Jean-Marie Le Pen, the provocative 85-year-old founder of France’s far-right National Front, is a millstone round the party’s neck, according to one of France’s leading experts on far-right political parties.
Academic and writer Jean-Yves Camus told France 24 Le Pen was “very predictable and very embarrassing” for the FN as it tries to shake off the legacy of its overtly racist and anti-Semitic past, a change in tack that paid off in last month’s European elections.
Le Pen, father of the FN’s current leader Marine Le Pen, came out with yet another arguably anti-Semitic comment this weekend, triggering a family dispute at the heart of the anti-immigration and anti-Europe party.
Asked about Jewish performer Patrick Bruel, who objects to the party, Le Pen the elder, who is a member of the European Parliament, recorded a video that was posted to the FN’s website and then hastily removed.
In the video, Le Pen said that people like the artist should be in an ovenload, a comment that is taken by many as an oblique reference to the crematoria in Nazi death camps. He said in French, “Next time we will make an ovenload [of them].”
Le Pen used the word “fournée”, which means “batch”.
On Monday, president of the European Jewish Congress Moshe Kantor called for his European parliaentary immunity to be lifted.
Meanwhile, Bruel responded to the comments with a tweet that said, “J-M Le Pen reoffends … Did he need to remind us of his true face and that of the FN?”
Le Pen’s daughter Marine told Monday’s “Le Figaro” newspaper his words were “a political mistake that will cost the National Front”.
“To have not foreseen how this phrase would be interpreted is a political mistake the National Front is [now] paying for,” she said.
“If there is any positive side to this controversy, it’s that it has allowed me to reiterate that the National Front condemns all forms of anti-Semitism in the strongest terms possible.”
Louis Aliot, vice-president of the FN as well as Marine Le Pen’s boyfriend, also sought to distance the party from her father’s comments, describing them as “politically stupid and deplorable”.
But there isn’t much Marine Le Pen and her party leadership can do about it, according to Jean-Yves Camus.
“This is a big problem for the FN,” he told FRANCE 24. “The party’s voters, who generally hold Jean-Marie Le Pen in high esteem, probably won’t care too much.
“But he is a big political burden” as the party tries to move away from its racist and anti-Semitic past, he added.
The heart of the problem, according to Camus, is the fact that he is the current leader’s father.
“It’s a unique situation – I don’t know of another family connection on this level in French politics,” he said. “He remains influential, he is the party’s honorary chairman, he has been re-elected to the European parliament and he will never resign.
“And he is the father of the party’s leader. It is almost impossible for her to sanction him in any meaningful way.”
Le Pen ‘likes to be provocative’
It is not the first time Le Pen has been accused of anti-Semitism, which is a serious crime in France.
In 1996, he was convicted of inciting racial hatred after saying that the gas chambers used to kill Jews during the Holocaust were a “mere detail in the history of the Second World War”.
“He has always been a problem for the party because he likes to be provocative and he believes that the FN should stand against anything and everything that is politically correct,” said Camus.
Le Pen Sr. is unapologetic about bringing controversy to the party he founded.
“The expression ‘oven-load’, which I used, obviously had no anti-Semitic connotations, except for imbeciles or my political enemies,” he wrote in a strongly worded statement defending his actions.
He also later went on France’s BFM TV, where he said that he was a “free man” and had never uttered a single anti-Semitic comment over the course of his 60-year career.