remarks in a videotaped interview posted on the party’s website about the Algerian-born Jewish singer Patrick Bruel, a vocal opponent of what is often described in France as “the far Right.” Le Pen furiously exclaimed that Bruel would be dealt with “à la prochaine fournée,” or as Canada’s National Post translated Le Pen, “We’ll include him in the next batch.” This is a baker’s expression that usually means momentarily, but can be ominously associated in French with the Nazi crematoriums.

Marine Le Pen asserted that her father’s vile joke was a political mistake, which he should have averted in view of his very lengthy experience. Indeed, Jean-Marie Le Pen has repeatedly indulged in similar puns in the past, and been found guilty in court of racist and anti-Semitic vitriol. He was even suspended twice as a member of parliament for such offenses. The younger Le Pen has been eager to distance herself from such attitudes since she took over the party leadership three years ago. However, this is the first time she did so in an explicit way.

Marine Le Pen may feel emboldened by her victory in the Euro-Parliament election last month: the National Front carried 24 out of the 74 seats allotted to France, almost one out of three (albeit only 44% of the registered French voters took part in the election). She is convinced that she has successfully recast FN as a democratic national-populist party, one more in the manner of Charles de Gaulle than of Philippe Pétain. De Gaulle was the head of the French anti-Nazi Resistance and the founder of the Fifth Republic; Petain was the head of the collaborationist Vichy state.

Many observers contend that her criticism was still comparatively mild. A more relevant charge is that she might not be above double entendres with racist and anti-Semitic overtones herself, although in a much more sophisticated way. On March 31, during an interview with anchorman Guillaume Durand at Public Sénat TV, she contended that she was hated by another journalist, Anne-Sophie Lapix, the wife of Publicis chairman Arthur Sadoun. She claimed that the entire Publicis management belonged to an exclusive caste estranged from most French, while her own political mission was to return power to the people. True enough, Marine Le Pen did not actually say that Sadoun and most of Publicis' managers were Jewish, and her words could be construed to apply to any restricted upper-class group rather than just to a Jewish elite. On the other hand, the Jewish heritage of Publicis, from its founder the late Maurice Bleustein-Blanchet to Maurice Levy, its current CEO, to Sadoun, is an open secret.

Another troubling detail is that Marine Le Pen keeps describing the present regime of France as a parasitic “System” superimposed on the French nation by alien forces or alien minorities. While such a view stems from both socialist and reactionary 19th century myths (the “Two Hundred Families” -- Big Capital -- that socialists loved to hate, the “Four Confederate Estates” -- Freemasons, Protestants, Jews and Peregrines -- lacerated by the reactionary polemicist Charles Maurras), it is essentially a hallmark of Nazi ideology: as Victor Klemperer noted in his 1947 book, The Language of the Third Reich, the democratic Weimar Republic was routinely referred to as “The System” throughout the Nazi era, from 1933 to 1945.