The founder of France’s far-right National Front and his daughter, the party’s new leader, are involved in a public dispute over comments some allege were veiled anti-Semitism.
Asked about a Jewish performer who objects to the party, Jean-Marie Le Pen said there would be “a batch in the oven” of people like the artist. That led the president of the European Jewish Congress to call for his European parliamentary immunity to be lifted and for him to be charged with incitement.
Le Pen’s daughter, Marine, told Monday’s Le Figaro newspaper his words were “a political mistake that will cost the National Front.” She is the party’s new president, although her father retains an honorary role, and has tried to distance the party from its anti-Semitic and racist past.
The elder Le Pen, the founder of the National Front party and currently a legislator, said in a video posted on the party website that “next time we will put him in an oven” when asked about French singer Patrick Bruel’s criticisms of the party.
On Sunday, Le Pen denied any racist overtones in the remarks, which were removed from the website over the weekend, though he reportedly has used similar wordplay in the past.
SOS Racisme said it would file a complaint “in the coming days” against Le Pen, according to the French news agency AFP. The Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between Peoples reportedly also said it will lodge a complaint and called Le Pen “an authentic anti-Semite,” according to AFP.
The elder Le Pen has a history of convictions for “inciting racial hatred” and Holocaust denial. He once described the gas chambers in Nazi death camps as a historical “detail.”
Marine Le Pen has sought to rid the party of its reputation for racism and anti-Semitism in recent years, and members were quick to distance themselves from the founder’s comment.
The party’s vice president Louis Aliot, who is also Marine’s boyfriend, criticized it as “a bad phrase. It is politically stupid and dismaying.”
Another party lawmaker, Gilbert Collard, said it was time for the party founder to “take his retirement.”
But the 85-year-old Le Pen reacted by saying: “If there are people in my camp that have interpreted it in this way, they are nothing but imbeciles.”
He denied any anti-Semitic overtones in the remark. “The word ‘fournee’ that I used obviously has no anti-Semitic connotation, except for political enemies or idiots,” he said.
On Sunday, European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor called on the European Union to strip Le Pen of his parliamentary immunity and for French authorities to charge him with incitement.
“Le Pen has unmasked the true face of the far-Right of Europe days after their electoral successes in the European Parliament,” Kantor said in a statement. “While some have tried to whitewash and mainstream these parties, Le Pen’s comments demonstrate that they still stand on foundations of hatred, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.
“It is time for the European Union and European nations to raise the bar to what constitutes acceptable speech by anyone, member of parliament or not,” he said.
The National Front triumphed in European Parliament elections last month, winning 25 percent of the vote.
AFP contributed to this report.