France’s most infamous antisemite is back in the headlines. At the weekend, the president of the National Rally, Jordan Bardella, declared in an interview that he didn’t believe Jean-Marie Le Pen was an antisemite. This came as a surprise to many given that the ninety-five-year-old Le Pen, who founded the National Front in 1972, has been condemned on six occasions by French courts for just such bigotry.
Le Pen’s most notorious declaration was during a television interview in 1987 when, discussing the gas chambers, he said that although he didn’t deny their existence they were nonetheless a ”‘small point of detail in World War Two.” The remark caused uproar and turned Le Pen into a political pariah overnight. Fifteen years later, when Le Pen reached the second round of the 2002 presidential election, his adversary Jacque Chirac refused the traditional face to face debate because he didn’t want to normalize “intolerance and hatred.”
What has made life so frightening for French Jews, is that antisemitism lurks in the most unexpected places
Although Jordan Bardella stated his belief that Le Pen isn’t an antisemite, he was quick to add that he “wouldn’t have said what he said about the ‘point of detail’ because, for me, the horror of the Holocaust is not a small point in history.”
On Tuesday, Le Pen’s granddaughter, Marion Marechal, the vice-president of Éric Zemmour’s Reconquest Party, was asked for her opinion on the old man. She didn’t reference the “small point” remark specifically but said she disagreed with some of his opinions. Then Marechal reminded her interviewer that it wasn’t her grandfather who attacked the Jewish school in Toulouse or the kosher supermarket in Paris. Nor was it he who murdered Sarah Halimi or Mireille Knoll, two Jewish women (one a Holocaust survivor) killed in separate incidents in the French capital in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
Marechal then came to her point: if France had heeded her grandfather’s warnings all those decades ago about immigration and Islamism, then “there would less antisemitism today.”
Antisemitism has certainly swept France in the month since Hamas slaughtered over one thousand Israelis. The word used by Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister, was “exploded” when he revealed on Monday that there have been over 1,000 antisemitic acts in the country in the last month.
Of the 486 people arrested for some of these offences, 102 were foreigners. Among that number were two Moldovans, who told police that they were paid money by a Russian to daub Stars of David on walls. Police are investigating whether this is part of an official Russian plot to “destabilize” the country.
What has been exposed in the last month, what has made life so frightening for French Jews, is that antisemitism — or at the very least indifference to the whole-scale slaughter of Israeli women and children — lurks in the most unexpected places. It might be teenagers singing that “we’re all Nazis” on the Paris metro; it might be left-wing politicians describing Hamas as “a resistance movement;” it might be a popular left-wing comic on public radio chortling that Benjamin Netanyahu is “a Nazi without a foreskin,” for which he received a mild rebuke from his employers. Or it might be what was filmed in one of Paris’s more upmarket streets this week.
A woman was seen angrily ripping down posters of missing Israeli children. But this was no pink-haired young student; she was well-dressed and middle-aged and, when challenged, she screeched “Israeli murderers.” It has subsequently emerged that the woman is Sophie Pommier who, until recently, was a Middle East advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and who still contributes to left-wing publications.
The French ministry rushed out a statement on Tuesday evening, promising an “investigation into the conditions of her recruitment.” They declared that “hatred, extremism and violence are by definition incompatible with direct or indirect participation in the conduct of French foreign policy.”
Such an investigation should have been launched on October 8, the day after the Hamas massacre, when Pommier posted a message on a social media platform saying that the Islamists had no other choice than to attack Israel. “The Resistance [in World War Two] for us was magnificent but when it’s Palestinians it’s terrorism?” she wrote.
Those on the right, of course, have expressed their indignation. But there is also a touch of triumphalism for they know that their approval rating rises every time someone on the political or cultural left takes the side of Hamas. As Marion Marechal told her interviewer, the left-wing media is “panicking” because the true face of their ideology is being exposed to the public.
Marechal will be present at a government-organized march on Sunday in Paris to protest against the alarming surge in antisemitism across France. The leader of her party, Éric Zemmour, himself a Jew, will also be in attendance, as will Jordan Bardella and Marine Le Pen.
The only major political party that won’t be represented is Jean-Luc Melenchon’s La France Insoumise (LFI). That is no surprise. In the last couple of years the far-left party has been accused on multiple occasions of flirting with antisemitism. They have always denied such allegations. The official reason that LFI are snubbing Sunday’s march is because of the presence of Le Pen, whose party’s origins they say are linked to “collaboration with Nazism.”
Le Pen is unlikely to be troubled by that taunt. The latest opinion poll has her well on course to win the 2027 presidential election. When she replaced her father at the head of the National Front in 2011 she promised to “de-demonize” her party in a bid to make it electable. Never could she have imagined that, as she moved the party away from some of her father’s more odious views, the left was moving towards them.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.