“France’s Jews… can wear their kippa with pride,” Interior Minister Manuel Valls said on Sunday, dismissing far right-wing politician Marine Le Pen’s proposal that Jews be banned from wearing skullcaps in public places.
Speaking at a Rosh Hashanah ceremony in a Paris synagogue, Valls said that “the hateful, rejecting speech cannot be tolerated,” adding that it “reflects who Le Pen and the National Front are, a party that is very far, so far, from the Republic’s values.”
In an interview published on Friday, the French daily Le Monde quoted Le Pen as saying, “Obviously, if the veil is banned, the kippa [should be] banned in public as well.”
On Saturday Le Pen clarified herself and said “Jewish skullcaps are obviously not a problem in our country,” but France has to “ban them in the name of equality.”
“What would people say if I’d only asked to ban Muslim clothing? They’d burn me as a Muslim hater,” Le Pen said. She added that she was “asking our Jewish compatriots to make this small effort, this little sacrifice probably,” for the sake of equality.
“I’m sure a big part of them are ready to make that little sacrifice,” she said.
Le Pen’s comments came as Muslim demonstrations were taking place around the world protesting the release of a trailer for the anti-Islam movie “Innocence of Muslims,” as well as last week’s publication in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo of a caricature depicting the Prophet Muhammad naked.
Valls praised the leaders of France’s large Muslim community for their wisdom in calling for calm in response to the movie trailer and the cartoons, AFP reported.
Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, anti-Islamist party has long supported a ban on Muslim headscarves, niqabs and burkas. France’s minister of education, Vincent Peillon, said Le Pen “was fanning the flames of fundamentalism” with her statements. “She is the main fundamentalist,” he said.
In response to Le Pen’s suggestion, Conference of European Rabbis head Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt said Friday she was “unworthy” of belonging to the mainstream political arena in France.
Le Pen’s “suggestion of a ban on wearing the kippa in public,” he said, “takes us straight back to the times of state-sponsored anti-Semitism under the Vichy regime.”
Goldschmidt added that any “sane politician” would view Le Pen’s idea as “total madness” which is “profoundly insulting to the French ideals of freedom of expression.”
France, a leading proponent of separation of church and state, has banned wearing conspicuous religious symbols in its public primary and secondary schools in what is also known as the “headscarf ban.”
Le Pen heads the nationalist Front National (FN) party, the third-largest in France. She is the youngest daughter of French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, formerly the party’s president. Her proposal comes less than two years after France banned the wearing of full Muslim veils in public.
Founded in the 1970s by Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front made it to the second round in the presidential elections in 2002, clinching 17 percent of the vote.
Asher Zeiger contributed to this report.