France’s far-right leader and presidential contender Marine Le Pen said on Thursday that dual citizenship with non-European countries would be banned under her proposed immigration program and that French Jews with Israeli citizenship would be forced to renounce it.

In a comprehensive two-hour interview, Le Pen, head of the Front National party and a leading candidate in the upcoming French presidential elections this spring, told France 2 TV that “Israel is not a European country and doesn’t consider itself as such” when asked if her ban on dual nationality would be extended to Jewish citizens of France.

When pressed on the issue, Le Pen appeared defensive, saying: “Excuse me, but yes, [I would ask that of] them and others [persons with non-European citizenship]. I’m asking the Israelis to choose their nationality. It doesn’t mean that if they don’t choose French nationality, they have to leave. France can certainly accommodate foreign people on its soil long-term, those with foreign citizenship… as long as they respect French laws and French values, which is often a problem on the immigration issue. It’s not really a problem with Israel on this topic.”

Le Pen has routinely advocated a tough-on-immigration approach, charging that current immigration rules were “too generous.”

It is estimated that thousands of French Jews hold Israeli citizenship as immigration to Israel from France has seen a sharp increase in recent years amid rising anti-Semitism and a string of deadly terror attacks by radical Islamic groups, including the Islamic State.

Illustrative: More than 200 French Jews immigrated to Israel aboard a special Jewish Agency Aliyah flight, July 20, 2016. (Nir Kafri for The Jewish Agency for Israel)

Illustrative: More than 200 French Jews immigrated to Israel aboard a special Jewish Agency Aliyah flight, July 20, 2016. (Nir Kafri for The Jewish Agency for Israel)

Throughout the early 2000s, Israel welcomed approximately 2,000 French Jews a year, but during and after 2013, immigration from the country — which has approximately 500,000 Jews — jumped to some 3,000. The following year, over 5,000 came, followed by nearly 8,000 in 2015 and another 5,000 last year.

The Russian connection

In her France 2 interview Thursday, Le Pen did make an exception in her immigration program for dual citizens from non-European Russia, which she said “has a place” in what she termed a “Europe of nations” that are “free and sovereign.”

The remark is certain to raise eyebrows in France and around the world as French intelligence officials have voiced concern over possible Russian hacking attempts to help sway the upcoming election in her favor.

Le Pen is currently leading in polls for the first round of voting in April, but polls show she would be beaten in the May 7 runoff, possibly by centrist former banker Emmanuel Macron who has benefited from claims that conservative candidate Francois Fillon arranged high-paying parliamentary jobs for his wife and children.

Head of the far-right party FN and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen (C) smiles as she arrives to visit the Salon des Entrepreneurs (Entrepreneurship fair) in Paris on February 1, 2017. (AFP/Eric Piermont)

Head of the far-right party FN and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen (C) smiles as she arrives to visit the Salon des Entrepreneurs (Entrepreneurship fair) in Paris on February 1, 2017. (AFP/Eric Piermont)

Le Pen has previously made a number of comments in support of Putin and his policies. In recent interviews, she has described Russia’s invasion and subsequent annexation of the Crimean Peninsula as legitimate, despite Western refusal to recognize the move and imposition of sanctions.

Her National Front party also received a $9.8 million loan from a Russian bank with ties to the Kremlin. Le Pen has denied that this financial support has influenced her party’s support of Russia, saying her well-known respect for Putin began before the receipt of the funds.

Concerns of Russian interference in the French presidential race follow assessments by leading US intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential race in favor of the Republican candidate, current President Donald Trump.

Le Pen is also a big fan of Trump, whom she has defended as a “patriot” over his controversial executive order to ban immigration and travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, right, when spotted at US President-elect Donald Trump's New York headquarters building, having coffee at Trump Ice Cream Parlor on the ground floor of Trump Tower, January 12, 2017. (AFP/HUFFINGTON POST/TRANSITION POOL/Samuel LEVINE)

Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, right, spotted at then US President-elect Donald Trump’s New York headquarters building, having coffee at Trump Ice Cream Parlor on the ground floor of Trump Tower, January 12, 2017. (AFP/Huffington Post/Transition Pool/Samuel Levine)

Like Trump, she has been campaigning as an “anti-establishment” candidate hoping to capitalize on the same rejection of mainstream politics that helped the Brexit camp win in Britain and swept him to the US presidency.

French Jews still wary of Le Pen

Le Pen has over the years worked hard to rid the Front National of its more extremist, anti-Semitic fringe since taking over from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has repeatedly referred to the Nazi gas chambers as a “detail” of history.

But the Jewish community in France is still very wary of Le Pen despite its traditionally hawkish leanings.

She has expressed a desire to promote legislation that would ban religious clothing in public. Her initiative is aimed mainly against the Islamic burqa and the Niqab, but would also ban Jews from wearing a kippa in public.

“Because I think everyone in France should receive the same treatment, I also support the ban on wearing a kippa in the public sphere,” said Le Pen last week in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2.

“Honestly, the dangerous situation in which Jews in France live is such that those who walk with a kippa are in any case a minority, because they are afraid. But I mainly think the struggle against radical Islam should be a joint struggle and everyone should say, ‘there, we are sacrificing something.’ Maybe they will do with just wearing a hat [instead], but it would be a step in the effort to stamp out radical Islam in France,” she said.

As part of her commitment to secularism, Le Pen is also opposed to ritual kosher and halal slaughter.

Times of Israel staff and Agencies contributed to this report.