An apparent anti-Semitic pun by former far-right French leader Jean-Marie Le Pen has spurred calls for his prosecution.
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. Bruel is Jewish.
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.
Le Pen, whose daughter Marine now heads the party, 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 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.
His daughter gave a guarded response saying that her father had made a “political error” but that the “meaning given to his comments is a malicious interpretation.”
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.
Le Pen, who has had multiple convictions for inciting racial hatred and denying crimes against humanity, once described Nazi gas chambers as a “detail” of history.
Le Pen has used similar wordplay in the past to make light of gas chambers used by the Nazis in World War II. In 1988, he referred to a Jewish minister named Michel Durafour as “Durafour-crematoire”. In French, the word “four-crematoire” means crematorium.
The National Front triumphed in European Parliament elections last month, winning 25 percent of the vote.